Jail a risk if Slipper wined, dined on public dime

FORMER speaker Peter Slipper could be jailed if found guilty of a taxpayer-funded tour of top wineries using his government Cabcharge card, legal experts say.

''The starting point for this has got to be jail,'' said Rachel Bird, a criminal lawyer in Canberra, after reading the court summons for Mr Slipper released on Tuesday by the ACT Magistrates Court.

The summons document alleges that on three occasions in 2010, Mr Slipper took a hire car to visit wineries that include the top-rated Clonakilla winery, well-known for its $100-a-bottle shiraz viognier.

The trips described in the document - including journeys within Canberra - cost $1194.

On one trip in January 2010, Mr Slipper allegedly travelled from Parliament House to six wineries before returning the hire car to a Canberra suburb. Mr Slipper also allegedly travelled to wineries using government Cabcharges again in April and June 2010.

The documents suggest Mr Slipper holds a particular fondness for Poachers Pantry, known in Canberra for its gourmet smoked meats. He visited the restaurant on all three journeys.

''Mr Slipper knew that he was not entitled to use the Cabcharge card to pay for the hire car fare but he did so,'' the description of offences says.

The rules state that MPs can travel at government expense only if they are undertaking ''parliamentary, electorate or official business''. If a federal MP is found guilty of a criminal offence that carries a jail term of a year or more, they are disqualified from Parliament.

Mr Slipper could face a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment but lawyers say this is unlikely. If found guilty, a shorter sentence is a ''real possibility'', according to Ben Aulich, a criminal lawyer in Canberra, who also read the allegations against Mr Slipper.

''These sorts of matters are very serious,'' Mr Aulich said. ''Anything to do with a fraud on the Commonwealth involving a breach of a position of trust in a systematic way, the first port of call is a jail term.''

When public figures are convicted of fraud, the judge typically issues a severe punishment to deter others.

Ms Bird cites as an example the jailing of former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld for lying under oath to avoid a $77 speeding fine.

The former speaker - who resigned from the position in October - allegedly filled in false information about trip locations and fares.

The Finance Department told Mr Slipper on three separate occasions between 2006 and 2007 that he should use electronic and not manual Cabcharge vouchers as they were more accountable and secure, the document alleges.

Mr Slipper allegedly continued to use Cabcharge vouchers because he wanted to avoid being investigated.

On Monday, Mr Slipper was summonsed to face the ACT Magistrates Court on February 15 for ''three offences of dishonestly causing a risk of a loss to the Commonwealth''.

Mr Slipper stood aside as speaker last April after accusations by his former staffer James Ashby that he had misused taxi dockets, as well as separate claims that he had sexually harassed Mr Ashby. Mr Slipper called the travel claims a ''complete fabrication.''

Last month, the Federal Court dismissed Mr Ashby's sexual harassment claim. In a scathing judgment, Justice Steven Rares found that the case was an ''abuse of process''.

Fairfax has attempted to contact Mr Slipper without success.

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