Fraser Anning claimed a taxpayer-funded accommodation and meals allowance for staying at his brother’s hotel in the regional town of Babinda.
The independent senator’s use of taxpayer funds for travel has been under scrutiny since he announced he would bill the public to travel from Queensland to a far-right rally in St Kilda on Saturday.
Last year, Anning billed taxpayers for two overnight stays in the town of Babinda, south of Cairns, on 6 March and 19 July, claiming $542 in travel allowances for unspecified “electorate duties”, according to the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority.
The travel allowances claimed by Anning are a flat-rate payment to MPs designed to cover accommodation, meals and incidentals during overnight stays related to parliamentary business.
Babinda only has two hotels: the Babinda State hotel and the Babinda Quarters.
The historic Babinda State hotel is owned by Anning’s brother, Harry.
A spokesman for Fraser Anning said it had been the “most appropriate venue to host events” on both occasions. Asked what the “electorate duties” in Babinda were, Anning’s spokesman said:
“Senator Anning’s travel falls within Parliamentary entitlement requirements.”
“He does not sit idle and through a combination of travel within Queensland and interstate, he represents the interests of his constituents. Much like any number of Senator Anning’s Colleagues.”
Harry Anning confirmed his brother had stayed at the venue at least twice last year – once in October or November, and another time in July or earlier.
“They had a meeting in Cairns, and instead of staying in Cairns, he stayed down here. That would have been earlier in the year, might have been July, or earlier,” Harry Anning said.
Fraser Anning paid for the accommodation, he said.
“I don’t want to [charge him], but he says ‘no I’ve got to pay for a room somewhere’, so he pays us,” Harry Anning said. “I’d rather not charge him, he’s my brother, but I think they have to, they’ve got their expense account … the rooms aren’t dear. The room he’s in is $85 a night.”
The owner of the town’s other hotel, the Babinda Quarters, Maggie Nelson, said Anning had never stayed there.
“I’m 100% sure,” she told Guardian Australia. “Even though a lot of the local politicians have stayed with me, I’d welcome him to stay here. But he has relatives in the town, so I’m sure he would have stayed there.”
Anning also claimed flights between Brisbane and Cairns on the dates around his trips to Babinda. Babinda is 60km south of Cairns.
The senator claimed a domestic fare of $776.77 between Brisbane and Cairns on 19 July, and the same amount for the return trip on 20 July. IPEA data also shows a claim for $51.60 in unscheduled travel on 19 July.
Anning also claimed a $775.89 fare between Brisbane and Cairns on 6 March.
In October or November Anning used the Babinda State hotel for a speech to local constituents, praising the venue for its “great hospitality and excellent service”.
It is unclear whether Anning will bill taxpayers for the event and IPEA data is not yet available for that period.
Anning’s spokesman said his spending fell within parliamentary entitlement requirements. Guardian Australia is not suggesting Anning broke any rules on spending.
The Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017, which governs the use of expenses, requires members to “act ethically and in good faith” when using public resources for parliamentary business. Guidelines published by the department of finance say members should “consider any actual, potential and perceived conflicts of interest” when using expenses. The guidelines ask MPs to consider:
“Is there any real or perceived favouritism or conflict of interest if you select a particular provider of goods or services? Is the provider related to you in some way, presenting a risk of a conflict of interest?”
The Queensland senator has made significant expense claims during his short tenure in parliament. He claimed more than $19,000 to have his family travel with him on trips between July and September 2018.
Anning also plans to claim more than $2,800 for travel to Saturday’s far-right rally, covering flights and car travel, according to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.
Anning has previously claimed expenses to attend a Sydney rally attended by far-right activist Lauren Southern.
The senator held a press conference on Wednesday and said he had no intention of paying the money back for the St Kilda rally.
“No I won’t. It was legitimate business, as far as I am concerned. I didn’t go down there for a party, or a picnic, I went down there in the morning and came back on the afternoon.”
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Anning said he would go to rallies in the future, if they were of interest to Queenslanders, and also defended his expenditure on family-related travel.
“My wife is a volunteer with my office, so she travels with me to Canberra and other places and that money they pushed the whole year’s allowance into a quarter as far as I can see, but it is within parliamentary guidelines,” Anning said.
The senator received just 19 first preference votes in the 2016 election. He replaced One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts after Roberts’ disqualification, but immediately left One Nation to join Katter’s Australia party. He was ejected from that party in October 2018.
Anning delivered a widely condemned speech last year, when he talked of a “final solution” to address migration issues. He also praised the white Australia policy and made inflammatory remarks about Islam.