Labor demands investigation into Hockey, Cormann and Helloworld
Advertisement

Labor demands investigation into Hockey, Cormann and Helloworld

Labor is demanding an investigation into senior Liberals with links to travel business Helloworld in a dispute over whether the Australian ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, used his position to help the company.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended Mr Hockey in Parliament on Wednesday by insisting the ambassador did not tell staff to set up a meeting with the company in Washington DC, months before it bid for a lucrative government contract.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed on Monday that Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and his family received free flights from Helloworld in 2017, months before the company won a contract with the Finance Department.

Senator Cormann booked the flights directly with Helloworld chief executive Andrew Burnes. He has since paid $2,780.82 for the flights.

Advertisement
Loading

Mr Morrison countered the Labor concerns about the Washington DC meeting and any lobbying by QBT to win a government contract to provide travel services, as the issue dominated questions in Parliament on Wednesday.

“I’m advised Mr Hockey did not instruct staff to meet QBT or any other companies in relation to the tender and as part of normal business, Australian embassy staff have met and corresponded with a whole range of travel providers to discuss the embassy’s travel requirements,” Mr Morrison said in question time.

But an email from an official at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade suggests Mr Hockey asked for the meeting, in a step that may have helped the company understand the department’s business for a separate government contract.

The email from the DFAT official, dated April 24, 2017, was sent to set up a meeting between QBT and DFAT in Washington DC later that week.

“Ambassador Hockey has asked that I set up a meeting while you are in Washington on Wednesday,” the email said.

“Would you be available at 10:30am, hopefully the ambassador can join the meeting but the Minister Counseller Justin McPhillips who is in charge of administration at the embassy will definitely meet with you.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Mr Burnes is also the honorary federal treasurer of the Liberal Party, an unpaid position that is central to the party’s ability to raise funds for the coming election.

Mr Burnes is also a longstanding friend of Mr Hockey and has known Senator Cormann for several years, as well as being connected to many of the most senior Liberals in the federal government.

Loading

Helloworld said its QBT subsidiary was awarded a contract in 2015 to provide travel management to the Commonwealth, including DFAT, and sought the meeting in 2017 to discuss the provision of travel services in the US.

A formal tender process for the DFAT work began in August 2018 and QBT is one of the bidders, but no announcement has been made about the contract.

“At no time has ambassador Hockey or Helloworld CEO Andrew Burnes discussed the DFAT tender and neither Mr Hockey nor Mr Burnes have had any involvement in the tender process,” the company said.

“Mr Burnes did not request the meeting with DFAT personnel in the United States.

“At all times Helloworld and Mr Burnes have acted properly in the tender process.”

Mr Morrison denied in Parliament that the meeting was held as the result of an instruction from the ambassador.

Labor finance spokesman Jim Chalmers asked Mr Morrison to explain the conflicts of interest and table all documents about the matter within 24 hours.

Mr Chalmers also called on Mr Morrison to investigate and report to Parliament on how far the “scandal” reached into his government.

Mr Morrison said Mr Hockey had no role in the tender process and declared his business interests appropriately.

“The Australian embassy staff meeting on 26 April 2017, I’m advised, was not in relation to the tender process,” Mr Morrison said.

“QBT was then, and continues to be, a travel [supplier] for DFAT through a whole-of-government supply arrangement.

“I'm advised embassy staff did not meet QBT or other staff in relation to the tender and embassy staff have met and corresponded with a whole range of travel providers to discuss the embassy’s travel requirements.

“So what this is, again, is the Labor Party trying to distract attention with all these slurs, all these smears, all these grubby claims.”

David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Most Viewed in Politics

Loading
Advertisement