Linton Besser August 20, 2012
A HANDFUL of bureaucrats at the Future Fund are doing more international travel per person than the Foreign Affairs Department and the military.
While it is the business of the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to deploy their officers abroad, the agency which manages Australia's sovereign wealth fund has budgeted for more than $51,000 in international airfares for each of its 77 staff for the three years to 2013.
By comparison, DFAT has budgeted about half that amount for its 2300 staff, at $27,000 per head over the same period.
A spokesman for the Future Fund, Will Hetherton, said the extensive travel was necessary because ''it is extremely important that we select and monitor high quality external investment managers and stay in close touch with investment, market and economic developments globally''.
The fund invests more than $90 billion in international markets. ''As a small agency with a very specific investment purpose and an outsourced model, comparisons to large, broad-based departments are misleading,'' Mr Hetherton said.
The figures have emerged as the federal government centralises its travel spending to reduce costs and create new efficiencies.
As a part of the initiative, the Department of Finance and Deregulation asked all federal agencies in 2010 to submit estimates of their travel spending through to 2013. A Herald analysis of these figures has found that several smaller federal agencies - including the Department of Climate Change - have a surprisingly high budget for overseas travel per person.
In 2010, the climate change agency budgeted for three years of overseas travel at more than $10,000 per employee, making it the fourth-highest spending department in the Commonwealth. By comparison, Austrade budgeted $8000 per person, and the Australian Federal Police budgeted $5000 per head.
A department spokeswoman, Jacqui Newberry, said the Department of Climate Change's actual costs of overseas travel were likely to come in at less than forecast.
Instead of the $7.25 million estimate, she said the department now expected to spend $6.2 million, which would bring the per-head spend to $8500 and drop the agency to the seventh-highest position on the list.
Ms Newberry said the department was responsible for ''leading international climate change negotiations in the United Nations [and] managing bilateral climate change interactions with major partner countries''.
''The travel costs are driven from the need to supply departmental representation from Canberra, as it does not have a network of overseas posts akin to other overseas-operating departments,'' she said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has budgeted almost $10,000 per person on international airfares alone. But the reasons for this travel remain a mystery - its communications officer, Heath Axelby, declined to account for the travel arrangements.
''The department has no obligation to respond to your request,'' he said.
Overall, defence outlays the most in international airfares. Its three-year budget, including for the Defence Materiel Organisation, which manages the procurement of weapons and supplies, was $188 million. It is followed by DFAT ($64.8 million), the Australian Federal Police ($36.8 million) and the Department of Immigration ($27 million).
The Bureau of Meteorology has budgeted for $6.1 million worth of international travel and the Australian Bureau of Statistics has set aside more than $3 million for overseas travel.
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