Taxpayers slugged for former treasurer Joe Hockey’s babysitting bills as US ambassador

Ambassador Joe Hockey presents his credentials to President Barack Obama. Photo: Embassy of Australia Former Australian ambassador Kim Beazley outside the official residence. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Nanjing Night Net

Joe Hockey outside his new home in Washington, as Australia’s ambassador to the US. Photo: [email protected]

Joe Hockey is charging taxpayers thousands of dollars for babysitters to watch his children while he wines and dines VIPs in Washington.

Despite already collecting an estimated $360,000 salary as US ambassador – and also double-dipping into his $90,000-a-year pension – Mr Hockey billed taxpayers almost $2500 for child minding during the five months in his new role.

Documents obtained by Fairfax Media under freedom of information laws show the former federal treasurer – who once declared that the “age of entitlement” was over – is drawing on his entertainment budget five or six times a month to hire people to look after his three children.

He charges between $US50 and $140 a pop so he can have brunch with Australian government ministers, attend formal dinners and host events at his official residence.

The documents end at June 30 this year, so do not include any further costs incurred in the past four months.

The figures are contained in Mr Hockey’s first “representation funds expenditure” report. Mr Hockey initially listed the expenses as “babysitting” but in April changed tack and began listing the childminding as “additional staff”.

The change occurred about a week after Fairfax Media submitted its initial freedom of information application.

In total, Mr Hockey and his predecessor, Kim Beazley, charged $121,000 for their entertainment budget in the 2015-16 financial year.

Mr Hockey took over the job in mid-January. His biggest expense was a $6000 knees-up for embassy staff in May.

The 2015-16 total was up significantly from the $86,000 Mr Beazley spent in the previous financial year.

Mr Hockey was appointed US ambassador after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sacked him from the treasurer’s job when he toppled Tony Abbott. As treasurer, Mr Hockey railed against women who “double dip” by claiming both workplace and taxpayer-funded paid parental leave schemes.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said attending official functions was an essential element of Mr Hockey’s role.

“Mr Hockey used his representational funds in accordance with departmental policy to offset childcare costs when he and his spouse were required to attend official functions,” he said.

Mr Hockey’s disclosures contain far less detail than those of Mr Beazley, failing to list specific guests. Other details from both Mr Hockey and Mr Beazley’s time in charge have been redacted by officials.

Mr Beazley spent hundreds of dollars on books to give out as gifts and also shelled out $3420 for a dozen bottles of Penfolds Grange.

“Costs such as these are occasional and related to official hospitality provided by the embassy,” the DFAT spokesman said.

He was also a fan of lunch with visiting politicians, charging $420 for lunch with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, $300 for a “light lunch” with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and $500 for lunch with former trade minister Andrew Robb.

FULL LIST: US AMBASSADOR EXPENSES

The former Labor leader also charged $1500 for three consecutive lunches with deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek and $775 for a dinner and a lunch with Attorney-General George Brandis.

In October 2014 he paid $1380 for a dinner with another visiting dignitary – the then treasurer, Joe Hockey.

Both Mr Hockey and Mr Beazley have charged thousands for food, wine, flowers, musicians, dry-cleaning and even piano tuning. They have both also charged for membership of Washington DC’s famously exclusive Metropolitan Club.

Australia’s ambassador to the US lives in a heritage-listed 1940s mansion known as “White Oaks”.

Government documents released earlier this year revealed Australians paid the $8500 bill to convert a storage area into a bedroom.

It was also previously revealed Mr Hockey and wife, Melissa Babbage, had recruited a $46,000 housekeeper – on the taxpayer – to prepare meals, clean, wash and iron.

Australian diplomats spend an estimated $5 million wining, dining and entertaining abroad each year. The Washington embassy typically produces one of the biggest bills given its size.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade documents carry the disclaimer: “In order to be permissible, functions must be of specific value to Australia by furthering post objectives.”

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