The Federal Opposition has grilled the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) over why it flew 23 staff from Canberra to Paris for a training conference.
The new Secretary of the Department, Frances Adamson, defended the conference in front of a Senate Estimates Committee, saying the department had held regional training conferences for more than 30 years.
“We have a strong commitment to training staff whether at home or overseas,” Ms Adamson said.
“There are many complexities in the overseas environment.”
“It’s incumbent on us to make sure our staff are well trained to deal with those.”
Department officials defended their choice of Paris, pointing out that it is a regional hub in Europe, which made flights cheaper.
The Canberra-based DFAT staff who flew to Paris went business class.
The officials also said that they saved money by holding the meetings in the Australian Embassy in Paris.
But Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong did not seem persuaded.
Ms Wong asked department officials whether they thought about using Skype or video conferencing instead.
“(Paris) is not known as a cheap city.”
Senator Penny Wong
She asked the department’s John Fisher about a Fairfax media report that the conference was focused on strategies for saving money.
“Did the purpose of the conference include talking about ways to save money?”
“Yes senator,” he responded.
“So you flew people to Paris to discuss saving money?” he was asked.
“We flew people to Paris to talk about how we might do things in a more effective way,” Mr Fisher said.
“We are undergoing a major reform process in the organisation including how we design corporate services we deliver in [overseas embassies].
“We talked about those issues absolutely.”
Some 46 other DFAT staff based around the globe also attended the conference — most of them from European posts.