Travel and hospitalityGiftsMemberships

Flying high: How politicians travel in style

Qantas and Virgin provide MPs and senators with access to luxury airport lounges and flight upgrades. But at what cost. Open Politics tallies up the freebies being dished out by Australia’s domestic carriers and foreign airlines.

Sean Johnson22 February 2022

The Qantas Chairman's Lounge is the perfect place for politicians to unwind and avoid the hoi polloi

The entrance can be hard to spot. Opaque glass, minimal or no signage. You've probably walked past a Qantas Chairman's Lounge without noticing it. But there's luxury on the other side of those sliding doors: fine dining, alcohol, private rooms for meetings, showers, massages and spas. Plus a host who will come and tell you when it's time to board your flight.

Most of us will never see inside the Chairman's Lounge as it’s an invite only club. Unlike the standard Qantas Lounge or Business Lounge, you can’t apply to get in. Nor will any number of frequent flyer points help.  Membership is the sole gift of Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who decides every two years who will or won't receive a black membership card. In addition to politicians, the lounge is inhabited by the c suite, sporting figures, media and entertainment personalities, and other big wigs. Members can bring guests. 

Virgin’s less prestigious version was The Club before the airline went into administration in 2020. It offered members free limousine transfers and the ability to book seats on full domestic and international flights, however all this is under threat with media reports The Club will undergo a ‘refresh’ involving fewer lounges and reduced benefits when it reopens this year. 

Who’s in, who’s out    

Open Politics understands from various insiders that pretty much all federal parliamentarians and their partners are offered complimentary membership of the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge and Virgin’s The Club.

But you wouldn’t know it from the parliamentary interest registers. Leaving aside Senator Jacqui Lambie, whose membership of the Chairman’s Lounge was cancelled in spectacular circumstances last year, 72 of 227 pollies - 31% of the parliament - do not list Chairman's in their statements of registrable interests. Of these, 23 declared their membership of the lower rung Qantas Club and 49 listed no Qantas memberships at all. 

This is puzzling. We know former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was not a member because he didn't want to feel obligated to Qantas, so it's possible these 72 pollies have refused on principle too. Or maybe Alan's invitation never arrived in the mail. Another possibility is that they haven't declared Chairman’s because they do not believe membership of the top tier lounge qualifies as a registrable interest: an interest that may conflict, or may be seen to conflict, with their public duties. 

Seven cabinet ministers have not listed Chairman's in their interest statements, including Employment Minister Stuart Robert, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, Attorney General Michaelia Cash, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, Veterans’ Affairs Minister Andrew Gee, Families Minister Anne Ruston, and benched Education Minister Alan Tudge. 

On the Opposition side, five shadow cabinet ministers don’t appear to have a Qantas black entry card. This includes Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke, Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler, Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, and Shadow Special Minister of State Don Farrell. 

It’s hard to imagine Qantas would not have offered Chairman’s to these senior political players while giving it to Senator Alex Antic, Chair of the sleepy Joint Committee on Publications, or Andrew Laming, who's been a backbencher his entire 18 years in parliament. This means they either declined to join or have decided that public disclosure is not necessary.   

Only 68 pollies - 30% of the parliament - have declared membership of Virgin's The Club. However the true number could be higher as many disclosure statements are vaguely worded, only declaring membership of the far less fancy 'Virgin Club Lounge' - both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader use this formulation in their interest statements. Again, it’s unlikely Virgin didn’t offer Morrison and Albanese membership of The Club when so many of their junior colleagues are members.

Upgrades, Champagne and more

Qantas | Virgin | Fiji Airways | Emirates | Qatar Airways | American Airlines | Air Canada | Nauru Airlines |

Access to a luxury departure lounge is just the beginning for our travelling politicians, with 34 declaring complimentary flight upgrades.  

At least four have received first class upgrades: Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Attorney General Michaelia Cash were bumped up from business to first class on Qantas flights to the US in 2020, while Labor Senator Catryna Bilyk and CLP Senator Sam McMahon flew at the pointy end from Doha to Melbourne with Qatar Airways in 2019. 

The Prime Minister has not received a first class upgrade, but he hardly needs it when he's on official business as he has his own private suite on the RAAF VIP A330 Airbus. Anyway, the PM didn't miss out entirely as he and family received business class upgrades from Qantas and Fiji Airways for their holiday to Fiji in June 2019. The same for the alternative prime minister Anthony Albanese, who was upgraded to Qantas business class for his flight home from Hawaii in October of the same year. 

As if exclusive lounges and upgrades were not enough, Qantas has provided six pollies with bottles of ‘Piper Heidsieck Rare Millesime 2002 Champagne’ valued at $275. Two MPs  - Anthony Albanese and former deputy PM Michael McCormack - even scored ‘Commemorative Qantas 747 Half Bar Carts’ valued at $974.70. It wasn’t clear to us what use someone would have for an aircraft bar cart, but the Qantas website helpfully explains that it allow you to "enjoy drinks' service at home . . . [and is stocked with] a range of Business Class items, including Champagne, mini bottles of red and white wine, Tim Tams, iconic Qantas pyjamas, an exclusive Qantas First Class Sheridan throw and more.” Good to know. 

Charter flights

Nev Power, former chair of the National COVID Commission and ex CEO of Fortescue Metals Group, appears to be using his Embraer 505 Business Jet to run an airline for Liberal politicians, with the interest registers showing he flew former attorney general Christian Porter and his WA colleague Ben Morton between Canberra and Perth on several occasions in 2020. Given the lack of direct flights between the two cities, this would’ve shaved at least an hour off Porter's and Morton's journeys. Power Air briefly operated a Canberra to Brisbane route the same year for Porter and Defence (against China) Minister Peter Dutton.  

Porter and co might have trouble getting a lift from Power in the near future as he was charged this month with breaching WA border restrictions by flying into the state in a helicopter without quarantining or filling out a border pass. If convicted, he could serve up to 12 months jail. 

In all, 11 parliamentarians have received complimentary charter flights this term of parliament. The gong for the least transparent disclosure goes to Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce for his declaration of a private charter flight from Armidale to Brisbane in May 2021 where he failed to disclose who paid for the flight or the purpose of the travel, as is required by the Members' Register. Alas, Barnaby is not Robinson Crusoe as almost no one else declared the purposes of their charter trips either.

Influence

The obvious question is why airlines and Nev Power provide concessional travel, hospitality, and gifts to parliamentarians but not the general population. In the case of Power, we don't know his motivations, but his charter flights got him hours of face time with two senior ministers and a confidant of the PM. Joe public would be lucky to get a meeting with a cabinet minister, and, even if they did, the discussion wouldn't go beyond 20 - 30 minutes before being cut short by a division bell or a pre-arranged phone call. While Power may only have been chatting about the weather and the footy while jetting Porter, Dutton, and Morton home, the flights create an appearance of favoured access to decision makers and influencers.   

Then there’s Qantas. Running the Chairman's Lounge and providing upgrades to business and first class would be an enormous expense, but in return Qantas would be hoping to get a more favourable political climate where governments and oppositions are not inclined to do anything that will hurt the airline’s commercial interests. At a minimum, the freebies buy Qantas political access, as MPs and senators are less likely to reject meeting requests from an organisation that makes their travels so pleasant.  

Finally we have Qatar Airways and Emirates providing first class and business upgrades to our junketeering pollies. While we don't believe politicians should accept upgrades from any airline - whether domestic or foreign - it's quite another step to receive them from airlines owned by governments with atrocious human rights records like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Further, Qatar Airways and Emirates have appalling records in their treatment of female cabin crews.

Before accepting the next upgrade, MPs and senators might like to consider the cost of this luxury and whether they are being used by the regimes as part of their soft power strategies to paper over human rights abuses. 

And as for accepting Chairman's from Qantas, politicians could follow Turnbull's lead and decline, and use their points to access a lower level lounge. Better yet, they could sit outside in general departure lounge and talk to the voting public. Just a thought.

NameDateInterestPersonDetails
Anthony Albanese01/11/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade on QF4 Honolulu to Sydney 10 October 2019
Anthony Albanese10/12/202011. GiftsSelfGift from Qantas - Commemorative Qantas 747 Half Bar Cart
Adam Bandt11/04/201911. GiftsSelfOccasional upgrades from economy to business class on Qantas
Adam Bandt18/10/201911. GiftsSpouse/partnerSpouse - Qantas flight upgrade on personal flight
Adam Bandt11/04/201911. GiftsSpouse/partnerOccasional upgrades from economy to business class on Qantas
Simon Birmingham21/01/202011. GiftsSelfOne bottle of champagne gifted by Qantas Airlines
Mark Butler13/12/201911. GiftsSelfA bottle of "Rare Millesime 2002" champagne from Qantas
Terri Butler30/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight upgrade, Qantas (Cairns, May 2019)
Matthew Canavan29/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelf26 July 2019 - 6.15am to 7.55am QF1562 Canberra to Brisbane flight, Airline Ref: PDSD3B, upgraded from economy to business
Matthew Canavan15/08/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelf26/7/19 - complimentary upgrade from economy to business class airfare on Qantas flight from Canberra to Brisbane
Matthew Canavan17/02/202011. GiftsSelfQantas supplied a 750ml bottle of Piper Heidsieck Rare Millesime 2002 Champagne
Kim Carr11/12/201911. GiftsSelfA bottle of Piper Heidsieck Rare Millesime champagne (2002) from Qantas Airways
Michaelia Cash29/01/202011. GiftsSelfComplimentary flight upgrade QF12 - LA to Sydney - Sunday 26 January 2020 - Business to First
Jason Clare10/10/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfComplimentary upgrade - QANTAS - Flight Sydney to Singapore - Saturay 21st September 2019
Trevor Evans17/10/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight upgrade from economy to business on Sydney to Manila flight on 28 Sep 2019 from Qantas
Trevor Evans20/04/202111. GiftsSelfUpgrade to business class flight from Qantas, Canberra to Sydney 18 Mar 2021.
Josh Frydenberg23/10/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade on Qantas Flight QF8 Dallas to Sydney 20 October 2019
Andrew Giles13/12/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade to air travel from economy to business (Sydney – Cairns, Qantas Flight QF 927 – 21 Aug 19)
Julian Leeser30/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfComplimentary upgrade from economy to business class for one seat on QF 1515 on 21 July 2019 for Julian Leeser
Julian Leeser05/09/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfComplimentary upgrade from economy to business class for one seat on QF1525 on 13 August
Andrew Leigh01/08/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade from Sydney to Los Angeles on 8 July 2019 (from Qantas)
Jenny McAllister09/03/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade to Business Class - Canberra/Sydney QF1522 6 March 2020
Michael McCormack15/02/202111. GiftsSelfQantas 747 Half Bar Cart
Scott Morrison12/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade of economy ticket from Qantas for travel from Fiji to Sydney June 2019
Scott Morrison12/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySpouse/partnerUpgrade of economy ticket from Qantas for travel from Fiji to Sydney June 2019
Scott Morrison12/07/201912. Travel or hospitalityDependent childrenUpgrade of economy ticket from Qantas for travel from Fiji to Sydney June 2019
Scott Morrison12/07/201912. Travel or hospitalityDependent childrenUpgrade of economy ticket from Qantas for travel from Fiji to Sydney June 2019
Llew O'Brien04/12/201911. GiftsSpouse/partnerQantas domestic airfare upgrade Brisbane/Canberra
Clare O'Neil03/10/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgraded from Economy to Business Class on a Qantas flight from Melbourne to Singapore on 26 August 2019.
Marise Payne30/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight Upgrade: Qantas QF7, Sydney to Dallas, 27/1/2019, Qantas
Marise Payne30/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight Upgrade: QF8, Dallas to Sydney, 30/1/2019, Qantas
Tanya Plibersek22/06/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlights, accommodation and hospitality provided by China Matters, as part of a delegation. NB: Qantas flight upgrade for Sydney-Beijing leg of trip.
Bill Shorten11/04/201911. GiftsDependent childrenFLIGHT UPGRADE FOR CLEMENTINE SHORTEN, ECONOMY TO BUSINESS, QF826 MELBOURNE - CANBERRA
Warren Snowdon16/12/201911. GiftsSelfA gift of a bottle of Rare Champagne from QANTAS
Glenn Sterle06/02/202011. GiftsSelfBottle of Champagne from Qantas Group
Angus Taylor02/04/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade of Qantas flight from Business Class to First Class from Sydney to Dallas.
Matt Thistlethwaite18/03/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfCANBERRA to SYDNEY QF1520 - Thu 05 Mar 2020 - 1715 Flight Upgrade from Economy class to Business class - Courtesy Qantas Airways
David Van06/12/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight upgrade from economy to business class Qantas Brisbane to Melbourne
Tim Watts26/09/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfQantas - upgraded return flights from Los Angeles to Business Class due to earlier flight cancellations.
Andrew Wilkie11/04/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFrequent flyer scheme membership, lounge access and occasional upgrades provided by Qantas
Andrew Wilkie29/06/202012. Travel or hospitalitySpouse/partnerFrequent flyer scheme membership, lounge access and occasional upgrade provided by Qantas
Tim Wilson15/10/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUnsolicited Business class upgrade, Brisbane to Hong Kong flight, QANTAS Airways

NameDateInterestPersonDetails
Wendy Askew02/03/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgraded from Economy to Business Class flight by Virgin Australia on 28/2/2020 from Canberra to Melbourne, using a complimentary upgrade associated with Club Membership.
Wendy Askew02/03/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfComplimentary upgrade from Economy to Business Class flight by Virgin Australia on 1/3/2020 from Launceston to Sydney.
Wendy Askew09/03/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgraded from Economy to Business Class flight by Virgin Australia on 06/03/2020 from Canberra to Melbourne, using a complimentary upgrade associated with Club Membership.
Adam Bandt11/04/201911. GiftsSelfOccasional upgrades from economy to business class on Virgin
Adam Bandt11/04/201911. GiftsSpouse/partnerOccasional upgrades from economy to business class on Virgin
Terri Butler21/08/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade, Virgin Flight Brisbane to Sydney 21 August 2019
Pat Conaghan18/05/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade to Virgin Business
Trevor Evans05/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade from economy to business on Virgin flight Brisbane to Adelaide on 29 June 2019
Trevor Evans05/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySpouse/partnerUpgrade from economy to business on Virgin flight Brisbane to Adelaide on 29 June 2020
Ged Kearney01/08/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight upgrade on Virgin flight VA 827, MEL to SYD, 15 July 2019. Flight to a conference.
Ged Kearney07/08/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight upgrade on Virgin flight VA 854, SYD to MEL, 6 August 2019 Flight from a portfolio-related meeting
Ged Kearney02/12/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight upgrade on Virgin flight VA 277, MEL to CBR, 1 December 2019. Flight to Canberra for Parliamentary sitting week
Matt Keogh12/07/201912. Travel or hospitalityDependent childrenComplimentary upgrade to business class for [son] on flights VA678 and VA271 on 29 June 2019 from Virgin Australia.Value approx. $1,300.
Nick McKim26/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade from economy to business class VA0704 flight from Brisbane to Hobart on Saturday 20th July 2019 from Virgin Australia
David Van06/12/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight upgrade from economy to business class Virgin Airlines Canberra to Melbourne
Andrew Wilkie11/04/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFrequent flyer scheme membership, lounge access and occasional upgrades provided by Virgin Australia
Andrew Wilkie29/06/202012. Travel or hospitalitySpouse/partnerFrequent flyer scheme membership, lounge access and occasional upgrade provided by Virgin Australia

NameDateInterestPersonDetails
Scott Morrison12/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade of economy ticket from Fiji Airways for travel from Sydney to Fiji June 2019
Scott Morrison12/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySpouse/partnerUpgrade of economy ticket from Fiji Airways for travel from Sydney to Fiji June 2019
Scott Morrison12/07/201912. Travel or hospitalityDependent childrenUpgrade of economy ticket from Fiji Airways for travel from Sydney to Fiji June 2019
Scott Morrison12/07/201912. Travel or hospitalityDependent childrenUpgrade of economy ticket from Fiji Airways for travel from Sydney to Fiji June 2019

NameDateInterestPersonDetails
Angie Bell15/02/202112. Travel or hospitalitySelfTravelled from Canberra to Gold Coast on a charter flight by Homecorp
Chris Bowen11/04/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfOn 27/06/19 I travelled from Alice Springs to Kintore on charter flight under the entitlements of Hon. Warren Snowdon MP
Scott Buchholz23/06/202112. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a private charter flight at the invitation of Mr Brendan Menegarzzo from Brisbane to Normanton (return flight) on Thursday 10th - 11th June 2021
Peter Dutton21/12/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a charter flight at the invitation of Mr Neville Power from Canberra to Brisbane on Friday, 4 December 2020 [Purpose of trip not declared]
Joel Fitzgibbon11/04/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfMay 7, 2019 - AACO, charter flight Cloncurry
Barnaby Joyce12/05/202112. Travel or hospitalitySelfPrivate Charter Flight (Armidale - Brisbane 5.5.2021) [provider of flight not disclosed]
David Littleproud15/06/202112. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a private charter flight (Brisbane - Normanton return) on 9 June and returned 11 June 2021 to inspect agricultural properties in Far North Queensland and to meet with the Mayors of Carpentaria and Cloncurry Shire Councils. 2 nights’ accommodation was provided. Flights and accommodation were provided at the invitation of Mr Brendan Menegazzo of Stanbroke Pastoral Company.
Ben Morton08/10/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a one way flight at the invitation of Mr Nev Power from Canberra to Perth on Friday 11th September 2020.
Ben Morton27/10/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a one way flight at the invitation of Mr Nev Power from Canberra to Perth on Thursday 9th April 2020.
Ben Morton27/10/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a one way flight at the invitation of Mr Nev Power from Canberra to Perth on Friday 23rd October 2020
Keith Pitt27/10/202112. Travel or hospitalitySelfSponsored travel - 12 October 2021 - Charter Flight - Townsville to La Bona - Return (Bravus Mine)
Christian Porter04/05/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a charter flight at the invitation of Mr Nev Power from Canberra to Perth on Thursday, 9 April 2020
Christian Porter11/05/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a charter flight at the invitation of Mr Nev Power from Perth to Canberra on Sunday 3 May 2020
Christian Porter08/12/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a charter flight at the invitation of Mr Neville Power from Perth to Canberra on Sunday, 29 November 2020
Christian Porter08/12/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a charter flight at the invitation of Mr Neville Power from Canberra to Brisbane on Friday, 4 December 2020
Christian Porter08/12/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a charter flight at the invitation of Mr Neville Power from Brisbane to Canberra on Sunday, 6 December 2020
Christian Porter04/01/202112. Travel or hospitalitySelfI travelled on a charter flight at the invitation of Mr Nev Power from Perth to Canberra on Friday, 11 December 2020
Angus Taylor30/10/202012. Travel or hospitalitySelfReturn charter flight and hospitality in NT on Friday 16 October 2020 with Empire Energy

NameDateInterestPersonDetails
Richard Marles19/12/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfBusiness flight (Emirates) from Melbourne to Dubai on 13 December 2019
Trent Zimmerman21/10/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade: economy to business class - Emirates - Sydney to Dubai - 20 September 2019

NameDateInterestPersonDetails
Catryna Bilyk08/10/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade to First Class from Doha to Melbourne on Qatar Airlines on 1 October 2019
Sam McMahon25/10/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade to First Class from Doha to Melbourne on Qatar Airlines on 1 October 2019

NameDateInterestPersonDetails
Marise Payne30/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight Upgrade: AA1330, Dallas to New York, 28/1/2019, American Airlines
Marise Payne30/07/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfFlight Upgrade: AA323, Washington DC to Dallas, 30/1/2019, American Airlines

NameDateInterestPersonDetails
Andrew Leigh01/08/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade from Philadelphia to Toronto on 13 July 2019 (from Air Canada)

NameDateInterestPersonDetails
Shayne Neumann11/04/201912. Travel or hospitalitySelfUpgrade to business class by Nauru Airlines on a flight from Brisbane to Nauru (7th November 2018).

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