Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s office has flatly denied that he has nicknamed the VIP airbus he travels in after his dog Toto despite confirmation that his female cavoodle is sometimes snuck onto the plane.
There was a deathly silence when news.com.au first inquired in September, if the persistent rumours were true: was the Prime Minister’s cavoodle flying high between Sydney and Canberra?
Even the Defence Department is still delaying the finalisation of our freedom of information request lodged nearly three months ago.
But then last month, the defence officials came clean. Yes, pets are flying on the taxpayer-funded VIP plane operated by the Defence Department. No, they don’t keep a record of when Toto is flying and so can’t reveal how often she is flying.
Now, things have escalated. The Prime Minister has been accused of nicknaming the $250 million airbus after his dog.
In a column titled ‘Anthony Albanese’s adventures become one giant headache for Labor’, Labor strategist Cameron Milner observed in The Australian newspaper this week that the Prime Minister was fond of parroting “cost of living, cost of living” while being the small-target opposition leader.
“But since the election the PM has been largely distracted on legacy issues such as the Voice to parliament and travelling the globe as a latter-day Neil Armstrong,’’ he wrote.
“One more trip for Albo has become one giant headache for Labor.
“If not for the parliamentary sitting dates, Albo would no doubt find somewhere, anywhere else but Australia to fly in his plush Airbus he reportedly calls Toto One, named after his Covid-era pet dog.”
That left the Prime Minister’s office underwhelmed and prompted Mr Albanese’s minders to insist he doesn’t call the plane Toto.
The only problem is there’s a clue on the Prime Minister’s own website as to how the rumour started.
Consider Exhibit A. The transcript of his interview in May 2022 with Perth’s Oliver Petersen.
“Prime Minister before I let you go, have you given the aeroplane a name yet? Because the previous Prime Minister called it Shark One, are you thinking about calling this one McGowan One or perhaps Glory Glory to South Sydney?,’’ he asked.
The Prime Minister’s response?
“We, I joked the other day on the plane that we might call it Toto One after my lovely puppy,’’ Mr Albanese said.
Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie grilled Air Force Chief Robert Chipman on the Toto issue in October.
“Could you provide a list of all flights since the 21st of May 2022 on which animals – and specifically an animal called Toto – have been permitted on-board special purpose aircraft?” she asked.
The air force chief was cagey. He confirmed that mystery pets had been known to travel on the special purpose aircraft primarily used by the Prime Minister for official duties.
“I am aware that there is a history of VIPs travelling with pets on VIP aircraft,” he said.
“But we do not keep comprehensive records of when animals travel on VIP aircraft.”
Was it Scott Morrison’s black schnoodle Buddy? Or Mr Albanese’s white cavoodle Toto?
Answer: probably both.
Here’s the thing. Toto has been photographed at the Lodge in Canberra and at the Prime Minister’s Sydney residence.
Unless his partner Jodi or a staffer has been throwing Toto in the back of a ute and gunning it up the Federal Highway, an aircraft of some description is getting that dog from A to B.
“Are animals recorded on the flight manifest?’’ Senator McKenzie probed.
While it was not standard practice, the Defence Department conceded an animal on a special purpose aircraft was sometimes ‘annotated’ to the formal manifest.
“I have no records of how often [it happens],” he said.
“I know we have records to indicate that it has occurred.”
“The security co-ordination committee advice does not go specifically to naming animals on the aircraft.”
Air Marshall Chipman said the only requirement was for animals to be restrained in “some sort of harness”.