‘You flew people to Paris to save money?’: Wong incredulous at government spending

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The federal government cannot say how much it cost to send nearly 50 staff to a Paris conference on saving money.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can’t say how much it cost taxpayers to send dozens of staff to a cost-saving conference in Europe.

Fairfax reports DFAT flew 23 staff to Paris on business class flights and paid for their accommodation at a four-star hotel for the three day conference. It estimated the cost of the trip to be around $200,000.

Labor politicians were incredulous this morning when officials couldn’t reveal the exact cost of the trip during an estimates hearing.

“We don't report in total, Senator, because the costs are disaggregated,” DFAT official John Fisher said.

“Each area uses their own training money to send officials to present [to conferences].”

The department said 23 Australian-based staff were sent to the Paris conference, held at the Australian embassy, but 46 staff in total attended.

It flew in the remainder of staff from around Europe, the Middle East and south east Asia.

"So you flew people to Paris to discuss saving money?" Labor Senator Penny Wong said.

“You flew people from south Asia to a conference in Paris because that was better than coming to Canberra?”

“The choice of Paris on this occasion was determined because it is a regional hub … offering the cheapest option for this training and management meeting,” DFAT Secretary Frances Adamson told the committee.

“Given events which have taken place in Europe over the last year plus, it was thought to be important that staff were given an opportunity to hear from our chief security officer, who travelled from Canberra.”

Some DFAT conferences involve extensive use of Skype and videoconferencing, according to the department.

“We choose to provide training sometimes in person,” Mr Fisher said.

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