Travel and hospitality

Three politicians fail to declare overseas junkets

If you are a politician who appears in happy snaps while on privately funded junkets, it's probably a good idea to disclose who funded your trip to the parliament's interests registers.

Sean Johnson
21 March 2023

Photo by Harold Mendoza

Liberal senator David Van, Labor MP Peter Khalil and Labor senator Deborah O'Neill failed to disclose their privately funded junkets in 2022, Open Politics can reveal.

Fresh from accepting funding from a defence company to visit the Ukraine in August 2022, Senator David Van tweeted a video of himself at the COP 27 in Egypt in November and thanked the Coalition for Conservation in parliament for paying for the trip, but he never bothered to declare the funding to the Senate interests register.

The video shows Van was joined on the trip by his Liberal and National colleagues Zoe McKenzie, Jenny Ware, and Kevin Hogan, all of whom disclosed to the Members' Register that the Coalition for Conservation covered the cost of their flights, accommodation, and hospitality to attend COP27.

When Open Politics contacted Van for comment on 20 March his office blamed an 'administrative error' for the non-disclosure and said this had been rectified, however his statement of interests is yet to be updated.

As illustrated below, Victorian Labor MP Peter Khalil, Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, attended a meeting of the rabid anti-China Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China in Washington DC in September 2022 but, unlike his fellow travellers Andrew Hastie and James Paterson, failed to declare IPAC reimbursed his travel costs.

Following our email to Khalil on 19 March he promptly updated his statement of interests to declare IPAC paid his return flights to the United States, with his office advising that the oversight was due to Khalil not realising, until we contacted him, that IPAC had made the reimbursement (months later over the Christmas - New Year period).

NSW Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill, Chair of Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services and a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, also attended the IPAC forum and neglected to disclose IPAC reimbursed her flights. A spokesperson from O'Neill's office said this was due to an 'administrative error' which has now been rectified. Have Van and O'Neill been comparing notes?


Under the Senate and House of Representatives resolutions, senators and MPs can be found guilty of serious contempt and dealt with accordingly by their chambers if they have knowingly not disclosed their interests, including sponsored travel, or have not done so on time (within 35 days for senators and 28 days for MPs).

Open Politics has no evidence Van, Khalil, and O'Neill knowingly failed to disclose their sponsored trips, but we believe the Senate Standing Committee of Senators' Interests and the House Standing Committee of Privileges and Members' Interests should investigate to determine whether breaches of the resolutions occurred.

While the committees are at it they might want to investigate Defence Minister Richard Marles for not disclosing his sponsored trip to China in 2019 and Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes for her undisclosed junket to Israel last year.

Unfortunately there is very little chance any of this will happen because the committees can only commence investigations if potential breaches are referred to them by senators or members (depending on the chamber of the subject parliamentarian).

This rarely happens, for obvious reasons. Politicians protect their own. And even if someone is investigated, they probably don’t have much to worry about given the House committee cleared Christian Porter in 2022 for not disclosing who funded his legal fees for a defamation case.

Clearly self regulation doesn't work. Enforcement needs to be taken out of the hands of politicians and given to an independent statutory body.

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