Australia’s Ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, has dismissed allegations about his dealings with travel company Helloworld as “absolute nonsense”.
Mr Hockey met with former Helloworld executive Russell Carstensen and other embassy staff in Washington, DC in 2017.
Mr Carstensen told a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday that the company’s chief executive, Andrew Burnes, arranged the meeting, saying “Hockey owes me”.
“The allegation that I somehow ‘owe’ Mr Burnes is absolute nonsense,” Mr Hockey said in a statement.
“The meeting was a general discussion about current arrangements for the delivery of travel services in the United States and Australia.
“There were no commercial opportunities with the embassy offered or available.”
Mr Hockey is a major shareholder in Helloworld and a close friend of Mr Burnes, who is also the Liberal Party’s federal treasurer.
Mr Hockey said both interests were declared prior to the meeting, the circumstances of which he said had been “misrepresented”.
“I decided to join the meeting since Helloworld/QBT was, and still is, the existing approved supplier of travel to DFAT [the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade],” he said.
“It is normal practice for ambassadors to meet with official suppliers of services to their department.”
Mr Hockey said he had since excused himself from all discussions and decisions relating to the procurement of travel services.
Helloworld in the spotlight
Mr Burnes also released a statement on Thursday denying he organised the meeting between Mr Hockey and Mr Carstensen.
“Further, Mr Hockey and I did not discuss the meeting in Washington at any time after it took place,” he said.
“DFAT employees were present at all times in that meeting and the meeting was disclosed by Mr Carstensen to DOFA [the Department of Finance and Administration] at the time, as was appropriate and necessary under the contractual arrangements with DOFA.
“I emphatically deny ever having told Mr Carstensen that Mr Hockey ‘owes me’ or any words to that effect.
“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.”
Questions about Mr Hockey’s links to Helloworld were raised after it was revealed the company had failed to charge Finance Minister Mathias Cormann for family flights to Singapore in 2018.
The company blamed an “administrative error” for not processing the $2,700 payment on Senator Cormann’s credit card, a bill which he has since settled.