Scott Morrison ditches parliament’s return to speak at Japan event not starting until Thursday

by Paul Karp
Former PM says he is ‘unable to attend’ first sitting week in Canberra as Labor calls for details about Tokyo engagement

Scott Morrison has skipped the first sitting week of parliament to speak at a conservative leaders’ summit in Tokyo that does not begin until Thursday afternoon.

The former Australian prime minister and member for Cook announced on Monday that “as a consequence” of having accepted the invitation he is “unable to attend the first three sitting days of the new parliament this week”, from Tuesday 26 July to Thursday 28 July.

But according to details of the Sixth Global Opinion Leaders Summit in Tokyo, the main event cited as Morrison’s reason for travel will be held from 5pm Thursday 28 July to 6pm Friday 29 July.

The Labor government has demanded Morrison explain whether the engagement is paid, questioning why taxpayers would pay MPs not to attend parliament.

Morrison is appearing alongside former UK prime minister David Cameron, former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, and Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Morrison appears on the flyer for the Sixth Global Opinion Leaders Summit in Tokyo
Morrison appears on the flyer for the Sixth Global Opinion Leaders Summit in Tokyo. Photograph: Worldwide Support for Development

The event is organised and sponsored by the Japan International Forum, Worldwide Support for Development and the International Democratic Union – a global alliance of centre-right political parties.

Tickets to the Thursday event at the Hilton cost between 5,000 yen ($AUD53) and 8,000 yen ($AUD84).

An “exclusive symposium” will be held on Friday which includes the former New Zealand prime minister and IDU chairman John Key. The events have the theme “talking about the Ukrainian War and the future world”.

“Although WSD is bipartisan, it listens to the opinions of conservative leaders with experience as prime minister and discusses world issues,” the event description says.

A member of staff at the Worldwide Support for Development could not confirm if Morrison would speak at both events in Tokyo, and did not know what time he was scheduled to speak.

“The schedule has not been finalised yet,” the employee said. The organisation was not immediately able to respond to questions about speaker fees.

In a statement, Morrison said “prior to the new government advising the sitting schedule for the remainder of 2022, I had already accepted an invitation to join other former prime ministers from Canada, the UK and New Zealand to address an international event to be held in Tokyo this week”.

“Both the prime minister and leader of the opposition were advised of my intended travel and absence from the parliament this week.

“While in Tokyo, in addition to making an address on the role of the Quad in promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific, I will be holding a series of meetings with Japanese political and business leaders and will have the opportunity to join other former leaders to express my condolences for the passing of prime minister [Shinzo] Abe following his assassination.

“I will return to Australia to be present in the parliament on August 1, 2022.”

Morrison also spoke to the Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul last week.

Guardian Australia has contacted Morrison for comment.

MPs have 28 days from the date they are sworn in to declare pecuniary interests for the 47th parliament, which formally opened on Tuesday.

The speaking engagements have fuelled speculation that Morrison may not serve out a full term in the House of Representatives, where he has represented the southern Sydney seat of Cook since 2007.

The leader of the House of Representatives, Tony Burke, said the opposition had not requested a pairing arrangement for Morrison and Labor did not expect one to be requested, meaning Morrison’s absence will cost the Liberals a vote in any division.

“I don’t know the full details of why he’s not here,” Burke told Radio National.

He said “it should be revealed” whether Morrison is being paid for the engagement, adding this is something “he should make clear”.

“If someone’s being paid to do another job, I’m not sure how they get away with the taxpayers paying them to do this one.”

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, declined to comment on Morrison’s absence from parliament. Asked on Tuesday if it was “disrespectful” to ditch parliament in favour of a speaking engagement, Albanese told reporters in Canberra “it’s a matter for him”.

The shadow employment minister, Michaelia Cash, told Radio National paid work “needs to be declared in a statement of interests in the appropriate way”.

“But this is a personal decision for Mr Morrison, I’m not aware of the circumstances, so I can’t comment on it.”