Travel and hospitality

Political junkets and influence

If you want a free overseas holiday it pays to be an elected official. But it may not be costless. Here's our analysis on the foreign governments, think tanks, and lobby groups giving junkets to our MPs and senators.

By Sean Johnson
25 January 2022


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At least 39 federal MPs and senators - one in six parliamentarians - have enjoyed junkets since the last election, with Taiwan and Israel the most popular destinations based on an analysis of the interest registers.

What’s known in the trade as study tours are a fixture of Australian politics, where foreign governments, think tanks, and lobby groups try to influence our politicians by funding their overseas trips.

As detailed in the table below, eleven visited Taiwan in 2019-20 as guests of the national government, which paid for international flights, ground transfers, meals, drinks, and accommodation. Taiwanese taxpayers even stumped up for two MPs to bring their partners. 

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which receives funding from foreign governments and arms manufacturers, paid for Tim Watts, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security, to attend the Australia-Taiwan Cyber and Technology Dialogue in late 2019. This included three nights accommodation and return flights.  

The trips may not have influenced anyone’s views, but Taipei must be pleased with Senator Eric Abetz, the Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, who, following his 2019 visit, called for Australia to defend Taiwan in the event of a war with China. Fellow traveller Ted O’Brien pushed the Morrison government to pursue a free trade agreement with Taiwan and more recently accused the Chinese Communist Party of trying to divide Australian business and the federal government over trade relations with China.

Just prior to visiting Taiwan, O’Brien was in China along with Tanya Plibersek on a trip paid for by China Matters, an Australian policy institute that seeks to build the Sino-Australian relationship. That’s not quite going to plan. 

Eleven MPs and senators visited Israel in late 2019. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council funded trips by six Liberals, while the International Institute for Strategic Leadership Dialogue sponsored two Labor politicians and one Liberal to attend the institute’s 11th annual dialogue. Unfortunately for the travelling band COVID-19 forced the 12th dialogue in 2020 to be held by video conference. 

The Israel Allies Foundation and ASPI funded one trip a piece, with the latter financing Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie’s attendance at a conference ASPI co-hosted in 2019 with the BESA Center, a strategic studies think tank based in Tel Aviv. As reported by Crikey in 2016, a former head of BESA published a paper that year opposing the Obama Administration’s efforts to destroy Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, arguing that a weakened but functioning IS would undermine Iran’s ambitions to be a regional hegemon. During Trump’s presidency BESA published glowing articles on his foreign policy and winning ways, and later criticised Twitter for deplatforming him. 

Hastie seems popular with strategic policy institutes. In mid 2019, before he was appointed to the ministry, he received return business class flights to London and accommodation from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) and Konrad-Adenauer Siftung to participate in a conference on Chinese and Russian Hybrid Warfare. HJS is a neoconservative think tank that supports interventionist foreign policy like the illegal invasion of Iraq, and in 2017 was denounced by one of its co-founders Matthew Jamison for demonising Muslims and running an anti-Chinese propaganda campaign. 

Senator Kimberley Kitching, Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, received unspecified hospitality from Hermitage Capital Management during her visit to London in 2021 to receive an award for her role in the introduction of ‘Magnitsky’ human rights sanctions legislation. The award was presented by Hermitage’s founder Bill Browder, who is driving a global campaign for Magnitsky acts following the death of his colleague Sergei Magnitsky after he revealed corruption in the Russian government. In her acceptance speech Kitching thanked her ‘Wolverine’ buddies Andrew Hastie and Senator James Paterson for helping get the legislation passed.  

The United States government is normally a big provider of junkets to the US, but it has been tight in recent years, with the US International Visitors Leadership Program only covering stateside travel and accommodation for five MPs and senators in late 2019. Likewise the Australian American Leadership Dialogue’s 2019 Honolulu Leadership Dialogue required Andrew Hastie and Anthony Albanese to pay their way there, though in Albanese’s case Qantas upgraded him to business class for the flight back to Sydney. (We’ll have more to say about Qantas upgrades and hospitality in an upcoming article.) 

Three MPs snared perhaps the best junket of all: the Australian Computer Society's innovation and technology study tour of Estonia, Finland and the UK in November 2019.  But while a tour of northern European capitals sounds like a lot of fun, the public benefit is less clear.

Another three pollies were hosted by the Coalition for Conservation (C4C) on the sidelines of COP26, the UN climate change conference in Glasgow in November 2021. C4C was established by a NSW Liberal party member to help conservative politicians develop ‘market based solutions’ to reach net zero. Maybe they could look at the emissions trading scheme their government abolished in 2014.

One trip open politics initially couldn’t make sense of was Trevor Evans’ participation in a parliamentary delegation to the Philippines in 2019, as no one else declared they went on it. The same for Senator Paterson’s trip to New Zealand in 2019 and Nicolle Flint’s visit to Japan in 2020. But a check of the explanatory notes for the interest registers reveals that parliamentary delegations do not need to be disclosed because they fall outside the definition of ‘sponsored travel’.

That’s understandable given such delegations are not paid for by private or foreign interests, though it highlights that the table below significantly understates the true extent of overseas travel. Ministerial travel is excluded for the same reason. 

So there you have it - at least a partial picture. If not for COVID-19 the numbers would be much greater, however with the recent removal of border restrictions we can expect to see an uptick in travel in 2022. Once the election is out of the way it’ll be wheels up. For those who can hang on to their seats.

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List of interests

TaiwanDateInterestPersonDetails
Eric Abetz6/09/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfVisit to Taiwan 25-30 August 2019 hosted by Taipei Economic & Cultural Office.
Slade Brockman16/09/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfThe Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia hosted me on a visit to Taiwan including return airfares between Sunday, 25 August and Friday, 30 August 2019
David Fawcett13/09/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfThe Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia hosted me on a visit to Taiwan including return airfares between Sunday, 25th August and Friday, 30th August 2019.
Steve Georganas29/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfCosts - Taiwan 28 October to 1 November - Travel - flights, gound transfers, meals and accommodation provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan) for study tour to Taiwan - 29 October - 1 November
Chris Hayes27/08/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFrom 4 August 2019 - 9 August 2019 at the invitation of the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Australia, I travelled to Taiwan. The cost of the return Premium Economy airfares to Taiwan on China Airlines, as well as accommodation, food and beverages, were met by the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Australia - with spouse.
Chris Hayes27/08/1912. Travel or hospitalitySpouse/partnerFrom 4 August 2019 - 9 August 2019 at the invitation of the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Australia, I travelled to Taiwan. The cost of the return Premium Economy airfares to Taiwan on China Airlines, as well as accommodation, food and beverages, were met by the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Australia - with spouse.
Ted O'Brien22/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfTravel - flights, ground transfers, meals and accommodation provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan) for study tour to Taiwan - 29 October - 1 November 2019.
Graham Perrett11/04/1911. GiftsSelfTravel to Taiwan (including accommodation and various small gifts) from Taiwanese Government.
Tony Sheldon22/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfVisit to Taiwan (28 October-2 November 2019) organised by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan Including return business class flights (Sydney - Taipei), accommodation, meals and ground transfers
David Smith4/09/2012. Travel or hospitalitySelfReturn air travel, accommodation and hospitality from the Government of Taiwan as part of a delegation that visited Taiwan between 25 August and 31 August - with spouse.
David Smith4/09/2012. Travel or hospitalitySpouse/partnerReturn air travel, accommodation and hospitality from the Government of Taiwan as part of a delegation that visited Taiwan between 25 August and 31 August - with spouse.
Maria Vamvakinou26/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfTravel - flights, ground transfers, meals and accommodation provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan) for study tour to Taiwan - 29 October to November 1st 2019
Tim Watts9/12/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfAustralia-Taiwan Cyber and Technology Dialogue 3 nights accommodation Taipei Economy flights – Melb Taipei return Funded by Australia Strategic Policy Institute International Cyber Centre
Rick Wilson11/09/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfThe Taipei Economic and Cultural Office hosted me on a trip to Taiwan between Sunday the 25th of August and Friday the 30th of August including airfares, accomodation and meals.

News

List of interests

ChinaDateInterestPersonDetails
Ted O'Brien8/10/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfTravel - flights, ground transfers, meals and accommodation provided by China Matters for study tour to China - 23-29 September 2019
Tanya Plibersek22/06/2012. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlights, accommodation and hospitality provided by China Matters, as part of a delegation. NB: Qantas flight upgrade for Sydney-Beijing leg of trip.

News

List of interests

IsraelDateInterestPersonDetails
Eric Abetz17/12/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfVisit to Israel 7-14 December 2019 hosted by the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council.
Katie Allen4/02/2012. Travel or hospitalitySelfStudy Trip to Israel provided and paid for by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) December 2019. Cost of airfares, accommodation and meals all covered.
Alex Antic20/12/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfHospitality in the form of flights, accomodation, meals and transport from the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) to facilitate attendance on the Federal Liberal Study Group Visit to the State of Israel between 7-14 December 2019.
Andrew Hastie11/04/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfHospitality in the form of flights, accommodation, most consumables and transport from the Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) through the Rambam Israel Fellowship program to attend the Coalition MP Study Group Visit to Israel in 2017.
Andrew Hastie18/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfHospitality, return flights, accommodation and registration fees from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute for the ASPI-BESA 2019 Beersheba Dialogue in Israel.
Kimberley Kitching19/12/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfInternational Institute for annual Intenational strategic Strategic Leadership's 11th Annual International Strategic Leadership Dialogue 13-16 December 2019, Israel
Richard Marles19/12/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfTravel and accommodation (2 nights) for myself provided by the International Institute For Strategic Leadership Dialogue to attend the Dialogue in Israel.
James Stevens20/12/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfTwo nights accommodation in Jerusalem, Israel from the International Institute for Strategic Leadership Dialogue
James Stevens20/12/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfOne complimentary ticket to the Gala Dinner for the International Institute for Strategic Leadership Dialogue in Jerusalem, Israel
David Van14/01/2012. Travel or hospitalitySelfHospitality in the form of flights, accomodation, meals and transport from the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) to facilitate attendance on the Federal Liberal Study Group Visit to the State of Israel between 7-14 December 2019.
Bert van Manen8/01/2012. Travel or hospitalitySelfStudy trip to Israel provided and paid for by AIJAC December 2019. Cost of airfares, accommodation and meals all covered.
Andrew Wallace16/12/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfDecember 2019: Was provided hospitality by way of flights, transfers, accommodation and meals by the Israel Allies Foundation for the Jerusalem Chairman's Conference 2019.

News

List of interests

United StatesDateInterestPersonDetails
Anthony Albanese1/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade on QF4 Honolulu to Sydney 10 October 2019
Anthony Albanese1/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfAccommodation provided by the Australian American Leadership Dialogue in connection with the Honolulu Leadership Dialogue.
Andrew Hastie29/10/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfHospitality at the Australian American Leadership Dialogue (AALD) 2019 Honolulu Leadership Dialogue.
Julian Hill24/10/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfParticipation in International Visitor Leadership Program (30 September - 7 October 2019) - USA Department of State program focused on foreign policy and defence issues.
Jenny McAllister30/01/2014. Other interestsSelfParticipant: 2020 West Coast Dialogue. Australian American Leadership Dialogue.
James Paterson7/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfDomestic travel, accommodation and hospitality on study tour of the United States, September October 2019, courtesy US Department of State
Meryl Swanson1/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfParticipation in International Visitor Leadership Program (30 September - 7 October 2019) - USA Department of State program focused on foreign policy and defence issues. Program included ground transport, accommodation, meals and incidentals. International airfares were purchased at my own expense.
Kate Thwaites15/10/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfInternational Visitors Leadership Program trip to the United States, sponsored by the US State Department (internal travel, accommodation and meal allowance paid for). September 29 - October 8 2019

News

List of interests

EuropeDateInterestPersonDetails
Damian Drum24/11/2112. Travel or hospitalitySelfTravel, accommodation and hospitality to attend the Australia - UK Conservative Delegation – COP26 from 7-17th November 2021
Kevin Hogan13/12/2112. Travel or hospitalitySelfAirfares, accommodation,transportation and hospitality to UK. Sponsored by the Coalition for Conservation. November 2021
Ed Husic17/01/2012. Travel or hospitalitySelfInnovation and technology study tour hosted by the Australian Computer Society. Costs including airfares, accomodation and most in country costs in Tallinn, Helsinki and London. November 2019
Kimberley Kitching24/11/2112. Travel or hospitalitySelfHospitality in London UK in November 2021 provided by Hermitage Capital Management Ltd UK
Dean Smith7/12/2112. Travel or hospitalitySelfAirfares, accommodation, transfers and some meals in the United Kingdom (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Hull) from 6 November to 13 November 2021 hosted by the Australian based Coalition for Conservation to attend COP26, The Global Conservative Climate Summit and The British Conservation Alliance Youth Environment Summit.
Susan Templeman2/12/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfInnovation and technology study tour hosted by the Australian Computer Society, covering airfares, accommodation and most in-country costs in Tallinn, Helsinki and London. November 2019
Trent Zimmerman27/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfInnovation and technology study tour hosted by the Australian Computer Society. Costs including airfares, accomodation and most in-country costs in Tallinn, Helsinki and London. November 2019.

News

List of interests

PhilippinesDateInterestPersonDetails
Trevor Evans17/10/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfTravel including flights, transfers and hospitality for political exchange to the Philippines, 28 Sep - 4 Oct 2019, hosted by the Australian Political Exchange Council.

News

List of interests

JapanDateInterestPersonDetails
Nicolle Flint30/07/2012. Travel or hospitalitySelfAustralian Political Exchange Council - Parliamentary Delegation to Japan - February 2020

News

List of interests

New ZealandDateInterestPersonDetails
James Paterson13/11/1912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlights, accommodation and hospitality for delegation visit to New Zealand, 25-30 August 2019, courtesy of the Australian Political Exchange Council and the New Zealand Government