‘Hockey owes me’ claim in Helloworld saga

Australia

A former travel company employee says his boss was able to quickly organise a meeting with an Australian embassy because former treasurer Joe Hockey owed him a favour.

Mr Hockey is Australia’s ambassador to the United States and Labor is considering whether to sack him if it wins the next election.

A letter from former Helloworld employee Russell Carstensen released on Thursday said chief executive Andrew Burnes, who is also the Liberal Party’s treasurer, called in a favour to arrange a meeting.

Mr Carstensen was diverted from his 2017 holiday in Europe to Washington to speak with Mr Hockey about the embassy’s travel needs.

“I asked Mr Burnes how could this be done so quickly, he verbally advised me, ‘Hockey owes me’,” Mr Carstensen wrote to a Senate committee on Thursday.

“I found that ‘owes me’ comment strange in the circumstances but it’s not an unusual term from Mr Burnes when talking about his business relationships.”

But Mr Burnes emphatically denied the allegations.

“Joe Hockey and I have been close friends for 20 years and it would be ridiculous to suggest I would say or imply he owes me anything,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I did not organise any meetings between Russell Carstensen and Joe Hockey. Mr Carstensen’s own email of April 24, 2017 shows that he organised the meeting with Mr Hockey and I was simply CCed on the email.”

Mr Burnes said the ambassador was unhappy with his travel arrangements and he was keen to set up a meeting.

Mr Hockey is also one of the top 20 shareholders in Helloworld.

In his letter, Mr Carstensen said he gave Mr Hockey travel option details that could have been used “as the basis of tender requirements”.

Helloworld won a contract in 2017 to provide government travel bookings.

“This is a Liberal government of the donors, by the donors, for the donors,” Labor leader Bill Shorten told parliament.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said he “genuinely thought” he had paid for a family holiday booked through Mr Burnes.

The senator has now paid $2780 for flights to Singapore in January 2018, after it was revealed he was mistakenly not initially charged for them.

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