MP dodged Cyclone Debbie for Philippines medi-vacation
FREQUENT flying LNP backbencher George Christensen left his north Queensland electorate in the aftermath of a major cyclone to spend three weeks in south east Asia and undergo weight loss surgery.
Mr Christensen departed for the Philippines on April 13, 2017, just over a fortnight after Cyclone Debbie made landfall and while his constituents were battling to get access to federal and state disaster recovery assistance, The Courier-Mail can reveal.
The MP travelled to Malaysia for weight loss surgery on April 17 and then back to the Philippines on April 25 before returning to Australia on May 1.
Mr Christensen's absence covered a period when small businesses, farmers and residents were chasing grants to help with the clean up and while roads were still closed.
His spokeswoman defended the MP's travel, saying he was in touch with his office while abroad.
"George had his surgery booked in for a very specific window of time, that otherwise would have been lost," his spokeswoman said.
"He got the surgery, undertook a period of recovery and came home. He then went on working for cyclone-affected constituents, because cyclone recovery is not over in a day, a week, a month or a year. Apart from the actual day of his surgery he was in contact with his office every day."
Mr Christensen described the initial government response to the disaster as "inadequate" and fought for funding for repairs to Shute Harbour. He visited disaster affected regions two days after the cyclone hit, along with then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Former Whitsunday Regional Council Labor mayor Mike Brunker said he noticed Mr Christensen "wasn't around" soon after the disaster.
"He turned up with the Prime Minister in a helicopter and then sort of went missing," said Cr Brunker. "It's very ordinary for a federal member."
The current independent Mayor, Andrew Willcox, said Mr Christensen was in frequent contact during the clean-up but added he did not know about his travels.
Mr Christensen's frequent personal travel to the Philippines was being tracked by authorities since early 2017, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said. There has been no finding of wrongdoing or illegality against Mr Christensen, Mr Colvin said.
The frequency of Mr Christensen's travel alarmed senior figures in the Liberal National Party. Mr Christensen, who has a Filipina fiancee, has described reports of his travels as a "vile and hateful smear campaign" spread by a "former senior Liberal".
He made 28 trips to the Philippines last year and spent more time in the country than in Canberra in 2016 and 2017.