Gaffe-prone Australian Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert is being scrutinised again after charging taxpayers more than AU$2,000 a month for his home internet bills.
Robert was only returned to the federal frontbench a few weeks ago, after he was sacked in 2016 over a trip to China for a mining company he was financially linked with.
But now, the federal government is scrutinising his AU$90-a-day home internet bills, which are dramatically higher than those of all other MPs.
“I’ve asked the special minister of state to report back to me,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Tasmania on Friday.
“Once I’ve heard from the special minister of state, then we’ll take the next step.
“I think [voters would] want an explanation, and that’s why I’ve asked for one.”
Robert’s May bill alone totalled AU$2,832, while the vast majority of other MPs spent under AU$300 a month, and most about AU$100 a month.
Parliamentary expense records in the three months to May show Robert spent more than AU$2,000 a month on average for his Gold Coast residence.
The Queensland Liberal MP told Fairfax Media that connectivity issues were responsible for the high charges, because he had to use a wireless service as cheaper connections were unavailable when the service was installed.
“I went and checked my most recent reports; it’s about AU$100 a month,” Labor leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.
“There is no doubt that Stuart Robert is a very controversial figure, and that controversy seems to follow him.”
Robert last week confused debt and deficit in a TV interview, and was caught taking a selfie when the interview began.
Labor MP Graham Perrett, who pays less than AU$100 for an unlimited internet deal, said it’s “bizarre” that the assistant treasurer can’t do better.
“Any normal person would be making a call to their internet provider to work out what’s going on,” he told Sky News on Friday.
The assistant treasurer said he racked up a high bill in May because he used 300 gigabytes of data, so he had to pay for extra data after exceeding his 50GB limit.
Robert has been charging taxpayers more than AU$1,000 per month for data at his home since 2016.
“My family home is located a significant distance from the telephone exchange, resulting in poor broadband internet connectivity,” Robert said in a statement late on Friday afternoon.
“At the time, a 4G home Wi-Fi internet connection was the only way to receive reliable and stable internet access
“My internet, like many in semi-rural areas, was previously unreliable, which interfered with my ability to perform my parliamentary and ministerial duties.”
The NBN’s rollout map shows building has begun in the Gold Coast, where the assistant treasurer’s electoral office and postal address is located.
Robert confirmed that he has an NBN installation appointment booked.
“When installed, this will result in an immediate drop in costs to a level similar to other parliamentarians.”
The treatment of Robert has contrasted sharply with the attitude of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who in 2014, when he was Communications Minister and had responsibility for the National Broadband Network, famously roused on a member of the public who complained about a lack of fixed-line broadband.
“Just curious:- if connectivity was so vital to you why did you buy a house where there was no broadband available?” Turnbull tweeted at the time.
Speaking in June 2016, disgraced former Deputy Prime Minsiter Barnaby Joyce claimed that internet speeds of 25Mbps were good enough for Australians living in regional and remote parts of the nation.
A week earlier, then Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Christopher Pyne mirrored the same sentiment.
“They simply didn’t need the speeds that Labor was promising,” Pyne said at the time.
This week, NBN revealed that more than 1,500 of its fixed-wireless cells had at least one service downloading more than 1TB of data during the month of May.
Despite this, NBN said in response to a Senate Estimates Question on Notice that it had forecast to have less than 1.4 percent of fixed-wireless users on the 100/40Mbps speed tier by 2022, before the company ripped up plans to offer such services.
As the national broadband wholesaler looks to end its discount at the end of this month that attempted to move users from lower speeds up to 50Mbps plans, retailer Aussie Broadband told ZDNet that ISPs will need to choose between offering high- or low-speed tiers, as they won’t be able to do both.
“Aussie has chosen to play in the higher end of the market using the new bundled offering exclusively, as it provides sufficient CVC capacity to ensure a good experience for customers,” Aussie Broadband MD Phillip Britt told ZDNet on Thursday.
“In our view, it will not be possible for providers offering a service under AU$55 a month floor price and an unlimited offering under AU$69 using the bundles.
“Providers below this price point will most likely be short-changing their customers on the CVC bandwidth provisioned.”
The end of NBN’s temporary discount on 50Mbps services means smaller retailers may have to stop offering lower-end products in order to make a profit, according to Aussie Broadband.
NBN had forecast just 1.4 percent of fixed-wireless users to take up its 100Mbps service, with the company also pointing the finger at more than 1,500 ‘extreme’ users who individually downloaded more than 1TB during May.
The upgraded capacity on NBN’s backbone fibre-optic transit network will initially be available in Sydney before being switched on across the nation.
Telstra’s FY19 total income will be AU$300 million lower than previously forecast, while EBITDA will be AU$100 million lower and net one-off NBN receipts AU$200 million lower due to NBN’s Corporate Plan.