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10 February 2005
Singapore Airlines, which is fighting to expand its access to lucrative Australian air routes, has tried to unduly influence Australian lawmakers by offering them free flights, the opposition Labor Party charged on Thursday.
Labor Party tourism spokesman Martin Ferguson criticised Singapore Airlines (SIA) for offering an all expenses paid four-day trip to Singapore to the 10 members of the House of Representatives’ transport and regional affairs committee.
Speaking on national radio, Ferguson linked the offer to Singapore Airlines’ efforts to convince the Australian government to give it access to the lucrative Australia-US route now dominated by Australian flag carrier Qantas.
Australia’s transport minister, Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, is due to fly to Singapore next week for talks with his counterpart on the issue.
“I’m astounded, in the year in which Singapore Airlines is lobbying the Australian government hard to open up the trans-Pacific route to their advantage, that they are trying to, in essence, unduly influence politicians by offering all expenses paid trips to Singapore,” he told ABC Radio.
Ferguson suggested the matter should be raised with Australia’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.
“I’m not a fool,” he said. “I know what Singapore Airlines is about.”
Singapore Airlines said the trip had been offered to members of parliament so they could learn more about its operations and Singapore’s transport issues.
ABC said seven out of the committee’s 10 members had said they were available to go on the trip.
The committee’s chairman, Paul Neville, rejected Labor’s attack in SIA.
“Singapore Airlines have made these opportunities available in the past and people haven’t been heavied on those delegations,” he said.
“The second thing is we wouldn’t do anything that was not in Australia’s interest.
“And the third thing is I understand that the minister is seeing his Singapore counterpart next week whereas this trip wasn’t planned until April,” he said.
The argument erupted amid intensifying competition between SIA and Qantas after the Australian carrier set up a low-cost Asian airline based in Singapore, Jetstar Asia, putting it in direct competition with SIA.
Flights between Australia and the United States are currently restricted to airlines from the two countries concerned, but the route is one of Qantas’ most profitable.
Row over Singapore Airlines’ offer of free flights for Australian MPs
10 February 2005
Reporter: Alexandra Kirk
TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Opposition has labelled as “an attempt at undue influence” an invitation by Singapore Airlines to provide an all-expenses-paid trip to Singapore for ten Australian MPs.
The airline says it wants to inform and educate MPs about the airline’s operations and other Singapore transport issues.
The move comes as Singapore Airlines is seeking Government approval for greater access to Australia’s aviation market, in particular freeing up Qantas’ highly profitable routes to the United States.
But Labor says the airline’s offer is wrong as Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Singapore Airlines has invited a federal parliamentary committee to visit Singapore for three or four days as its guest and Labor’s transport spokesman Martin Ferguson has taken a dim view of the offer.
MARTIN FERGUSON: I’m astounded in the year in which Singapore Airlines is lobbying the Australian Government hard to open up the trans-pacific route to their advantage, that they are trying to, in essence, unduly influence politicians, by offering all-expenses-paid trips to Singapore, and namely all members of the House of Reps Transport and Regional Affairs Committee.
It’s the type of thing if I was a politician in New South Wales, I would refer to ICAC, the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Singapore Airlines says the trip’s about informing and educating MPs on its operations and its commitment to Australia. And that it’s not at all about trying to exert undue influence. The airline says it’s not the first time and won’t be the last time it invites the Committee.
AM understands seven of the ten MPs on the committee have said that they’re available. Martin Ferguson says the Opposition won’t be instructing its MPs not to accept the free trip but that if they go, they’ll be judged accordingly.
MARTIN FERGUSON: Look, I’m not a fool. I know what Singapore Airlines is about. They’re entitled to have their proposal considered on merit. I simply say that their effort at this point of the policy consideration of the issue is unnecessary and frankly just plain wrong.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: National Party MP, Paul Neville, chairs the Transport Committee. He says Singapore is the best transport hub in the world and the trip would be a unique opportunity to study transport infrastructure and talk to MPs in Singapore. He’d like to accept the offer.
PAUL NEVILLE: Yes, well we’ve received an invitation from Singapore Airlines and we would like to accept the invitation, but that’s subject to receiving the appropriate approvals. If we were to receive those approvals we would carry out our activities in a very open and transparent way.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Neville doesn’t accept Labor’s argument that the offer of an all expenses paid trip is an attempt to unduly influence a political decision.
PAUL NEVILLE: Singapore Airlines have made these opportunities available in the past and people haven’t been heavied on those delegations. The second thing is, we wouldn’t do anything that was not in Australia’s interest.
And the third thing is, I understand that the minister is seeing his Singapore counterpart next week, whereas this trip wasn’t planned until April, so I don’t think that’s a reasonable argument.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Paul Neville’s sought Transport minister John Anderson’s approval. Mr Anderson’s considering the request and has referred it to the Transport Department for, quote, “protocol advice”.
When AM asked about the protocols, Mr Anderson’s spokesman said if an MP goes overseas as a parliamentary representative, the Government would pay the airfares and accommodation.
One MP’s told AM if the trip is not approved, it would be up to individual parliamentarians to decide whether to accept it, quote, “in a private capacity”.
TONY EASTLEY: Alexandra Kirk reporting from Canberra.