Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has run up a VIP flight bill of $3.6 million after previously mocking former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop for taking a single helicopter trip from Melbourne to Geelong.
The Defence Minister’s globetrotting adventures have been laid bare in Defence Department documents that were only released following a freedom-of-information request.
But the government is refusing to say where he went or who he took on the plane as guests, citing “security issues” despite the fact the flights took place up to a year ago and the material was previously published for decades.
The Albanese government now claims that the material can no longer be published for safety reasons, after a review that was quietly initiated by the Morrison government after it was repeatedly embarrassed by the VIP flight logs being published online — including the scandal that ended the career of Ms Bishop.
A spokesperson for Mr Marles said she would not be revealing where he had travelled on the $3 million-plus worth of taxpayer-funded flights.
“All travel conducted by the Deputy Prime Minister either in his role as Defence Minister or as Acting Prime Minister is in accordance with the relevant guidelines and security procedures,” she said.
Mr Marles’ office noted that the Special Purpose Aircraft (SPA) Guidelines for disclosure had been revised by Defence, as a result of a security review led by the Australian Federal Police.
The review has found that “the Special Purpose Aircraft Guidelines are not currently fit-for-purpose in regards to protecting security sensitivities, including demonstrating a protection of pattern-of-life data for passengers”.
Mr Marles’ high-flying habits have even involved spending double the amount the Prime Minister spent in the final quarter of 2022 when he ran up a stunning $936,604 bill between October and December alone.
This year alone, Mr Marles has run up a VIP flight bill for private RAAF planes worth $1,346,381. Last year Mr Marles spent $2,275,060.
On Friday, news.com.au revealed that Anthony Albanese has rung up a $5 million bill for VIP flights since he was elected last year spending an average of $88,000 a week on flights.
The records confirm Mr Albanese is the nation’s biggest VIP flight frequent flyer and that he has rung up a $1,872,148 bill for flights from January to June of 2023 alone.
It means the Prime Minister is spending more than the average annual salary — $68,900 — every week on VIP flights. Skilled and experienced workers in Australia earn an average of $108,900.
It’s believed some of the VIP flights are also picking Mr Marles up at Avalon airport, a quick 30-minute drive by chauffeur-driven car from his home or Geelong-based electorate office.
But it was a different story nearly a decade ago when Mr Marles raged over the decision of the Ms Bishop to use a VIP helicopter to fly to Geelong.
“Recently, the country dropped its collective jaw at the arrogance of Speaker Bronwyn Bishop using taxpayer money to fly in a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong,” he wrote.
“Mrs Bishop’s colleague Sarah Henderson has ducked questions on the topic like an English batsman reacting to a Mitchell Johnson bouncer.
“We’ve been the unfortunate punchline in a bad joke that has seen taxpayers foot the bill for a ludicrous waste of money charged by Liberal stalwart Bronwyn Bishop to travel by helicopter from Melbourne to the Clifton Springs Golf Club on the Bellarine Peninsula.
“What was so urgent that she decided she would charge the Australian people a touch over $5000 for the scenic flight? It was so she could attend a fundraiser for the Liberal candidate for Bellarine at the recent Victorian election.”
Mr Marles said she “absolutely should know better”.
“The notion of being so out-of-touch with how the rest of the country goes about life is one of the biggest breaches of faith a politician can commit,” he said.
“Not surprisingly, we have yet to hear what local the Liberal leadership think of Mrs Bishop’s extravagant entrance. Though on the weekend, we did hear from Mrs Bishop in a jaw-dropping press conference, where she pretty much insisted she did nothing wrong and described the attacks on her as a “political beat up”.
“I’m not sure what circles Mrs Bishop moves in, but for the people that I have been speaking to, this saga represents what the community dislikes most about politics and politicians,” he said.
“I think if Mrs Bishop had asked for feedback from any of us who do the trip from Geelong to Melbourne and vice versa by car, she would have got the kind of feedback that probably isn’t fit to print. It is staggering that someone who is supposed to serve the people thought it would pass any kind of test to charter a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong and expect voters to pick up the tab.”
Greens Senator David Shoebridge, who lodged the original FOI request to reveal the data, urged the Albanese government to return to the publication of all VIP flights in the interests of “transparency”.
“When people are facing serious cost-of-living pressures, having politicians tell them their flights are so special, expensive and secret that they can’t know the details really doesn’t cut it,” Mr Shoebridge told news.com.au.
“The idea that telling us where politicians flew last year is a serious security risk is hard to swallow. In most cases the politicians put up an Instagram post or media release when they land.
“These are meant to be ‘special’ flights, so if there is a repeating pattern of flights then this is an issue in itself. In previous years these ‘patterns’ have indicated potential misuse of the flights for personal or political campaigning rather than urgent public interest work.
“We will be pressing for the release of this specific information about flights because transparency protects those doing the right thing as much as it embarrasses those who step out of line.”