Turnbull repays massive roaming bill charged to Aussie taxpayers

Turnbull repays massive roaming bill charged to Aussie taxpayers

Summary: Australian Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has repaid an AU$13,000 bill for mobile phone use overseas that was originally charged to the taxpayer.


Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been negotiating with Telstra over an AU$13,000 bill for global roaming that was originally charged to the taxpayer.

Turnbull, a well-known gadget geek who is often seen using his iPad during Question Time, travelled overseas in 2011, and, like many Australians travelling abroad, returned to find a large bill waiting from Telstra for mobile use while overseas.

In October 2011, after returning from a stint in Hong Kong, France, Germany, and the UK, the shadow minister received a hefty global roaming charge of AU$13,608.04 for use of his mobile device overseas. Turnbull accumulated a total of AU$26,368.26 in telecommunications charges for the period, and this was paid for by the taxpayer and released in six-monthly reporting by the Department of Finance and Deregulation last year.

However, in the most recent reporting of the first six months of 2012, it was revealed that Turnbull had paid back the full amount of the AU$13,608.04 charge, and was left to negotiate directly with his mobile provider, Telstra, over the size of the bill.

It is unclear whether these negotiations have been resolved. Turnbull's office had not provided a statement on the bill at the time of writing.

Broadly, overseas call charges cost taxpayers AU$149,522.49, and backbench MPs racked up the highest bills in the first six months of 2012, according to the data.

Labor backbencher Michael Danby had the highest bill, coming in at AU$8,381.70, followed by former Liberal National MP and ex-Speaker Peter Slipper, at AU$5,419.04; Labor backbencher Mark Bishop, at AU$4,760.90; and Labor backbencher Alan Griffin, at AU$4,677.08. Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop comes in at fifth place, with AU$4,464.79.

126 MPs claimed the cost of calls made overseas, with the lowest being claimed by Warren Truss, at just 70 cents.

Turnbull and his fellow MPs are not alone in coming home from overseas to a massive mobile phone bill. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) highlighted in December that most of the new complaints about roaming charges it dealt with were for costs of over AU$5,000. In one instance, a person who went on a nine-week holiday in Europe ended up with an AU$150,000 bill that had to be handled by the TIO.

Telecom New Zealand has moved to address this issue with its customers by offering daily rates for data in a number of countries.

Total telecommunications spending by Australian politicians in the first six months of 2012 amounted to AU$1.8 million, with the largest bill rather unsurprisingly from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, at AU$33,100.77, followed by Danby, at AU$17,646.34; Liberal MP Alex Hawke, at AU$17.119.47; Independent MP Bob Katter, at AU$16,552.36; and Shadow Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Sophie Mirabella, at AU$14,739.86.

Overall, telecommunications expenses claimed by parliamentarians pale in comparison to those of car costs, office facilities, administrative costs, and travel costs that MPs have put on the taxpayer tab. Facilities costs alone amount to AU$14 million for the same six-month period.

Topics: Telcos, Government, Government AU, Telstra


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Coalition are the big spenders!

    If the coalition plan to deliver a budget surplus, they had better control Abbott's mobile phone habit. How is it that his bill is twice that of anyone else?
    And why are there no government ministers on this list? I would not have thought the busiest people in parliament would have been Katter, Mirabella and Hawke - arguably 3 of the greater oxygen thieves.
    Leigh Bentley
    • Ways to save

      Maybe Ruppert Murdoch could call him to give him his instructions rather than Abbott phoning him all the time to ask what he wants done.
  • So Much

    So Much for a Communications Minister, it very much sounds like Turnbull has no idea a man with his supposed knowledge should have known better.

    honestly I would expect this from Abbott and Hockey but from Turnbull and this guy wants us to believe that his NBN solution is better?

    Turnbull doesn't even understand what roaming is and how much it costs or did he just think the taxpayers would foot the bill its probably more the latter I guess.

    He used the dividends from his FTTP shares in France to pay the bill...
  • its always the case


    seeing that i'm a dispute manager at a major telco I'll have to have a chat the pub with my fellow industry peers about this one.

    chances are that he got re-rated to a product that includes a bundle of roaming usage i.e. 5-10GB for $200 or he was re-rated to a wholesale rate plus 10-20%.

    I remember at another Telco the Prime Minister brother (not telling you who) was in lengthy and detailed negotiations over a significant dispute. Lets just say being a PM's brother affords you leverage that the normal punter never gets.