George Christensen made 28 trips to the Philippines between April 2014 and June last year.
George Christensen made 28 trips to the Philippines between April 2014 and June last year.

‘Manila MP’ spent more time overseas than in parliament

Nationals MP George Christensen spent 294 days in the Philippines during a four-year period and for two consecutive years was in Manila for more days than he was in federal parliament.

The government backbencher made 28 trips between April 2014 and last June, spending 42 weeks in a country which is more than 5000km away from his marginal Queensland seat of Dawson.

Detailed travel records seen by the Herald Sun show the extent of the MP's frequent flights, which were red-flagged in mid-2017 by authorities and raised at the highest levels of government.

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Mr Christensen spent 72 days in the Philippines in 2016, and again in 2017, during the course of 13 separate trips which ranged in duration from five days to 29 days over Christmas-New Year.

This outstripped his attendance in Canberra: the House of Representatives sat for 51 days and 64 days in those years.

Mr Christensen's constant travel has earned him the nickname "The Member for Manila" among colleagues and caused unrest among LNP members who have raised concerns at his continued absence from his 14,630sq km north Queensland seat, which is on a 3.4 per cent margin.

George Christensen during Question Time in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith
George Christensen during Question Time in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith

Asked about his travel, Mr Christensen said last night it was a part of a "smear campaign" from Labor and a "former very senior Liberal MP", and he had never used taxpayers' funds for private travel. "As far as I'm concerned and the facts are concerned, this matter is over."

Mr Christensen's office last night disputed some of the dates, but not the total amount, of his travel to Manila.

One senior Coalition figure told the Herald Sun: "I'm not really interested in what he's doing there, to be honest. But how anyone can justify that much time away from a marginal seat when you're a backbencher is utterly beyond me."

Mr Christensen said then they had met in April 2017, and he had been to the Philippines eight times in his life.

But it can now be revealed he has flown to Manila 28 times while a member of the Coalition government, and had been 19 times before meeting his fiancee.

His trips were scheduled so as not to clash with parliamentary sitting days or the eight-week 2016 election campaign.

But records show he was on a plane to Manila for a seven-day visit three days after the July 2 polling day.

On three occasions he flew back on either January 23 or 24 to attend Australia Day events in his electorate.

All but one of his trips were self-funded and on his personal passport.

The Nationals MP is a regular visitor to Manila. Picture: iStock
The Nationals MP is a regular visitor to Manila. Picture: iStock

In September 2017 he travelled as part of a parliamentary delegation to an Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum.

The number of travel days does not include days in other countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, which Mr Christensen has previously confirmed he had visited over the past five years.

Mr Christensen has said he travels to the Philippines not only to meet his fiancee but also to meet church leaders and raise funds for a charity.

The state of the Great Barrier Reef and soaring costs of power bills and home insurance are matters of concern in the MP's electorate of Dawson, which takes in Mackay and some southern suburbs of Townsville.

Last December, Mr Christensen outed himself as the government MP who was the subject of Australian Federal Police inquiries into his frequent travel to the Philippines, dubbing the story part of a "vile and hateful smear campaign" to try to bring him and the government down.

The Herald Sun revealed then that the AFP had advised Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton it had closed the case, while warning that the MP could be a target for compromise by foreign interests.

Attempts under Freedom of Information to gain access to correspondence between the AFP, Mr Christensen and his lawyers, and Mr Dutton have been refused on grounds of privacy and concerns disclosure would discourage co-operation with investigations.

Mr Christensen was also at the centre of a second line of inquiry after a senior Labor MP referred concerns raised by a diplomatic staffer who had worked at Australia's Philippines embassy. The AFP found no evidence to support the allegations.

CHRISTENSEN'S TRIPS TO THE PHILIPPINES

2014

April 26 to May 9: Arrives in Manila the day after Anzac Day on Flight MH806. Spends 14 days in the country. Leaves on Flight MH803.

June 30 to July 5: Arrives on Flight PR212 and spends six days in the country. Leaves on Flight MH803. The trip was in between parliament sitting weeks in Canberra.

September 6 to 19: Spends 14 days in the country after arriving on Flight MH806 and leaving on MH803.

November 2 to 10: Arrives on Flight MH806 and spends nine days in the country between sitting weeks. Departs on Flight MH803.

December 24, 2014 to January 20: Arrives on Flight PR737 and spends 28 days in the country before arriving back at home in time for Australia Day. Departs the Philippines on Flight MH807.

Total: 51 days

2015

February 13 to 17: Back in the Philippines, leaving Australia the day after parliament was sitting. Arrives on Flight MH806 and spends five days in the country. Leaves on Flight MH803.

March 28 to April 10: Leaves Australia on the Saturday after parliament sits on Flight MH806. Spends 14 days in the Philippines and departs on Flight MH803.

June 26 to July 4: Leaves Australia again on the Saturday after parliament sits on Flight QF019. Spends nine days in the Philippines and departs on Flight QF020.

MP George Christensen with PM Scott Morrison in Townsville this February. Picture: Glenn Hunt
MP George Christensen with PM Scott Morrison in Townsville this February. Picture: Glenn Hunt

July 24 to 26: Arrives in the Philippines on Flight 3K761 and spends just three days in the country, departing on Flight PR211.

August 21 to 25: Arrives just after parliament sits on Flight QF019 and spends five days in the Philippines. Departs on Flight CX906.

October 4 to 8: Arrives back in the Philippines on Flight PR222 straight after a sitting week. Spends another five days in the country and leaves on Flight PR221.

December 26, 2015 to January 10: Arrives in Manila on Flight 5J7296 the day after Christmas. Spends 16 days in the country and leaves on Flight 5J929.

Total: 67 days

2016

January 16 to 24: Arrives in the Philippines on Flight 5J930, spends nine days in the country. Leaves on Flight MH705 to arrive back home just before Australia Day.

July 5 to 11: Leaves Australia three days after the election while the result was still unclear with his party possibly facing minority government. Arrives in Manila on Flight MH806 and spends seven days in the country, leaving on Flight MH705.

August 4 to 12: Arrives in Manila on Flight PR731 and spends nine days in the country. Leaves on Flight PR736.

September 3 to 6: Arrives in the Philippines on Flight CX907 just after a sitting week and spends just four days in the country. Departs on Flight PR209.

September 29 to October 5: Arrives in Manila on Flight PR222 and spends seven days in the country. Leaves on Flight PR221.

December 6 to January 4, 2017: Sends out a press release about his self-funded trip to the Philippines. Arrives on Flight PR124 and spends 30 days in the country. Leaves on Flight TG625.

Total: 72 days

2017

January 10 to 24: Arrives in the Philippines on Flight EO408 and spends 15 days in the country. Leaves just in time for Australia Day on Flight EO408.

April 13 to 17: Arrives in Manila on Flight EO408 and spends five days in the country. He then leaves the Philippines on Flight EO408 and has weight-loss surgery in Malaysia on April 18.

April 25 to May 1: Arrives in the Philippines on Anzac Day on Flight EO408 shortly after having weight-loss surgery. Leaves on Flight EO408.

June 24 to July 10: Arrives in Manila on the Saturday after a sitting week on Flight EO408. Spends 17 days in the country and departs on Flight EO408.

August 22 to 26: Arrives in the Philippines on Flight EO408 and spends five days in the country. Leaves on Flight EO408.

September 16 to 20: Arrives in the Philippines on Flight CI701 on a parliamentary delegation. Spends five days in the country leaves on Flight QF020.

December 18 to January 1, 2018: Arrives in the Philippines on Flight CI703. Spends 15 days in the country and leaves on Flight PR730.

Total: 72 days

2018

January 8 to 23: Arrives in Manila on Flight PR731 and spends 16 days in the country. Leaves on Flight TR379 to arrive back home in time for Australia Day.

April 23 to 29: Again misses Anzac Day, arriving in Manila on Flight SV862 and spending seven days in the country. Leaves on Flight PX011.

Jun 2 to 9: Arrives in the Philippines on Flight PR222. Spends eight days in the country and leaves on Flight PR221.

Total: 32 days

 

rob.harris@news.com.au