Travel Agents

“Ridiculous”: Helloworld CEO denies saying Joe Hockey “owes” him

Ali Coulton

Ali Coulton

Andrew Burnes has denied setting up meetings between Helloworld exec Russell Carstensen and Australian Ambassador to the US Joe Hockey.

During a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday afternoon Carstensen alleged Burnes, the CEO of Helloworld, said he could arrange a meeting with the ambassador because Hockey “owes” him, according to SMH.

“I did not organise any meetings between Russell Carstensen and Joe Hockey,” Burnes said in a statement on the ASX.

“Mr Carstensen’s own email of 24 April 2017 shows that he organised the meeting with Mr Hockey and I was simply CCed on the email.”

Burnes also said Hockey did not discuss the meeting in Washington at any time after it took place.

“I emphatically deny ever having told Mr Carstensen that Mr Hockey “owes me” or any words to that effect,” he said.

“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.”

Carstensen, who was head of both QBT and Air Tickets at the time of the meeting with Hockey and DFAT employees, resigned from Helloworld in 2018.

Burnes, who is the Liberal Party’s fundraising chief, said he has never received special treatment from Liberal Governments.

He also pointed out that the Whole of Government Accommodation Management contract was awarded to AOT, which Burnes founded in 1987, was won under the federal Labor Government in 2012. In 2015, AOT went for the same tender under the Coalition and was rejected.

AOT merged with Helloworld in 2016.

Andrew Burnes, Cinzia Burnes and Joe Hockey at AOT Headquarters opening 2013
Andrew Burnes, Cinzia Burnes and Joe Hockey at AOT Headquarters opening 2013

Media reports have recently suggested that the Australian Ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, who is one of Helloworld’s 20 largest shareholders, may have encouraged staff to meet with QBT in Washington, DC ahead of its bid for a government contract.

QBT was awarded a contract in 2015 to provide travel management services to Commonwealth Government Agencies, including DFAT.

According to Helloworld, in 2017, QBT met with DFAT personnel in the US to discuss the provision of travel management services to the US by the company’s request.

“QBT understands DFAT personnel met a number of travel service providers as part of its considerations in relation to the provision of travel services in the US,” Helloworld said in a statement.

In August 2018, DFAT started a formal tender process, which QBT responded to, but no announcement has been made in relation to the tender.

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