Stuart Robert was spoken to repeatedly about the cost of his taxpayer-funded home internet plan as far back as 2016, the department of finance has confirmed.
Robert, the assistant treasurer, came under intense scrutiny in October over revelations he charged taxpayers more than $2,000 a month for his home internet.
Robert blamed the costs on “connectivity issues” at his Gold Coast home, and later agreed to pay the money back following significant public backlash.
This week, the department of finance revealed it had spoken with Robert on “multiple” occasions in 2016 about his residential data plan.
“As standard practice, the department of finance monitors all expenditure, including residential telephone and data costs and will discuss alternative plans with parliamentarians if necessary,” it said in a response to a question from the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee.
“The Special Minister of State’s media statement of 12 October 2018 indicated that Mr Robert acknowledged his usage charges were ‘much higher than anticipated and higher than what the community expects’ and ‘Mr Robert has volunteered to immediately repay an amount reflecting excess usage charges beyond those covered under his monthly data plan’.”
Robert said in a statement there was no way for him to avoid the charges. “Those excess charges in the departmental plan were paid in full by Mr Robert, as announced earlier this year,” a spokesman told Nine.
The Labor senator Murray Watt questioned why Robert only acted on the excessive expenses when the issue was made public in October.
“So it turns out Stuart Robert’s huge taxpayer-funded internet bills were raised with him ‘multiple times’,” Watt tweeted. “So why did he only do something about it, when it was revealed by the media?”
Robert was the subject of numerous scandals in October.
Guardian Australia revealed he had joined a business selling cryotherapy with a convicted rapist who, at the time, was before Queensland’s highest court on appeal. Robert said he did not realise the background of the company’s founder and director until contacted by the media.
Robert was brought back into the ministry by Scott Morrison following this year’s leadership spill. He had previously been dumped by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2016 over the Beijing “private” trip scandal.