Saturday, July 29, 2006

Turning a blind eye...

Ministerial standards continue at an appalling level under the blind-eye approach of Our Great & Fearless Leader:

THE federal Minister for Tourism, Fran Bailey, has acknowledged making several private stopovers in Singapore to go shopping and visit her daughter while on official overseas trips.

The veteran MP upset embassy staff in Singapore on two stopovers when she insisted on one of her daughters being driven to and from the airport by official vehicles, sources in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have told the Herald.

Asked about the stopovers yesterday, a spokesman said the minister would not discuss private matters, adding: "Fran Bailey has travelled five times overseas in her capacity as Minister for Small Business and Tourism. All travel, including accommodation, was approved and complied with Commonwealth requirements. All travel was via the hub of Singapore. Two involved transits only and three involved stopovers. The three stopovers included one official visit and two private visits. The minister stayed in private accommodation for all three stopovers at no expense to the Commonwealth."

It is not the first time Ms Bailey's spending habits have come under fire. In May it was revealed that taxpayers had paid $5156 to train her in public speaking - an outlay she defended, saying: "I think it is essential for every employer to maintain personal skill levels and to provide professional training for their staff."

Last month Ms Bailey was listed by the Department of Finance as one of the top 10 spenders on travel among federal MPs, having spent $73,137 last year.

Ms Bailey's office has yet to answer questions, posed by Labor at the Senate Estimates Committee two months ago, which focused on three taxpayer-funded trips the minister took in the past year. The first related to an official visit to India between September 17 and 24
last year. The trip, which cost $28,082, was justified "to promote bilateral tourism relationship" as well as to sign a memorandum of understanding and attend Tourism Australia's Indian travel mission.

But it was not the purpose of the trip that prompted questions by the ALP's Kerry O'Brien during a Senate Estimates Committee hearing on May 29. Rather, it was where she stayed and whether she moved from the Hilton Hotel, where rooms start at $250 per night, to the more expensive Taj Mahal Palace, where the cheapest rooms cost $600 a night.

Senator O'Brien also wanted to know who had travelled with Ms Bailey and, if she made a stopover in Singapore, why a stopover was necessary and if taxpayers had picked up the tab. The questions were all taken on notice by departmental officers.

Senator O'Brien then turned his attention to a two-week trip in July last year to South Korea, Japan and China, which cost taxpayers $29,485, again asking if she had made an unscheduled stopover in Singapore.

A stopover was not mentioned in the official explanation, filed with the Department of Finance and Administration, which referred to "discussions on the developing tourism market" with China and the Aicho Expo in Japan.

Senator O'Brien wanted to ask similar questions about the minister's dash to London in March at the height of the row over the "So where the bloody hell are you?" advertising campaign, but ended up placing them all on notice.

Ms Bailey's office said answers would be provided in Parliament within the next fortnight.

Sydney Morning Herald

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