Sir Lunchalot -- from the party that claims to represent the little guy
THE NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald, previously dubbed Sir Lunchalot by the Opposition, has spent nearly $150,000 on lunches, dinners and accommodation for a wine advisory group he created, and $15,000 on a charter flight. Documents obtained under freedom of information laws show Mr Macdonald spent $24,156.21 on a trip to Dareton in which he and a group from the NSW Wine Industry Research and Development Advisory Council lunched at Stefano's Restaurant at Mildura.
Last night the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, called for Mr Macdonald to be sacked over the revelations, saying they were "the worst display of arrogance from a Labor minister to date".
The costs of the trip follow a series of controversies the minister has been involved in, including revelations he used departmental funds to buy office furniture for his home and a television set and the fact he has spent more than $12,000 over two years on lunches for him and his office. He was also one of the highest spending ministers on overseas travel last year, spending $67,336 on visits to the US, China, Hong Kong, Japan and India.
The documents, obtained by Channel Seven, show that the group also dined at Catalina Restaurant at Rose Bay, at a cost of $7747 for 18 people. On another trip to Mudgee $9788.86 was spent, a trip to Wagga cost $10,887.13, and a journey to the Southern Highlands in February last year cost $7258.98. A trip to Tyrrell's Vineyards in the Hunter Valley cost $11,567.17.
"Mr Macdonald is a disgrace, and if Nathan Rees had any authority or standards he would sack him," Mr O'Farrell said.
Mr Macdonald denied last night that the Wine Industry Research and Development Advisory Council was a "luncheon club". "If you're going to consult with the regions of NSW you have to pay for people to do that consultation, to get out there and mix. We don't want people making decisions based on sitting around in …Parliament House," he told Channel Seven. "I've chosen none of the restaurants, nor do I determine the itinerary."
In a statement to the Herald, Mr Macdonald said the trip to Dareton - including a dinner for 25 costing $3390 - had been "a business meeting, where a range of important issues were discussed including development and export opportunities, research and water shortages because of the drought". "The council needs to meet with industry and regional communities in the heart of wine regions - it's pretty difficult to do this from the centre of Sydney."
The council had been going for six years, he said, and the "average expenditure is around $20,000, which is reasonable, given it conducts meetings in regional areas across the state".
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