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|August 29, 2000||
Aus PM defends freebies
Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday staunchly defended politicians accepting free tickets and corporate hospitality at the upcoming Sydney Olympics.
Howard said the government had spent A$850,000 (US$484,000) on tickets and a corporate box of its own to entertain guests at the September 15-October 1 Games and had also given its members of parliament (MPs) the go-ahead to accept corporate tickets.
"I think that is highly appropriate, given the importance of these Games," Howard told parliament.
"We will probably have the largest gathering of senior executives ever in this country...and if any member passes up the opportunity of meeting those people and advancing the interests of this country, it would be absolutely ridiculous."
However, Howard said the government had decided that although it was permissible to accept free tickets to Olympic and Paralympic events, MPs should not accept overnight accommodation from corporate sponsors or travel.
Any hospitality accepted must also be declared.
"The extent of the hospitality will be the value of the tickets and any hospitality that may accompany that," he said.
Communications Minister Richard Alston has said it would be "criminal negligence" for MPs to turn down corporate invitations to mingle with high-profile visitors.
Howard said the rules aimed to strike a balance between accepting too much and not passing up the opportunity of talking to people who have a significant capacity to invest in Australia.
The small but influential Democrats party, which holds the balance of power in parliament's upper house, has banned its senators from accepting any corporate hospitality at the Games.
Australia's main opposition Labor party has left it up to individual MPs to make up their own minds on invitations.
Howard said he could not see any difference between MPs accepting a ticket to the Olympics from a corporate host against accepting a ticket for any other sporting event, such as a cricket test or rugby union final, which was widely accepted.
"I offer no criticism. It all depends on people's sporting taste," he said.
Mail Sports Editor
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