Where to next? Politicians of all persuasions get study tours at taxpayer expense. Photo: Jessica HromasTaxpayers have spent nearly $3.5 million in two years for a controversial program which gives ‘s major political parties cash for overseas study tours, networking and training events in countries including China, the US, Canada and Britain.
The Liberal and Labor parties are eligible for $1 million each year from the federal government’s n Political Parties for Democracy Program, with the Greens allocated $200,000 annually.
New figures provided by the Department of Finance show the program cost taxpayers $1.76 million in 2014-15 and $1.68 million in 2015-16.
Labor claimed the most funds in the period, with a combined cost of $1.96 million, compared with $1.08 million for the Liberal Party and $400,000 for the Greens.
The ALP sought $224,000 for training and networking through its fraternal party relationships program, building links with some of the biggest political parties in the world, including the US Democrats, Labour in the UK, New Zealand, Ireland and Israel as well as Canada’s New Democratic Party and Germany’s SDP.
Labor’s political party building programs in Papua New Guinea, East Timor, the Philippines and Myanmar cost $107,000, offering training for candidates, party officials and women entering politics for the first time.
Labor describes the program as critical for dissemination of knowledge and processes in “progressive policy development”.
In February, Labor volunteers were caught on hidden cameras bragging about using n taxpayer funds to work on the US presidential campaign of Democrat Bernie Sanders and interfering with campaign signs for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
In a video posted online by a conservative undercover campaign group, four ns who had travel and expenses paid for through the program were recorded bragging about receiving taxpayer funds for flights, accommodation and daily expenses while organising the Sanders campaign, a possible breach of US election law.
The Liberal Party sought $60,000 for a visit to meet officials from the Chinese Communist Party, including costs for senior officeholders to benefit from “the sharing of information on party processes and activities”.
The Liberals also planned to spend up to $40,000 for two people to attend the UK Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester in October 2015, to receive “insights into the current campaigning and strategy thinking”.
About $150,000 was sought for networking with parties in Indonesia, East Timor, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Myanmar.
The party said the activities enhanced policy development and democratic processes in and abroad.
The Greens sought $90,000 to send delegates to the Global Greens Congress and the Asia-Pacific Greens Federation Council meetings in early 2017.
Members attending the event in Liverpool will include delegates from India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
The party said the activities promoted “enhanced democratic processes” and effective elections overseas, including through $60,000 to assist the Asia-Pacific federation secretariat development in countries including Pakistan, India, Lebanon and Nepal and a further $50,000 to assist emerging Greens parties in the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Mongolia.
In 2009, an n National Audit Office report questioned the purpose and accountability standards of the n Political Parties for Democracy Program. Since the report, the program has been administered by the Department of Finance.
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