Federal Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Richard Colbeck.
Federal Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Richard Colbeck. Warren Lynam

Senate reveals Aus Govt splashed out on industry dinner

THE Federal Government spent $21,000 on a dinner for visiting fishing experts from around the country in Fremantle in April this year, it was revealed during Senate estimates on Monday.

The dinner was part of several days of high-level talks at an esplanade hotel in the Western Australian city, during meetings of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

While more than 170 delegates, advisors and departmental experts attended the conference, no reference was made to how many people actually attended the dinner.

Under questioning from Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck, senior bureaucrats in the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry admitted the department had spent $21,009 hosting the dinner.

Senator Colbeck said his issue was that despite the department providing a list of expected hospitality expenditure during Senate estimates in February, the function was not included on the list.

The department officials explained the dinner was listed under business costs, rather than in the hospitality budget.

But Senator Colbeck said they could have fairly known the expense would come up when it responded to the earlier questions, and he was concerned two-thirds of the department's hospitality budget of some $31,000 for 2012-13 had already been spent just four months in to the new fiscal year.

The money was spent despite a crackdown on public service spending by Finance Minister Penny Wong, including continued increases to the "efficiency dividend", which aims to cut costs such as hospitality and travel.

The tuna commission is one of many international bodies forming part of the United Nation's advisory groups, and feeds directly into the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation among others.