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The Greens will seek to unite with the Coalition in the Senate to extract key details about Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles’ $3.6 million of private flights since April last year, as MPs from across the political spectrum raise alarm bells about his use of travel entitlements.
Documents released under freedom of information laws show that Marles was involved in a decision, ratified in March, to prohibit the release of information detailing where government VIP planes flew and who was on board.
Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
This decision, based on what the government says was official security advice, was made during a period in which Marles was sometimes spending more on private domestic travel than the prime minister.
And separately, a full breakdown of Marles’ or any other politician’s travel expenses is unlikely to be published until next year, with Labor blaming an IT bungle. MPs’ expenses were last published in 2022.
Greens senator David Shoebridge hopes to win bipartisan support in parliament next week to use the power of the Senate to force Labor to reveal flight information, which had been publicly available for decades until the recent reversal.
“When Labor was in opposition, it quite rightly demanded transparency in the use of these extremely expensive VIP flights,” Shoebridge said. “Now they are in government and very actively using these flights, Labor’s love of transparency has turned decidedly cold.”
Greens senator David Shoebridge seeks to unite with the Coalition in the Senate over the matter.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“As the Greens’ defence spokesperson, I will be pressing to produce these details to the Senate next week. We will see if we can rekindle Labor’s commitment to open government and also look to the opposition to help shine a light on this mess.”
Travel booked for Marles and his guests – which may include other MPs, senior Defence figures or other associates – totalled about $3.6 million since April last year, according to documents obtained by Shoebridge that were first reported by news.com.au.
Marles has booked far more domestic VIP flights than other members of cabinet, excluding Albanese.
Documents show that over two, three-month blocks after entering government, Marles spent more time on VIP flights within Australia than Albanese. But overall, Albanese has used special flights for 436 hours of domestic flights compared with Marles’ 367.
Flight tracker data shows a military plane has flown to or from Avalon about 70 times since March, including 35 movements between Avalon and Canberra. Passenger details for these flights have not been made public. Marles lives in Geelong, which is much closer to Avalon than to Melbourne’s major domestic airport at Tullamarine.
A spokeswoman for Marles contested the public flight tracker information, saying he “routinely travels on commercial flights both for sitting weeks and other business travel”.
She also questioned the source of the flight tracker data that had been put to their office by reporters.
“The leader of the opposition’s office has pushed out a spreadsheet riddled with factual errors and planes which appear to disappear completely,” the spokeswoman said.
“This is a clumsy and desperate attempt at muckraking from the leader of the opposition for an asset which he himself would not come clean about.”
A Labor source, who was not authorised to speak publicly, suggested Marles’ trips from Avalon to Canberra were mostly during periods when he was acting prime minister or when no commercial flights were available.
Opposition frontbencher Michael Sukkar said Marles should fully explain his use of VIP flights at a time when Australians were struggling to pay for mortgages and basic goods.
“And if he’s been using the RAAF to and from Avalon Airport just because it’s personally convenient for him, that would be a scandal,” Sukkar said.
A senior federal police official explained that the decision to withhold information about politicians’ flights in a briefing note in March, which said the previous rules posed a security risk because they revealed “pattern of life” data for passengers.
“The review focused only on security considerations surrounding the special purpose aircraft guidelines and did not address accountability and transparency considerations,” the document said.
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