Trips to Israel top the list of politicians’ travel paid for by non-Australian government sponsors, and the Chinese company Huawei has been the top corporate sponsor, a new report has revealed.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s report shows Israel, China and the United States are the top three destinations.
The institute analysed the period from July 2010 to May 2018 using MPs’ and senators’ declaration of interests to discover the largest sponsors of trips that consisted of just flights, or of flights and accommodation (the “vast majority”).
Sponsored travel is within parliamentary rules and data was drawn from the pecuniary interest register, suggesting it was properly declared.
Federal parliamentarians received 102 sponsored trips to Israel, 63 to China and 49 to the US.
The Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council sponsored 43 trips: 26 for Liberals and 17 for Labor MPs. Trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories paid for by all sponsors were evenly split between Labor recipients (48) and Liberals (51).
Other sponsored trips came from Australia-Israel leadership forums (24), and accommodation-only trips from the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network (nine) and the Palestinian Authority (seven).
Huawei funded 12 trips to China with flights and accommodation, seven solely by Huawei, three with Asialink – which told Aspi Huawei funded its staff only – and two in conjunction with the Australia China Business Council.
Recipients of Huawei-sponsored travel include the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, the trade minister, Steve Ciobo, the former trade minister, Andrew Robb, and the former Speaker, Harry Jenkins.
Liberals received more trips from Huawei, but Labor parliamentarians received 37 non-government sponsored trips to China, compared with 25 for Liberals.
Huawei has bid to participate in Australia’s 5G network, prompting a backlash in the Coalition, including from the chairman of the top parliamentary foreign affairs committee, who warned it should be blocked, and from Bishop, who reasserted Australia’s right to act on security advice to do so.
The chairman of Huawei’s Technologies Australia, John Lord, who is due to speak at the National Press Club on Wednesday, told ABC radio’s AM the company had been open about the trips.
“We offer people the opportunities to visit Huawei, and how they do it and how they take it up is their own decision,” he said.
“And we will continue to do that, because of the two-way dialogue, the openness and helping them learn about our technology.”
Other China trips were paid for by the Hong Kong government (11), the Chinese government (seven accommodation-only trips) and Australian Guangdong Chamber of Commerce (seven).
After Huawei the largest corporate sponsors were Fortescue Metals, which funded four trips to China and one to Papua New Guinea, and Kazaru Pty Ltd, a company owned by the lobbyist and former Labor minister Nick Bolkus, which paid for three trips to China, including one co-sponsored by ABC Childcare.
In 2015 Guardian Australia reported that the Labor frontbencher Tony Burke had taken two free trips to China to visit childcare centres built by a Chinese company run by businessmen and former political donors Ian Tang and Anthony Chan.
The largest sponsor to the US was the Australia America Leadership Dialogue. Labor received more trips from it, 11 compared with the Liberals’ five, and also more trips to the US, 31 to 15.
Asked about Huawei-funded trips on Tuesday, the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said the trips were fully disclosed and “the bigger issue is making sure that national security is the number one priority for people and they are not influenced by these trips”.
“Labor takes its national security advice from the national security agencies and not from Huawei, and we will continue to do that – full stop,” he said.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute complained that the format and system of disclosure was “not particularly accessible”, with unsearchable PDFs and “a lack of recent disclosures”, some of which have not been updated since 2016.
It recommended a searchable format along the lines of records of taxpayer spending published by the independent parliamentary expenses authority.