Every year, Australia sends two federal politicians for a three-month secondment to observe and work with the established Australian Mission to the United Nations but, in recent times, it has increasingly been used as a reward, or a “lap of honour”, or to remove a problem MP.
This year, we will be sending two women who have announced they will not be contesting the next election. How can that be viewed as a productive use of taxpayers’ money?
The Liberals are sending Anne Sudmalis to shut her up about her bullying claims. Morrison had offered the posting to Julia Banks a week before for similar reasons but she declined. Labor are sending Jenny Macklin to reward her for years of service.
Forget the fact that these postings can cost about $100,000 each and that there is no requirement to file an official account about their work while there or Australia’s activities at the UN.
Former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi was given a “secondment” to the United Nations in 2016, and soon after his return he quit the party and then formed his own.
Asked at the time about the selection process, considering Bernardi’s oft-expressed disdain for the UN, a representative from Chief Government Whip David Bushby’s office said: “Sorry, we don’t provide that information.”
That year, Bernardi was joined by Labor’s Lisa Singh, no doubt as an apology for relegating her to a supposedly unwinnable spot on the Tasmanian Senate ticket in favour of some union bloke until people chose to vote below the line to re-elect her.
In 2015, Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan was joined on the plum posting by former Labor treasurer and deputy prime minister Wayne Swan, both of whom will also not be contesting next year’s election – Swan by choice and O’Sullivan because his party dumped him from the Queensland Senate ticket. It was reported that the costs associated with their secondments, including airfares, accommodation and transport, exceeded $120,000.
In 2011, Steve Ciobo – then a Liberal backbencher – refused to pay an $8000 hotel bill while on the same secondment. Instead of using the one-bedroom apartment provided by the department of finance at $11,300 a month, Ciobo rented a two-bedroom apartment at the Bristol at almost $14,000 a month because his pregnant wife and their two-year-old child wanted to accompany him.
Ciobo refused to pay the difference. The Department of Finance also declined to settle the tab, which was eventually picked up by Australian consular officials in New York amid a diplomatic fracas.
This is so obviously being used as an annual junket by both the government and opposition. And they wonder why we are cynical.