Defence Minister Richard Marles has booked over 700 hours of taxpayer-funded RAAF VIP flights since last year – the equivalent of flying to London 30 times or 59 return trips to Bali.
An analysis of Mr Marles’ $3.6 million bill for private RAAF transport also reveals that despite claims the travel is all about international diplomacy that nearly half of the flights were booked for domestic travel in Australia.
Mr Marles won’t say where he was going or why he went citing “security” concerns but freedom of information documents do reveal how long he spent in the air.
In total, Mr Marles spent 367 hours on RAAF flights since last year for domestic travel purposes and 379.1 hours in the air to travel to international meetings overseas.
Defending the spending, the Defence Minister has insisted the trips which included a quick return to trip to Sydney to watch a Matildas semi-final were “in the national interest” and that many were about international visits.
“Every trip I’ve ever taken has been in accordance with guidelines,’’ Mr Marles told ABC radio.
“It’s all been taken in accordance with pursuing my work as Defence Minister, as the Deputy Prime Minister and, on occasions, as the Acting Prime Minister. And that work has, at its heart, our national interest.
“In the context of being Defence Minister clearly a lot of our interest lies beyond our shores. It is an outward looking portfolio and it does require engagement overseas.
“And I don’t see there being any criticism in respect of a particular trip that I’ve taken or activity that I’ve taken that shouldn’t have occurred. All of this is about being promoting Australia’s interests in Southeast Asia, in the Pacific, negotiating the optimal pathway by which Australia would acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the banner of AUKUS, these all go to questions of Australia’s national interest.”
But new analysis of Mr Marles’ flight reveal almost half of all the flights booked were for domestic travel and his expenditure is much more expensive than that previously billed by former Defence Minister Peter Dutton or former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
Speaking today on Sunrise, former deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce called on his successor to
“I think there’s a lot of questions being asked lately about spending (of) the Defence Minister and the $3.7 million on VIPs, that is other people’s money and you got to be more transparent about it,’’ Mr Joyce said.
“I’m more worried about the $3.7 million on flights from Richard Marles, which we cannot get to the bottom of and he won’t give us the details of.”
The expenditure included 61.8 hours of domestic travel during the election at a cost of $660,173, a figure that included a period when he was acting leader after Anthony Albanese contracted Covid.
Mr Marles also spent 119.7 hours on a RAAF plane between April 1 2023 – 30 June 2023, purely on domestic travel for purposes that are unknown.
The Defence Minister has defended the information blackout on the flights arguing it was on the advice of the AFP.
“Well, all we’ve done in terms of the reporting is taken the advice that we’ve been given in relation to our own security,’’ he said.
“And we did do a security review about making sure that the information that is put into the public domain is not compromising any person in relation to disclosing patterns of life and behaviour and that’s a standard assessment that’s made in relation to national security.”
News.com.au revealed last week that Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles was consulted over the decision to stop publishing where politicians are flying on VIP flights during the same period he personally ran up a $3.6 million bill.
But publicly available flight tracker data has revealed some of the flights – including a RAAF VIP flight that flew to Queensland on the day of the World Cup semi-final.
It picked up passengers in Brisbane at 4.38pm, where Mr Marles and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended events ahead of the ALP conference.
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles was also personally consulted over the decision to stop publishing where politicians are flying on VIP flights during the same period he personally ran up a $3.6 million bill.
New documents obtained under freedom of information laws have revealed that the Australian Federal Police conducted the security review at the request of the government and in consultation with Mr Marles.
As a result, the passenger manifest and destination of VIP flights are now being censored for the first time in half a century.
Greens Senator David Shoebridge said the new documents raised fresh questions.
“The Defence Minister, as one of the biggest customers of these expensive VIP flights, had a direct interest in this and has clearly benefited from the change in the rules,” he said.
“That interest absolutely should have been made clear when his office was pushing to keep the details of its boss’s VIP travel secret.”