Tourism Australia paid top executive’s rent in Sydney

Tourism Australia has defended its decision to use taxpayer funds to provide free accommodation in Sydney for its most well-paid employee — while appearing to confirm the person also kept his empty apartment in China at the same time. 

Crikey revealed on Tuesday that the agency’s China-based executive general manager for eastern markets and aviation, Andrew Hogg, spent most of 2020 in Australia while continuing to receive the generous benefits associated with his posting in Shanghai. Crikey is not suggesting any wrongdoing by Hogg.

Later the same day, top executives at the tourism agency fronted Senate estimates where they were grilled by a senator demanding to know why it was necessary to spend such an “exorbitant amount of money” on Hogg’s allowances. 

Greens Senator dorinda cox reads a crikey article in estimates (IMAGE: SUPPLIED)

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said that with the benefit of hindsight, she would have done nothing differently.

“We didn’t know when he was going to go back [to China]. He was in short-term accommodation [in Australia], and we provided … he left his apartment, you know, thinking he was going away for a week. It was still there [in China] with all of their stuff in it,” Harrison said. 

Hogg had left China for a family holiday in Perth in January 2020 and got stuck in Australia when the federal government introduced border restrictions in February. Meanwhile, China shut its own borders to  foreigners and didn’t reopen them until September. 

According to Tourism Australia sources who spoke to Crikey on the condition of anonymity, Hogg was put up in a house in the affluent Sydney suburb of Manly. Tourism Australia confirmed to Crikey it had paid for his accommodation during his time in Sydney. 

Greens Senator Dorinda Cox had a printed copy of Crikey’s article in her hand while questioning Harrison.

“In this day and age, when we are in a cost of living crisis continuing on from the pandemic … I think the average Australian would want to know what those details are in relation to what some of our senior executives are being paid,” she said. 

“It was a very unprecedented time,” Harrison responded. “He was working really hard … keeping the spirits of [colleagues] going.” 

At another point in the hearing, Harrison said she had asked Hogg to come to Sydney from Perth once the scale of the pandemic became clear to “work out what we were going to do, what our response was going to be”.

“It all happened very, very quickly, and he wasn’t just there at my leisure, he was there working hard with me to try to work out what our response would be,” she said. 

While posted in China — including the time he was stuck in Australia — Hogg was Tourism Australia’s most well-paid employee. He made $819,983 in the most recent financial year, including all benefits, allowances and superannuation, much more than Harrison herself, who received a total of $536,792 in the same period. 

Harrison told the Senate her predecessor as managing director had agreed to match Hogg’s contract conditions at Qantas when he was hired to oversee Tourism Australia’s China operations in 2015. 

“We’d had a period of instability and hadn’t found the right person to run China, which was our biggest and growing market, so the managing director at the time took the decision to find the most capable and experienced person they could,” she said. 

“That was Andrew Hogg, who was already based there, and they matched his conditions, which was a combination of salary and other arrangements. And that’s why it was, I guess, an anomaly at the time in terms of the rest of the organisation.”

As Crikey previously reported, it’s unclear how much money was spent on Hogg’s accommodation during his time in Australia. Because the time Hogg spent in Australia straddles two different financial years — and because Tourism Australia has refused to break the payments down by calendar years — the exact sum is unclear. 

But during the two financial years from 2019 to 2021, annual reports say Hogg received a total of $453,374 in benefits and allowances. Of that sum, $104,002 was paid out in the 2019-2020 financial year, while $349,372 was paid out in the following financial year. 

Harrison quibbled with that sum during her evidence, wrongly claiming Cox had incorrect information. 

“I’m not sure where you get the $450,000 from … it’s reported in our annual report, it’s not that number.”

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