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.