Ministerial staffer flew business class to China energy conference

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A “friend” and staffer of a South Australian assistant minister has travelled business class to China at taxpayers’ expense for a renewable energy conference.

The trip by Gemma Paech, a research officer to Labor MP Chris Picton, saw her spend $4907.51 on business-class airfares from Adelaide to Brisbane, Hong Kong, Beijing and Sydney.

Ms Paech accompanied Mr Picton, the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, on the trip from June 5-9 to attend boutique renewable­ energy forum Under2 Clean Energy and “promote South Australia’s credentials as a leading proponent of the low-carbon­ transition”.

In his maiden speech to parliament in 2014, Mr Picton praised his “friend” Ms Paech for her work on his election campaign.

Ms Paech and Mr Picton had special business cards made for the China trip, at a cost of $161.82.

Their accommodation expen­ses were more than $7100, along with extra costs to attend conference “side events”.

The Australian revealed in Novemb­er how two political staffers to South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis spent more than $21,400 on business-class flights to attend a four-day mining convention in Canada.

Guidelines on air travel put in place by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill state “ministerial staff are to travel economy class unless the airline provides an upgrade at no cost to the government or otherwise as approved by the Premier’s chief of staff”.

A travel report for Mr Picton’s trip, on which he was also joined by climate change director Jon Gorvett, said he was invited to participate in the forum to demon­strate South Australia’s leadership on climate change.

The forum is a global gathering of city and regional leaders, co-hosted by China’s Ministry of Science­ and Technology and Sichuan province, and organised by California and The Climate Group. “Mr Picton was able to outline to the audience South Australia’s progress on clean energy­, discussing our ambitious targets and notable achievements to date,” the report says.

There was no mention of last year’s statewide blackout.

Opposition frontbencher Rob Lucas said yesterday that Mr ­Picton’s trip was “yet another exampl­e of the waste and financial mismanagement of the Weatherill government”.

“Sadly it is now a rampant practice that ministerial spin doctors and staffers believe they have some right to travel business class rather than economy,” he said.

“The guidelines are quite clear that staff are expected to travel economy except in extenuating circumstances, where the Premier­’s chief of staff has given approval.”

Yesterday, Mr Picton said he would “have to check the records to see who approved” Ms Paech’s business-class travel.

Ms Paech said she had to travel business class “to discuss with Chris the trip on the flight”.

A spokesman for the Premier’s chief of staff Daniel Romeo said the travel arrangements were approved­ “as per government policy­”, but there was no explan­ation for the decision.

By MICHAEL OWEN
The Australian

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