Scott Morrison is on track to become one of Australia’s highest-flying prime ministers, after embarking on more overseas trips in his first year in office than each of his predecessors.
Freedom of Information documents obtained by SBS News show Mr Morrison’s globetrotting diplomacy has cost taxpayers more than $1.3 million so far.
Mr Morrison jetted off on 12 international trips, visiting 17 nations, in the first 12 months since he took office in August last year.
His trips include eight visits to Pacific neighbours as part of his much-touted step up in the region.
A spokesperson for the PM said: “Every trip the prime minister makes is to advance Australia’s interests strengthening our trading relationships and strengthening our national security.”
“As the prime minister has said, he only travels overseas when it is necessary and will deliver outcomes that benefit Australian families and businesses.”
The spokesperson said: “diplomatic missions are all focused on delivering the lowest costs to the taxpayer including by obtaining multiple quotes for services being used where practical and by reducing accommodation costs by flying overnight”.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute director of defence, strategy and national security Michael Shoebridge said it was important Mr Morrison meet regularly with leaders in the region.
“I think the world that we’re living in requires a lot of senior leader contact and where a prime minister spends their time says a lot about where their priorities are,” Mr Shoebridge told SBS News.
“Scott Morrison is saying, with his travel, the South Pacific is an important national priority.
“That’s where he went first when he became prime minister and he’s kept up that tempo of travel.”
In early June, Mr Morrison became the first Australian prime minister to visit the Solomon Islands in 11 years, before going onto the United Kingdom and Singapore.
The total cost of the three-country trip was $164,447.
He has attended two G20 summits in Argentina at the end of 2018 and this year’s meeting in Osaka, costing $350,572 and $177,142 respectively.
He also scored an invitation to observe the G7 summit in France in August.
No China visit
However, there is one notable destination missing from Mr Morrison’s travel diary.
He is the first prime minister since John Howard not to visit China in his first 400 days in office.
Mr Shoebridge said the geopolitical environment has changed since then, pointing out Australia’s economic relationship with China has boomed in the last two years without an official visit.
“If and when he goes there it should be on terms that make sense to Australia’s national interest and bargaining to get an early invitation would probably mean compromising on important national interests,” he said.
Mr Morrison has prioritised other Asian nations including Indonesia, making two visits to Jakarta so far, most recently to attend Joko Widodo’s inauguration as president.
Other stopovers that contributed to the $1.3 million price tag during his first 12 months in office include visits to Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, Easter Island, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Zealand and Vietnam.
However, the total cost of Mr Morrison’s international travel would be much higher than that – as he has made another five overseas trips since August, including a state visit to the United States where he was hosted by US President Donald Trump at a state dinner.
The total expense bill also excludes the cost of RAAF charter flights for all international prime ministerial flights this year.
It also does not take into account his most recent trips to East Timor, the United States, Fiji, Indonesia and Thailand.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Defence explained: “Defence has a longstanding process for costing the use of special-purpose aircraft.”
“These aircraft utilise a range of logistics, fuel, crewing and support systems that are common to a range of capabilities across our RAAF fleets.
“The costing process that Defence uses breaks down and attributes costs in a thorough manner, but this takes time.
“The Special Purpose Aircraft schedule for the period 1 January to 30 June 2019 is expected to be tabled in the first quarter of 2020 once verification and validation of the data has been conducted,” the spokesperson said.
The Prime Minister will visit India and Japan in January and is also expected to call on Saudi Arabia for the G20 Summit in November.
The exact disclosed expense of the prime minister’s international travel was $1,383,101.