Gillard wants Rudd to curb travel expenses

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office has asked Kevin Rudd to curb his overseas travel expenses.

In an email exchange between the two offices, Mr Rudd’s chief of staff was told to keep accommodation costs to a ‘minimum’ after noting the total estimated cost of one trip alone would be $77,607. The email, obtained under Freedom of Information, was written in the week of May’s federal budget.

It referred to a request for approval from Mr Rudd’s office for an official visit to China, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Thailand to begin the next day. The Department of Finance estimated the cost of the trip would include a hotel suite in Stockholm, Sweden, at more than $1700 for one night.

“It is noted that the estimated cost of the visit is $77,607,” said the email from the PM’s chief of staff, Ben Hubbard, to Mr Rudd’s chief of staff, Philip Green, on May 12. “In relation to accommodation costs, you should ensure costs are kept to an acceptable minimum.”

The Prime Minister’s spokeperson said last night, “Ministers are routinely encouraged to minimise costs.”

The chair of the Coalition’s committee on Scrutiny of Government Waste, Jamie Briggs, said the travel email suggested the PM and the Foreign Minister, like the Labor caucus, were engaged in open warfare.

“The FOI reveals that Gillard’s personal office begged the Foreign Minister to rein in his ballooning accommodation costs,” he said. “It is time that Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd sorted out their personal animosity for the good of Australian taxpayers.”

An Australian newspaper revealed last week that the estimated costs for all Mr Rudd’s travel submitted by the Department of Finance amount to more than $1 million for 14 trips for the year ending last August.

The actual costs of the trips, however, have yet to be tabled in parliament and Mr Rudd’s office has claimed that the actual expenditure would differ from the estimates.

His office said the email from the PM’s office was standard language. However, it does not appear in the seven other previous letters of travel approval released in the FOI documents.