On 5 February 2014 Julie Bishop advised us the Political Parties for Democracy program had been scrapped
I've written to the Department of Foreign Affairs following its advice to me that it had cancelled the Australian Political Parties for Democracy program following our reporting on that matter in February 2014.
Here are our first two reports:
Background on the cancelled program…
The Australian Government established the Political Parties for Democracy Program in 2005-06 to support Australian political parties undertake international activities to promote democracy.
The Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia have participated since the program was established; the Australian Greens joined in 201
In 2009, the Rudd Labor Government transferred the program from the Department of Finance to AusAID.
This program has been cancelled by the Abbott Government, as part of the recent reprioritisation of the aid budget.
Catherine McDonald | Senior Media Adviser | Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Today I sent this email first to Ms McDonald and to the Departmental media contact.
Michael Smith <[email protected]>
2:54 AM (4 minutes ago)
to Catherine [email protected]
Thank you for your note of 5 February 2014.
I refer to media reports today quoting Bill Shorten in which he talks about Labor Party people working in the United States under the Political Parties for Democracy program.
Did the taxpayer fund the trips to the US that Shorten refers to here? How?
After our 5 February report on the cancellation of the program, on 14 February other media caught up with us - here's Fairfax:
Political parties stripped of millions in junket cash
February 14, 2014
Australia's big three political parties have been stripped of millions of dollars of taxpayer money they used to send their officials on overseas junkets.
The Liberals, Labor and the Greens shared out $2.2 million each year from an AusAID-administered fund, which was used to fly business class to catch up with their political sympathisers around the world.
It was even revealed late last year that a senior ALP official was having his wages subsidised from the AusAID's Australian Political Parties for Democracy Program.
But with the scrapping of the overseas aid agency by the Abbott government, part of $450 million worth of cuts to the foreign aid budget, they have been told that the party is over and this year's payments, due in July, will not be handed over.
The program was introduced in 2005 by the then Howard government and expanded in 2011 by his Labor successors to include the Greens.
The last deal, signed by the parties and AusAID in 2012, promised $3 million over three years to the Liberal and Labor Parties and $600,000 to the Greens.
But a DFAT spokeswoman has confirmed that the 2013 payments, of $2.2 million, had not been approved before her department's takeover of AusAID and that no more money would be forthcoming with the deal now scrapped.
“This program has been cancelled by the Abbott Government, as part of the recent reprioritisation of the aid budget,” the spokeswoman said.
She said DFAT was on firm legal ground pulling the pin on the deal less than halfway through their agreed terms.
“The contract between the Government and the three political parties allows for the termination of the agreement.”
The program has had a mixed recent history with media revelations of high-profile political figures being flown on taxpayers' money to international talk-fests with like-minded groups around the world.
In November 2013, it was revealed that ALP assistant national secretary Nick Martin, had a large portion of his salary paid from the AusAID grant.
Former prime minister John Howard, his party's federal director Brian Loughnane, Liberal international secretary Bruce Edwards, and former president Shane Stone used program money to fly to London in 2011 for a meeting of the conservative International Democrat Union, at a cost to the taxpayer of $70,000.
Three young Liberals spent more than $50,000 jetting to Columbia the same year for a get-together with the International Young Democrat Union Freedom Forum.
Labor figures, including former national secretaries Karl Bitar and Tim Gartrell, NSW state MP Luke Foley, and former senator Michael Forshaw have also enjoyed trips courtesy of the AusAID money.
In 2010 the Labor party spent $196,000 on journeys to Europe, New Zealand, Canada and the US for 24 of its members, and some return trips to Australia, to develop fraternal party relationships.
Under the funding agreement, at least 50 per cent of the money was required to be used by the political parties to promote democracy in developing countries.
The rest could be used for international activities in developed countries, an arrangement that led to criticism and claims parties could spend the money on whatever they liked.