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Minister took keen interest in Day office

AAP logoAAP 3/11/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

A 2014 meeting between then-minister Michael Ronaldson and Bob Day laid the groundwork for a legal row over the Family First senator's eligibility to run for office.

Senator Ronaldson, the Special Minister of State and Veteran Affairs Minister in the Abbott government, was having a busy week, having spent $5000 on a return charter flight from Perth to Albany on March 11 to unveil a logo for the National Anzac Centre.

He then flew from Perth to Adelaide on March 12, at a cost to taxpayers of $1308.

The trip was listed in his expenses as "minister - official business", and involved the media announcement of a plan to help veterans with mental health issues, but it appears the main business was talking to Mr Day about his electorate office.

The Finance Department had staunchly advised the minister on February 25 against allowing Mr Day - who was to be a key crossbench supporter of the Abbott government in the Senate - to use an office he owned in Kent Town.

The department said there was a perfectly good office being vacated by outgoing Labor senator Don Farrell, five kilometres away from Mr Day's building.

It provided the minister with a draft letter imploring Mr Day to take Senator Farrell's office and noted that the senators' entitlements handbook advised it is "expected that an incoming senator or member will occupy the office vacated by his or her predecessor".

However, Mr Day argued he would sell the Kent Town property if he was allowed to stay there and make it a condition of sale the new owner lease his office to the commonwealth.

He said the other office raised parking, signage and traffic problems.

A week after the March 12 meeting, Senator Ronaldson wrote to Mr Day noting he was prepared to consider the Kent Town office proposal.

After a feasibility study was conducted, at a cost to taxpayers of $5000, the minister was advised the Kent Town address did not meet a number of requirements including disability access, security and air-conditioning and that the Farrell office should be temporarily used until a fully costed proposal was developed.

Senator Ronaldson wrote to Mr Day on June 23 that the Farrell office was "absolutely fit for purposes and there is no justification whatsoever for the office being closed as a senator's office", however he agreed to the tenancy based on there being no cost to the commonwealth and it having been sold to the company Fullarton Investments.

Mr Day agreed to the work at his own expense and a letter from the minister on October 9 confirmed the government's agreement to the premises being used.

However, the office is now the focus of the government's challenge to the validity of Mr Day's election.

Under the constitution, members of parliament can't receive any indirect or direct benefit from the commonwealth.

At the heart of the argument is Mr Day's company and family trust loaned Fullarton Investments money to buy the office and are liable for a National Australia Bank mortgage on the building.

The government terminated the lease in October after receiving legal advice.

It is unclear what role other Abbott government ministers played in the initial lease decision.

Tony Abbott's former chief of staff Peta Credlin told Sky News on Thursday she couldn't recall hearing about the matter.

"Could you imagine the prime minister's office is involved in the accommodation for every member and every senator?" she said.

"It doesn't ring a bell with me, but I'll have a look at it online."

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