February 21, 2019 17:56:13
A former Helloworld executive who met with Australia’s ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey to discuss embassy travel arrangements says the meeting was set up by the company’s chief executive and Liberal Party treasurer Andrew Burnes.
- Joe Hockey met with former Helloworld executive in Washington in 2017
- There are claims the Helloworld boss and Liberal Party treasurer arranged the meeting, saying “Hockey owes me”.
- Mr Hockey owns more than $1 million in Helloworld shares
Mr Hockey met with Russell Carstensen in April 2017, along with other embassy staff, to discuss the travel needs of his post.
Mr Carstensen contacted a Senate committee, which had been grilling Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) officials over the meeting, to give his version of events.
In a letter he said his then-boss Mr Burnes set up the meeting with Mr Hockey, saying: “Hockey owes me”.
Mr Carstensen said Mr Burnes had told him Mr Hockey was unsatisfied with his current travel arrangements, and Mr Burnes was keen to arrange a meeting some time in 2017.
He described how Mr Burnes instructed him to meet with Mr Hockey in April, while Mr Carstensen was on leave travelling in Europe.
“I was contacted by Mr Burnes via email/SMS and voice call to tell me he had arranged a meeting with Mr Hockey and I had to fly home via Washington to meet with him,” he said.
“I asked Mr Burnes how could this be done so quickly he verbally advised me, ‘Hockey owes me’.
“I found that ‘owes me’ comment strange in the circumstances but it’s not an unusual term from Mr Burnes when talking about his business relationships.
“I knew Mr Burnes and Mrs Burnes has (sic) had a long-term friendship with Mr Hockey and his family.”
Mr Hockey is a major shareholder of Helloworld, with shares worth more than $1 million.
The same company failed to charge Cormann for family holiday flights
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne refused to comment on the matter after being questioned by Labor senator Penny Wong.
“We are in the position of not being able to seek a response on any of the assertions or statements made in the letter,” Senator Payne said.
“That does put the Department and senior officials at a disadvantage.”
Mr Carstensen’s email also refers to suggestions of discomfort among officials around the meeting taking place.
“I was advised later in a conversation that ‘people’ in DFAT were uncomfortable that Mr Hockey met me, and that he was a shareholder of Helloworld,” he said.
DFAT officials told Senate estimates they were unaware of any concerns raised after the meeting, but were making further inquiries.
Earlier this week it was revealed Helloworld had not charged Finance Minister Mathias Cormann for family flights to Singapore last year.
Senator Cormann said he contacted Mr Burnes on three occasions to arrange flights for family holidays.
He insisted there was no connection between his relationship with Mr Burnes and Helloworld receiving a multi-million dollar government contract.
Labor has since tried to link past and present Liberal Party MPs with another government travel contract that is currently out for tender.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday told Question Time Mr Hockey had acted appropriately, citing a statement Helloworld released on Wednesday.
“What the statement to the Australian Stock Exchange says, from Helloworld Travel Limited, is that at no time has Ambassador Hockey or Helloworld CEO Andrew Burnes discussed the DFAT,” he said.
“Neither Mr Hockey or Mr Burnes have any involvement in the tender process.”
February 21, 2019 15:19:10