Travel and hospitality

Taipei Confidential: More junkets exposed

Another day, another revelation. Our social media sleuthing has uncovered more MPs who haven’t declared privately sponsored overseas trips.

Sean Johnson

Raohe Street Night Market, a popular Taipei food market. Photo by Vernon Raineil Cenzon

Following our story this week about three MPs not disclosing their junkets to the parliament's interests register, we can reveal two MPs didn’t declare their controversial trip to Taiwan in December.

As was widely reported in the media at the time, six MPs jetted off to Taiwan in early December 2022 for a 4 nights - 5 days junket courtesy of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia, Taiwan’s de facto embassy given Australia doesn't have formal diplomatic relations with the island.

The cross-party group included Coalition MPs Barnaby Joyce, Terry Young, Gavin Pearce, ringleader Scott Buchholz (who, incidentally, behaved inappropriately with a female RAAF officer on a 2018 junket), and Labor MPs Libby Coker and Meryl Swanson. All received free return flights, accommodation, meals, and incidentals from the Taiwanese government.

The travelling band enjoyed face time with Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and President Tsai Ing-wen and posed for many photos that Terry Young helpfully posted on Facebook. They don't appear though to have done anything of substance, but having Barnyard out of the country for most of the week was definitely in the national interest.

Offsetting this was his thought bubble that future visits to Taiwan should be upgraded to official delegations with ministers and officials. That would go down with the Chinese government about as well as former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s inflammatory trip to Taiwan some months earlier. And put Australia's diplomatic relationship with its biggest two way trading partner in the deep freeze for all time.

But we digress. Our main problem with the trip is that two of the junketeers - Victorian MP Libby Coker and Queensland MP Terry Young - never declared their sponsored travel and hospitality to the Register of Members’ Interests.

This is despite the register's rules clearly stating that MPs need to declare any sponsored travel or accommodation over $300 from a foreign government or its representatives within 28 days or risk being found in serious contempt of parliament and dealt with accordingly.

Note to Terry Young: Posting holiday snaps on Facebook doesn't count as a disclosure to the register.

When we emailed Young his office called soon after to say his failure to disclose the trip was down to a ‘clerical error’, a slight variation on the staff-blaming ‘administrative error’ line we previously heard from senators David Van and Deborah O’Neill.

However in Young’s case the clerk was the member himself - he neglected to sign off on a draft declaration prepared by his office on 18 December. Young finally lodged it after our inquiries, nearly three months past the 28 day deadline.

Meanwhile Libby Coker's office confirmed the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia paid for her trip and said she had just submitted a relevant declaration to the register. The office gave no explanation though for why she failed to disclose the trip prior and just kept repeating their non-answer answer that she'd now declared and is "committed to transparency and accountability". Just not when it comes to disclosing trips from foreign governments, it seems.

We expect Young’s and Coker’s colleagues on the privileges committee, which is nominally responsible for enforcing compliance with the interests register rules, will do nothing about these latest revelations given their apparent aversion to investigating MPs.

More to come (possibly)

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