CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's foreign department, searching for ways to shrink its spending, flew 23 bureaucrats business class from Canberra to Paris to attend a three-day conference and discuss ways to save money, officials said Thursday.
A Senate committee quizzed senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials on whether a video conference or a less expensive city had been considered as cheaper alternatives when the department was trying to reduce its spending by 12.6 million Australian dollars ($9.7 million) a year.
The official who chose Paris, John Fisher, told the committee the agenda of the in-house conference in September included ways to save money.
"We flew people to Paris to talk about how we might do things in a more effective way," Fisher told the committee.
Fairfax Media on Thursday conservatively estimated the cost of flying 23 bureaucrats from their Canberra headquarters on the 34,000-kilometer (21,000-mile) round trip to Paris plus accommodation at the four-star Mercure Paris Center Eiffel Tower Hotel, where most stayed, at AU$215,000 ($165,000).
Some participants questioned why a video conference had not been held instead, Fairfax reported.
Fisher, who attended the conference, said he considered a video conference before opting for Paris.
Fisher said he did not know the total cost of the conference because it had been paid for out of various training budgets.
He could not say whether the Fairfax estimate was accurate.
Fisher said Paris was chosen because it was a regional hub and the Australian Embassy was available as a free conference venue.
Another 40 department staff from Europe also attended, as well as six from Beirut, Cairo, Doha, Islamabad and Kathmandu.