NSW Primary Industries, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ian Macdonald has updated his pecuniary interests register to include an airline trip within China paid for by a mysterious entrepreneur and a Communist Party official.

Apart from receiving six complementary tickets to attend an AFL game in May this year, MacDonald makes the following declaration:

Contributions to travel

Guo Yingchun, Director-General, Foreign Affairs Office, Gansu Provincial People Govt (sic) China and A Fang, Tianda Group, L24, Citic, 1 Tim Mei Ave, Central Hong Kong – Travel and accommodation in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, May 18-19, 08.

Qin Quandgrong, Governor Yunnan Provincial Government China – Accommodation in Kunming, China 25.5.08

What this bare entry doesn’t reveal is the extraordinary circumstances in which Macdonald and his ministerial entourage accepted a private flight from Shenzen in southern China to Lanzhou in the far north-west during an official trade mission headed by the then premier Morris Iemma.

His benefactors were Comrade Yingchun, a senior party official, and Alan Fang, a friend of Macdonald’s who made his fortune in the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries and now lobbies on behalf of Chinese mining interests.

Why would Yingchun and Fang be so generous as to offer a NSW minister a free flight on a charter jet across China?

And what happened to the tickets on commercial airlines which had already been issued to the minister and his party and paid for by the NSW taxpayers? Presumably they were redeemed – but at what price?

In the NSW upper house this week, Macdonald was quizzed about the private charter trip by National MP Trevor Khan, a former Tamworth solicitor.

In his reply Macdonald said:

I accepted the offer of transport to meetings with the governor of Gansu province and other senior ministers and bureaucrats. It followed the earthquake in Szechwan (sic), which affected Gansu with the loss of many hundreds of lives and many hundreds of millions worth of damage.

How the Sechuan earthquake, hundreds of kilometers to the west, became the reason for accepting the private flight to Gansu, hundreds of kilometers to the north, was lost in the haziness of his reply.

He continued:

Let us remember that the capital Lanzhou is not exactly the Riviera or some place around Italy or Paris. It is a very poor city but is in a resource-rich state way out in one of the poorest parts of China.

With the chamber awash with tears for the intrepid minister, he concluded with this flourish: “I did the right thing, and I stand by it. I do not change my mind one iota about what I did.”

It appears a new protocol has been established by the NSW Labor government: any minister traveling abroad on government business and at taxpayers’ expense is able to accept private travel and accommodation from government or private individuals and it isn’t a breach of the ministerial code of conduct.

The Opposition is so unhappy with Macdonald’s explanation it is planning to refer the whole affair to the Independent Commission Against Corruption for a ruling from the jovial septugenarian in charge, Jerrold Cripps QC.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey