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Hockey conflict of interest claim over travel affair

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Labor has accused former treasurer Joe Hockey of a conflict of interest over his shares in a travel company which won a contract in 2017 to provide government bookings.

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A letter from former Helloworld employee Russell Carstensen said chief executive Andrew Burnes, who is also the Liberal Party’s treasurer, called in a favour to arrange a meeting.

“I asked Mr Burnes how could this be done so quickly, he verbally advised me, ‘Hockey owes me’,” Carstensen wrote in a letter to a Senate committee, released today.

Hockey is also one of the top 20 shareholders in Helloworld.

Senior opposition frontbencher Anthony Albanese said Hockey was directly involved in organising meetings between the government and a company in which he had a financial interest.

“Helloworld, hello conflict of interest,” Albanese told the Nine Network.

“They are shares that increased, by the way, in value at around 170 per cent once these government contracts started flowing through.”

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said he “genuinely thought” he had paid for a family holiday booked through Burnes.

The senator has now paid $2780 for flights to Singapore in January 2018, after it was revealed he was mistakenly not charged for them.

Albanese said the Helloworld controversy was “red hot” and called on Cormann to answer questions.

But the government is arguing Hockey had no role in the independent tender process, accusing Labor of using the issue as a distraction.

“These decisions are made by the department so it’s completely incorrect to actually link the two,” cabinet minister Kelly O’Dwyer told Nine.

She conceded Australians were not impressed Cormann didn’t initially pay for the flights, but slammed the “vile smears” made by the Opposition.

Labor leader Bill Shorten says the issue shows why a national corruption watchdog is needed.

Carstensen was diverted from his 2017 holiday in Europe to Washington to speak with Mr Hockey about the embassy’s travel needs.

Burnes emphatically denies the allegations.

“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,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

-AAP

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