Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and his opposite Nick Minchin squared off in a lengthy debate in the Senate Estimates Committee yesterday on topics as varying as Cisco's Telepresence system, the CeBIT trade fair and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Minchin questioned Conroy's absence from three out of four Government Cabinet meetings between June and September last year, according to Hansard transcripts. "I think I was on leave for one, I think I was overseas for one and I think I may have missed one over a family funeral," Conroy replied.
The debate progressed to the $90,000 price tag for Conroy's two trips to the US and UK and the likely impact on these expenses from the government's $13.8 million over four year investment in Cisco's Telepresence video conferencing systems.Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner in February said it would "deliver a significant reduction in travel costs".
"I do notice that your colleague, Mr Tanner, says that we are now going to save lots of money by having videoconferencing," Minchin said. "As the Minister for Communications I am sure you are really enthusiastic about using videoconference facilities rather than travelling. Is this something you enthusiastically agree with Mr Tanner on and that you see the possibility to reduce the cost of overseas travel by using videoconferencing?" he asked.
Conroy parried the question, echoing Tanner's holistic take on the benefits of video conferencing: "I think there is a whole range of benefits to videoconferencing, not just cost; there are obviously greenhouse carbon footprint benefits as well," he replied.
Minchin then asked whether Conroy had any further trips planned this winter.
"No," Conroy replied, shortly before adding: "As I am sure you noticed from that photograph of [me] shaking hands with Arnold Schwarzenegger, I was overseas briefly a few months ago. I think I was in the air and in airport lounges longer than on the ground at Hannover."
"I do not know if you got to meet Governor Schwarzenegger but I am sure you are very envious," Conroy added.
Minchin admitted he'd "missed out" on rubbing shoulders with Schwarzenegger but said he had been to CeBIT Hannover. "That is a worthwhile trip," he said.