South Australia’s outgoing Trade Minister has defended spending $120,000 on travel over the past financial, year saying it was vital for securing worldwide export deals.
Martin Hamilton-Smith, who was a former Liberal leader but left the party to become an independent and helped give Labor a narrow fourth-term win, has announced he will not seek re-election in March.
Figures published by the State Government show he spent $123,000 on visits to Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The figures also showed the bill for his advisers was about $65,000.
Opposition spokesperson Rob Lucas said the expenditure was a waste of taxpayer money.
“Ultimately these sort of things have to be judged on the basis [of] do they achieve things for the people of South Australia,” Mr Lucas said.
“In Mr Hamilton-Smith’s case, just three to four years ago he was promising to build exports to $18 billion and he’s been a spectacular failure.”
But in a statement Mr Hamilton-Smith said the trips had a major impact and secured new markets.
“South Australia’s export strategies and calendar of annual trade missions has had a major impact on securing new markets and opportunities,” he said.
“Just last week, the official trade data for India showed we had just recorded the highest monthly trade figure ever for that region ($124m).”
Mr Hamilton-Smith said the State Government’s trade mission had been expanded under a “very tight budget”, which was made more effective by the Government’s partnership with AusTrade.
Business SA backs travel spend
He also advised the Liberal Party it would need to be more strategic in how it tackles markets worldwide, if elected.
“You can’t secure top-level deals if you don’t travel there,” he said.
“The cost works out at around 65 cents for every export related job in SA.”
Business SA chief executive Nigel McBride also defended the Minister’s trips, saying people in key markets expected to have meetings with government officials.
“In countries like China you get nothing, you can’t even get doors open, unless you have a senior government minister,” he said.
“The real work is done between businesses, but you don’t get that unless there’s also government imprimatur.”
Mr Hamilton-Smith announced over the weekend he would retire from politics at the next election after 21 years of public service.
He said he would now do all he could to back the Nick Xenophon’s SA Best candidate for the seat of Waite.