Travel and hospitality

Hollie's undeclared junket to the Holy Land

Liberal senator and shadow minister Hollie Hughes has breached Senate rules by not declaring her sponsored travel to Israel. Open Politics looks at a repeat offender and the need for reform. Update: Hughes disclosed the trip three days after this story was published.

Sean Johnson13 October 2022

Photo Raimond Klavins

Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy Hollie Hughes has failed to declare to the Register of Senators' Interests her recent trip to Israel and Palestine as a guest of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).

On 6 September the Senator for NSW and Big Tobacco gave a bizarre speech in the Senate about her AIJAC-funded trip the previous week, describing Palestinian refugee camps as 'settlements' because they have permanent buildings.

While the speech demonstrated the senator's typically shallow understanding of issues - who can forget her comments about Marxists controlling the education system or how climate change is a 'luxury issue' - she's entitled to her views. As former attorney-general George Brandis might say, people have a right to be ignorant.

But where Senator Hughes runs into trouble is that, unlike her fellow travellers Karen Andrews and Scott Buchholz, she has not declared her trip to the Register of Senators' Interests within 35 days (8 October) as required by Section 1(1) of the Senate Resolution relating to the Register of Senators’ Interests. Section 2 states that if a senator knowingly fails to declare an interest they "shall be guilty of a serious contempt of the Senate and shall be dealt with by the Senate accordingly."

Now Hughes is hardly the first parliamentarian to have not declared a junket. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles breach the House register rules by failing to declare his 2019 trip to China as a guest of the China Matters think tank. And then there was ivermectin ingester Craig Kelly, whom the Sydney Morning Herald revealed in 2021 had not declared his new $1.3 million family residence.

However the senator's breach is no one off. It's her fourth known breach. As revealed by Open Politics in May 2022, Hughes did not declare a free helicopter flight around Newcastle in 2020 as a guest of the Newcastle Port Corporation while it was busy promoting the port's fuel store capability under the Morrison government's $260 million diesel storage program.

Hughes also breached the register rules by not disclosing her shareholding and directorship of SLN Services Pty Limited when she lodged her initial statement of interests to the Senate on 23 August. Open Politics contacted the senator about this on 31 August and received no reply, but on 7 September she updated her statement to declare her shareholding. She's still yet to do so for her directorship.

You might wonder: how does someone get away with repeatedly not declaring their interests? The reason is because no one enforces the rules, with the Senate Registrar - the parliamentary official who administers the register - advising Open Politics that they don't have the power to require senators to disclose their interests and that “it is up to individual senators to raise issues for consideration” by the Senate Standing Committee of Senators' Interests. Translation: Senators police themselves.

The House of Representatives register rules are not enforced either.

That's why Open Politics believes enforcement needs to sit with an independent statutory body like the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority.

In the meantime Opposition Leader Peter Dutton should sack any shadow minister who doesn't comply with their disclosure obligations. When Open Politics revealed breaches of the ministerial code of conduct, Dutton was quick to say the breaches were a test of the Prime Minister's leadership. Well, Senator Hughes's breaches are a test of his.


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