*Oprah Winfrey is making sure that the 300 audience members involved in her upcoming Australia trip won’t get saddled with the gift taxes that blindsided recipients of her big car giveaway in 2004.
TMZ spoke with Larry Edema from Michigan – one of the audience members on the Australia show – who said Winfrey had a certified public accountant on hand to address the tax issue immediately following the taping.
Edema says the CPA informed the group that all taxes associated with the trip would be “handled by the Oprah show,” so the trip would truly be 100% free. The CPA also explained that Winfrey would cover all sightseeing costs and travel-related expenses — including passport costs for people who can’t afford them.
It’s a big change from Oprah’s 2004 controversy — when she famously gave every audience member a brand new car, but saddled audience members with as much as $7,000 in gift taxes.
In other Oprah news, Winfrey gave more details about her December trip Down Under during an interview with Australian television Thursday.
Tourism officials have been swamped with offers to host the TV star, from rainforest and reef resorts to humble homes in Outback towns.
“Now I’m going to go look for all those cards I’ve been saving over the years, from folks who have come from Australia,” Winfrey told Australian television Thursday. “The idea of staying at a real Aussie’s house is actually pretty appealing to me. So I don’t know who that would be, but I’m not ruling that out.”
Australia paid 2.3 million US dollars to bring Oprah and 300 members of her studio audience to Australia for an eight-day showcase of the country’s beaches, vineyards and the world-famous Great Barrier Reef. The whistlestop tour will finish with a recording session in the temporarily-renamed Sydney “Oprah” House, and Tourism Queensland said they were working through a number of itineraries with Oprah and her team.
Select Australians will be given the opportunity to join Winfrey’s Sydney audience through a lottery on her website, and the star said she believed there was “quite a demand for tickets.”
Winfrey, 56, was coy on who her guests would be, although actors Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe joined director Baz Luhrmann on a list of her favourite Australians, along with Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late wildlife star “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.
“We have an idea, we’re just not telling you, or anybody there yet,” Winfrey said, joking that maybe she could meet Julia Gillard, recently elected Australia’s first female prime minister.
For her part, Winfrey said it was the “regular folks” she was most looking forward to meeting, as well as sampling some of Australia’s cuisine.
“I intend to try anything that’s not crawling,” she said, agreeing even to try Vegemite, a bitter, salty brown sandwich spread considered a national icon. “Vegemite doesn’t crawl, I will be trying it, yes.”
“It’s like our version of peanut butter right? Peanut butter and jelly? I’m open, bring it on.”