If you were wondering why you haven’t seen Steven Ciobo, our Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, lately, it’s because he is rarely in the country. For the first six months of the re-elected Turnbull government, Ciobo claimed almost $700,000 in expenses.
His airfares alone are staggering.
Nine days after the election, he headed off to the USA to attend the Australian American Leadership Dialogue – fares $18,127.30
Two weeks later, he went to Indonesia and Laos to attend a meeting of the ASEAN Economic Ministers – fares $21,229.36
A week after his return he was off again to Colombia, Chile, to conduct bilateral and stakeholder meetings – fares, an eyewatering $74,856.08
Four days after that, he was off to New Zealand to attend a Special Forum Trade Ministers’ meeting on PACER Plus and to conduct bilateral meetings – fares $6,102.78
A week later it was the UK and Belgium to conduct a series of high-level bilateral and stakeholder meetings – fares $41,642.79
The next week he went to China to speak at the Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia Investors’ Forum and conduct meetings with key Hong Kong based investors – fares $34,626.90
Five days after that, it was Iran to conduct bilateral meetings and lead a business delegation – fares $40,831.56
Three weeks later it was back to Norway, Netherlands, and the UK to conduct bilateral meetings and launch the new working holiday maker campaign by Tourism Australia – fares $45,331.86
A few days later, it lists a trip to the Philippines to attend the 2nd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Intersessional Ministerial Meeting but he didn’t go. That did not stop him from listing the trip and claiming $48 for a “travel advance”.
Less than two weeks after that, Ciobo flew to Peru to attend the APEC Ministerial Meeting – fares $46,998.00
Two weeks later, he was off to Switzerland and Indonesia to participate in the Environmental Goods Agreement Ministerial Meeting and conduct bilateral and stakeholder meetings – fares $38,538.15
A week after that, he ended the year with a trip to Israel to participate in the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue and conduct bilateral meetings but has so far only claimed $679.62 in travel and expense advances (whatever the hell that means) so we can look forward to another 50 grand or so for that trip to come on top of the $417,079.95 he has already claimed for overseas travel in that 6 month period.
Domestic airfares and comcars added another $45,431.44 as well as $6,576.97 for family travel and $13,822 travelling allowance.
Other expenses claimed for the period 1 July to 31 December 2016 included $212,292.17 for Office Facilities, Administrative Costs and Telecommunications.
This is the same Steve Ciobo who, in 2011, nearly caused a “diplomatic incident” by refusing to pay an $8000 hotel bill when he was on a UN exchange in New York for three months.
MPs on exchange were allocated one-bedroom apartments by the department of finance at $11,300 a month but Ciobo wanted to take his wife and 2 year old child and upgraded himself to a two bedroom apartment costing almost $14,000 a month.
When it came time to pay the bill, the Department of Finance refused to cover the cost of the difference between a one and two-bedroom apartment. And so did Mr Ciobo despite numerous letters of demand from the Department. The outstanding amount of $7486 was finally paid by the Australian mission in New York to prevent a diplomatic controversy.
One wonders how productive these endless talkfests are. Businesses and investors have a way of making contact themselves without having to drag a very expensive ideologically-driven party-bound Minister along with them.