Politicians’ $144,000 trip to South America prompts calls for tougher overseas travel rules
25th July 2016
Federal politicians are facing calls to urgently tighten overseas travel rules, after details of a $144,000 taxpayer-funded South American trip were revealed.
Cost per delegate
- Former NSW Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop and staffer Damien Jones: $52,700.62
- Incumbent Qld LNP MP Ewen Jones: $23,271.82
- Victorian Labor MP Joanne Ryan: $22,737.48
- Qld LNP senator Ian Macdonald: $22,731.10
- SA Labor senator Anne McEwen: $22,299.08
- Total: $143,740.10
Documents obtained under Freedom of Information list the famous attractions, five-star hotels and top restaurants on the two-week, country-hopping itinerary.
Five politicians, led by then-speaker Bronwyn Bishop, attended the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF) over four days in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, in January 2015.
The delegation then met politicians and officials in Peru — a country that officially accounts for 0 per cent of Australia’s global trade, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Mrs Bishop then went to Argentina, without the group, for events.
On the schedule were visits to Peru’s world heritage sites Machu Picchu and Cuzco, along with a day trip to an Ecuadorian tourist town renowned for its open-air market.
“I’m not sure whether going to an artisan market and checking out the souvenirs builds a bilateral relationship or trade relationship with a country like Ecuador or Peru,” said senator Nick Xenophon, leader of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT).
“There are ways to build to strong bilateral relationships with countries, and ways that don’t really build them at all, but just add to the souvenir collection of our MPs and senators.”
Three of four hotels were rated five stars, including two nights at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco.
The former monastery was built in the 1500s, has its own art collection, and rooms cost at least $500 per night in January next year.
Many of the restaurants listed for lunches and dinners on the itinerary are located inside five-star resorts.
“You can’t see any justification for this trip at all; it looks like a junket for sitting MPs and a golden handshake for those retiring,” Greens democracy spokesman senator Lee Rhiannon said.
The delegation’s official report said the politicians’ forum and Peru visit were worthwhile.
“[The forum is] important for institutional and professional relationships with regional parliamentarians,” Mrs Bishop said in the report.
“The delegation’s bilateral visit to Peru following the APPF meeting was valuable in highlighting elements of the bilateral relationship between Australia and Peru.”
Victorian Labor MP Joanne Ryan, who went on the trip with Mrs Bishop, Queensland LNP MP Ewen Jones, Queensland LNP senator Ian Macdonald and South Australian senator Anne McEwen, last year told newspaper the Wyndham Star Weekly the trip was “absolutely” worth it.
“The learning I did on that delegation is invaluable. There were many extraordinary benefits,” she said.
Mrs Bishop’s infamous Melbourne to Geelong helicopter ride happened two months before the South American trip.
She was jettisoned by Liberal preselectors earlier this year.
Incumbent MP Ewen Jones’s parliamentary future remains unclear as vote counting continues in his Townsville-based seat of Herbert.
There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by any individual — or by the group as a whole — or that anything fell outside the current rules.
Tourist spots on itinerary
- Machu Picchu, Peru: This ancient Incan city is a UN world heritage site.
- Cuzco, Peru: Another world-heritage-listed city.
- Pachacamac, Peru: An archeological site with several pre-Incan temples.
- Otavalo, Ecuador: A town famous for its artisan market.
Xenophon calls for greater transparency
Senator Xenophon, a key crossbencher in the new Parliament, said he would push for information about politicians’ publicly bankrolled overseas trips to be made available sooner.
“I’ll be moving a resolution for both houses of Parliament to adopt the approach that these delegations, these expenses, these itineraries … ought to be made available as a matter of course to the public within 30 days,” he said.
“So that Australian taxpayers can be the ultimate judge as to whether this was good value for money for Australian taxpayers.”
Senator Rhiannon said the Greens wanted a major overhaul of parliamentarians’ travel.
“The parliamentarians have had so long to clean up overseas travel and we still see these rorts,” she said.
“There is increasing public cynicism of politicians. The rorts have gone on for too long. We need restrictions — that means there does need to be changes in the law.
“Sometimes it [overseas travel] is needed, but let’s have much clearer guidelines, which are not in place at the moment.”