GRANT GOLDMAN: Australian taxpayers have footed a bill approaching a million dollars to send an extravagant 52-person delegation to a single three-day conference in Brazil. It’s according to Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Simon Birmingham. A million dollars for a three-day conference! Details on the size and cost of Australia’s attendance at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 have been exposed now in responses to Senate questions on notice asked by Senator Birmingham and he joins us right now. Good morning, Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Grant, and good morning to your listeners.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Yeah, look, the answers apparently show that taxpayers forked out more than $850,000 to send Prime Minister Julia Gillard and 51 other Australians. They’re mostly staff and officers from four different departments but including nine of Ms Gillard’s personal staff for between three and 20 days… and I thought ‘okay, that one first’. It’s a three-day conference. How come they’re there for 20?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Grant, that’s a very good question indeed. The extravagance and over-the-top nature of this delegation seems to really stand out of all proportion compared to other sensible international work that government must do and I am very curious as to why that length of time was necessary. Of course, you would expect, ahead of a Prime Minister’s trip, personal staff to be there a few days earlier to organise and set up appropriate meetings and events for the Prime Minister but for the Prime Minister to need 51 predominantly public servants to be travelling with her, and to have some of them there for up to 20 days, really does seem to be extreme extravagance.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Yeah, if you think about it, you’ve got 51 Australians and if you’d just gone with Julia Gillard and a couple of offsiders the result would have been the same, you would have to say.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, indeed, Grant. This conference was roundly criticised, by the green movement as much as anybody else, for lacking any serious outcomes and in fact it really felt, going into this conference, as though there was very little by way of serious agenda that people were seeking to achieve, so it beggars belief that the Prime Minister ever thought it was necessary to have such an enormous delegation, at such high cost, going to a conference where the outcomes were really going to be quite minimal all along.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Yeah. Of course, you do acknowledge that Australia needs to be involved and engaged on the world stage and I don’t think any government would deny that but I guess it’s the size we’re talking about here, more than anything?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right, Grant. Of course the Government should have been represented at this significant UN conference and the Prime Minister has every right to have attended as did a number of other world leaders but as we saw back in Copenhagen when Kevin Rudd went there for climate change talks, Australia’s delegation at that conference was way out of whack compared to everybody else around the world, with countries like Great Britain having significantly smaller delegations than Australia’s, and it just goes to show the extreme waste that comes from this Government and that they really just aren’t able to keep their priorities in order.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Just as an aside, the climate change talks… the only thing missing from the climate change talks is the truth and that’s another story.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Indeed, that’s a completely different debate, Grant.
GRANT GOLDMAN: It is, isn’t it? Thanks for your time this morning.
GRANT GOLDMAN: Yeah, I think I get his point. Yes, Australia should be represented on the world stage but do you need 51 people to go? Wow. The Departments represented… we found this out by the way – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 23 officers; the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 11 officers; the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, three staff; and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, three staff. Quite an international entourage at a cost of nearly a million dollars!