Richard Marles: Golf-loving Deputy Prime Minister ordered to hand over documents revealing $3.6million in secret taxpayer-funded flights
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has been given nine days to hand over documents revealing the dates and cost of every flight he took on VIP aircraft in the past year.
The Coalition and the Greens teamed up in the Senate on Tuesday to order the release of the documents amid questions about the $3.6million cost of the 700 hours Mr Marles booked in RAAF special-purpose aircraft flights since last year.
Controversy has also surrounded a private golf trip he made to Tasmania’s King Island in April flanked by an Australian Federal Police security detail at taxpayers expense.
It has been practice for MPs since 1967 to regularly table details of taxpayer-funded military flights, but Mr Marles, who is also the Defence Minister, has not published where he has flown or the passenger manifests, citing ‘security’ grounds.
Mr Marles sought advice from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) late last year on the security implications of making that information public and has defended the move.
He has until 3pm next Thursday to provide the details on the dates and costs of every flight taken since January 2021 as well as their origins and destinations.
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has been given nine days to hand over documents revealing the dates and cost of every flight he took on VIP aircraft in the past year
READ MORE: Richard Marles’ $3.6million RAAF VIP flight bill
Flight tracker data reveals up to 70 VIP RAAF flights have flown in and out of Avalon airport south of Melbourne since March, just 20km from the Richard Marles’ home in Geelong.
The guidelines provided to officials about the use of special purpose flights has also been ordered to be tabled.
Greens leader Adam Bandt said Australia deserved a ‘convincing explanation’.
‘John Howard, in his government, released the details of flights that were taken at public expense and we’re asking for the same rules to apply here,’ he told ABC Radio.
‘So for us, it’s … let’s just be transparent about this. It’s a significant sum of money and previous governments have been upfront about how this money (was used), how these costs were incurred.
‘And we think the government should just continue the practice of previous governments and disclose this information.
‘We’re yet to hear a convincing explanation as to why that information won’t be disclosed, given previous governments have done it.’
Coalition Foreign Affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said special purpose aircraft provided an ‘essential function’ for government ministers, but there was an expectation of ‘reasonable transparency’ about how they were used.
‘The government’s changes that no longer report any information on the routes that have been flown or the passengers on those aircraft are a complete subversion of the way in which transparency about their use should be applied,’ Mr Birmingham said.
Controversy has surrounded a private golf trip Mr Marles made to Tasmania ‘s King Island in April flanked by an Australian Federal Police security detail at taxpayers expense. Pictured: Richard Marles plays golf with his South-East Asian counterpart during a visit to Cambodian in November 2022
‘They changed practice that has stood in place since the 1960s and they’ve made it next to impossible … to actually scrutinise how they are using these planes and to ask questions.’
Mr Birmingham said the Coalition was putting a motion to the Senate calling for the government to ‘provide its security advice that justifies these decisions’ confidentially to the parliamentary joint standing committee on intelligence and security.
‘It will enable scrutiny by the opposition and some government backbenchers over whether or not the government is being genuine in the way it’s acting upon that security advice or whether it’s using that advice as a shield to make the most of SPA (special purpose aircraft) aircraft,’ he said.
The Coalition’s defence spokesman, Andrew Hastie, took Mr Marles to task in question time on Monday, asking whether he had ‘taken his golf clubs’ on any of his taxpayer-funded flights or if he had taken anyone outside his family or staff.
Liberal MP Simon Birmingham (pictured) said special purpose aircraft provided an ‘essential function’ for government ministers, but there was an expectation of ‘reasonable transparency’ about how they were used
Mr Marles said there had been instances of representatives from other governments on some flights before accusing the opposition of hypocrisy – noting they had enjoyed plenty of RAAF flights while in government.
‘Let me be very clear, every place I have been, everything I’ve done, has been in pursuit of my duties as the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister Defence on behalf of this country, and I stand absolutely by every flight I have ever taken on the special purpose aircraft,’ Mr Marles said.
He also told the parliament about Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s recent request to use VIP aircraft to attend Matildas matches.
Last week, Mr Marles was accused of putting former speaker Bronwyn Bishop ‘to shame’ over revelations he had taken RAAF flights to Avalon – close to his home in East Geelong – instead of using a Comcar.
In 2014, then MP Bronwyn Bishop chartered a helicopter to take an 80km trip from Melbourne to a golf course near Geelong for a Liberal Party function.
In 2014, then MP Bronwyn Bishop (pictured) chartered a helicopter to take an 80km trip from Melbourne to a golf course near Geelong for a Liberal Party function
She opted for a taxpayer-funded $5,227.27 charter flight to the Clifton Springs Golf Club rather than using her Commonwealth car.
The estimated travel time by road is about 90 minutes each way.
Though the Coalition and the Greens have politicised the issue of Mr Marles’ VIP flights in the past week, when Liberal leader Peter Dutton was Defence Minister he too stopped reporting on SPA flights.
The last SPA Schedule tabled before the May 2022 Election was for the period July 1, 2020 to December 30, 2020.