JUNKETS AND INFLUENCE

One in six Australian federal parliamentarians have accepted free overseas trips since the last election, with strategic flash-points Taiwan and Israel the most popular destinations paid for by lobbyists and foreign governments.

by | Jan 25, 2022 | influence, lobbying

Canberra Airport, the gateway to Australia’s National Capital, and the stepping-off point for many Australian politicians accepting the largesse of foreign governments and lobbyists. (Photo: Canberra Airport)

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 is heavily influenced by foreign weapons manufacturers and 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 lobby group funded trips by six Liberals, while the International Institute for Strategic Leadership Dialogue, a  ‘backchannel for private diplomacy’, 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, an Israeli organisation coordinating an international network of lobby groups, 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 NATO-supported strategic studies think tank based in Tel Aviv, Israel. 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 controversial private investment fund, Hermitage Capital Management, during her visit to London in 2021 to receive an award for her role in the introduction into the Australian parliament 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 apparent 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, 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 pro-US alliance 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. 

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 federal election is out of the way it’ll be wheels up. For those who can hang on to their seats.


Canberra Airport is the stepping-off point for many Australian politicians accepting the largesse of foreign governments and lobbyists. (Photo: Canberra Airport)

Australian Parliamentarians’ Sponsored Overseas Trips, 2019/21

Data extracted from the Federal government’s Register of Members’ Interests and Register of Senators’ Interests.
The purpose of the Registers of Interests is to place on the public record Members’ and Senators’ interests which “may conflict, or may be seen to conflict, with their public duty”.

TaiwanDatePersonDetails
Steve Georganas29/11/19SelfCosts – 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 Hayes27/08/19SelfFrom 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 Hayes27/08/19Spouse/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’Brien22/11/19SelfTravel – 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 Perrett11/04/19SelfTravel to Taiwan (including accommodation and various small gifts) from Taiwanese Government.
David Smith4/09/20SelfReturn 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 Smith4/09/20Spouse/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 Vamvakinou26/11/19SelfTravel – 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 Watts9/12/19SelfAustralia-Taiwan Cyber and Technology Dialogue 3 nights accommodation Taipei Economy flights – Melb Taipei return Funded by Australia Strategic Policy Institute International Cyber Centre
Rick Wilson11/09/19SelfThe 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.
Eric Abetz6/09/19SelfVisit to Taiwan 25-30 August 2019 hosted by Taipei Economic & Cultural Office.
Slade Brockman16/09/19SelfThe 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 Fawcett13/09/19SelfThe 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.
Tony Sheldon22/11/19SelfVisit 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
ChinaDatePersonDetails
Ted O’Brien22/11/19SelfTravel – 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.
Tanya Plibersek22/06/20SelfFlights, accommodation and hospitality provided by China Matters, as part of a delegation. NB: Qantas flight upgrade for Sydney-Beijing leg of trip.
Tim Wilson15/10/19SelfFlights (Brisbane to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong to Melbourne) and accommodation to speak at The Economist’s Open Future Festival, The Economist Newspaper
Tim Wilson15/10/19SelfUnsolicited Business class upgrade, Brisbane to Hong Kong flight, QANTAS Airways
IsraelDatePersonDetails
Andrew Hastie18/11/19SelfHospitality, return flights, accommodation and registration fees from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute for the ASPI-BESA 2019 Beersheba Dialogue in Israel.
Richard Marles19/12/19SelfTravel and accommodation (2 nights) for myself provided by the International Institute For Strategic Leadership Dialogue to attend the Dialogue in Israel.
Katie Allen4/02/20SelfStudy 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.
James Stevens20/12/19SelfTwo nights accommodation in Jerusalem, Israel from the International Institute for Strategic Leadership Dialogue
James Stevens20/12/19SelfOne complimentary ticket to the Gala Dinner for the International Institute for Strategic Leadership Dialogue in Jerusalem, Israel
Bert van Manen8/01/20SelfStudy trip to Israel provided and paid for by AIJAC December 2019. Cost of airfares, accommodation and meals all covered.
Andrew Wallace16/12/19SelfDecember 2019: Was provided hospitality by way of flights, transfers, accommodation and meals by the Israel Allies Foundation for the Jerusalem Chairman’s Conference 2019.
Eric Abetz17/12/19SelfVisit to Israel 7-14 December 2019 hosted by the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council.
Alex Antic20/12/19SelfHospitality in the form of flights, accommodation, 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.
Claire Chandler19/12/19SelfParticipated in 2019 Rambam Israel Fellowship Program for federal parliamentarians, provided by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. Trip to Israel, 7-14 December 2019.
Kimberley Kitching19/12/19SelfInternational Institute for annual Intenational strategic Strategic Leadership’s 11th Annual International Strategic Leadership Dialogue 13-16 December 2019, Israel
David Van14/01/20SelfHospitality in the form of flights, accommodation, 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.
United StatesDatePersonDetails
Kate Thwaites15/10/19SelfInternational 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
James Paterson7/11/19SelfDomestic travel, accommodation and hospitality on study tour of the United States, September October 2019, courtesy US Department of State
Vince Connelly29/10/19SelfUS International Visitor Leadership Program participant 30 Sep to 8 Oct 2019. Participation was at the invitation of the US State Department and the program focussed on Defense and Foreign Policy, including engagement with Pentagon, State Department and political personnel. International travel was at personal expense and the US State Department covered domestic travel and accomodation, as well as a per diem (in line with US government policy) to cover meals and incidentals.
Julian Hill24/10/19SelfParticipation in International Visitor Leadership Program (30 September – 7 October 2019) – USA Department of State program focused on foreign policy and defence issues.
Meryl Swanson1/11/19SelfParticipation 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.
Anthony Albanese1/11/19SelfAccommodation provided by the Australian American Leadership Dialogue in connection with the Honolulu Leadership Dialogue.
Anthony Albanese1/11/19SelfUpgrade on QF4 Honolulu to Sydney 10 October 2019
Andrew Hastie29/10/19SelfHospitality at the Australian American Leadership Dialogue (AALD) 2019 Honolulu Leadership Dialogue.
United KingdomDatePersonDetails
Andrew Hastie11/04/19SelfHospitality in the form of return business flights and accommodation from the Konrad-Adenauer Siftung and Henry Jackson Society in order to participate in their London conference on Chinese and Russian Hybrid Warfare (24-28 June 2019).
Kevin Hogan13/12/21SelfAirfares, accommodation,transportation and hospitality to UK. Sponsored by the Coalition for Conservation. November 2021
Damian Drum24/11/21SelfTravel, accommodation and hospitality to attend the Australia – UK Conservative Delegation – COP26 from 7-17th November 2021
Dean Smith7/12/21SelfAirfares, 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.
Kimberley Kitching24/11/21SelfHospitality in London UK in November 2021 provided by Hermitage Capital Management Ltd UK
European UnionDatePersonDetails
Steve Georganas29/07/19SelfOne Economy return airfare from Adelaide to Athens and 4 nights Accommodation and hospitality – sponsored by World Hellenic InterParliamentary Association – July 2019
Steve Georganas7/02/20SelfWorld Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association (WHIA) Greece and Cyprus – 14 to 23 January 2020 Cost: Travel, Economy flights to and from return, ground transfers, meals and accommodation – sponsored by WHIA
Ed Husic17/01/20SelfInnovation 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
Susan Templeman2/12/19SelfInnovation 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 Zimmerman27/11/19SelfInnovation 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.
PhilippinesDatePersonDetails
Trevor Evans17/10/19SelfTravel including flights, transfers and hospitality for political exchange to the Philippines, 28 Sep – 4 Oct 2019, hosted by the Australian Political Exchange Council.
Trevor Evans17/10/19SelfFlight upgrade from economy to business on Sydney to Manila flight on 28 Sep 2019 from Qantas
JapanDatePersonDetails
Nicolle Flint30/07/20SelfAustralian Political Exchange Council – Parliamentary Delegation to Japan – February 2020
New ZealandDatePersonDetails
James Paterson13/11/19SelfFlights, 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

This article has been co-published by Declassified Australia and Open Politics.

Sean Johnson

SEAN JOHNSON is a former Liberal ministerial adviser and public affairs consultant, and is the founder of Open Politics, an online resource providing increased public scrutiny of the private interests of Australian federal politicians. View all posts by