Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles’ office has spent $3.6 million on flights – the details of which have been concealed – as the opposition accuses the Albanese government of “blatant hypocrisy” on transparency for leaving more than 2,000 requests for answers unanswered in the Senate.
Documents obtained by Greens senator David Shoebridge last week under freedom of information laws revealed Marles’ office has spent $3.6 million of taxpayer money on travel since April 2022.
Looking at commercial airfare averages, that’s the equivalent of 25352 return trips from Sydney to Melbourne, or3761 return trips Sydney to Denpasar Bali.
Much of that spend was on Royal Australian airforce Special Purpose Flights by Marles and his guests, including other MPs and senior defence staff.
But the documents also reveal that, in March this year, Marles was involved in a decision to prohibit any information about where those planes flew and who was on board from being publicised.
The Federal Government said this decision was based on security advice. On Friday, Marles spoke in defence of those flights and assured the public there was nothing suspicious going on, but that he can’t reveal any more details for security reasons.
“A lot of people travel on those flights, my direct component is a fraction of the number that has been reported,” he said.
“Everywhere I have gone, everything I have done has been on behalf of the Australian people and the duties I do in that regard, and I stand by every flight I have taken.
“My preference would be to have all of that out there because that would make things much clearer, but there is a genuine security issue here.”
Marles said previous defence ministers, including Peter Dutton and Barnaby Joyce, had similar travel bills.
But Marles has also publicly criticised members of the Liberal Government including for their exorbitant travel expenses, including Bronwyn Bishop in 2015 for spending $5,000 on a short helicopter flight to a golf course for a Liberal Party event.
Dutton accused Marles last week of holding “double standards”.
Shoebridge said the fact that Marles had concealed details about these flights is hypocritical.
“When Labor was in opposition, it quite rightly demanded transparency in the use of these extremely expensive VIP flights. Now they are in government and very actively using these flights, Labor’s love of transparency has turned decidedly cold,” Shoebridge said in the Senate.
“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.”
Transparency and integrity are values Labor based its election campaign on last year, but on Monday the Greens and the opposition have called on Labor to stand by those values. They revealed both have put more than 2,000 requests for answers to the government in the Senate which have gone unanswered in the required 30-day period.
The question-on-notice system is in place in the Senate so opposition and crossbench senators can officially ask MPs and government Senators for more information on policies, initiatives and costs. Leaving the questions unanswered undermines this process which is in place for the purposes of transparency and accountability.
Senate leader of the opposition Simon Birmingham, who has questions he has asked still unanswered, said the government needed to “lift their game”.
“This poor response rate from ministers to Senate questions on notice reflects the blatant hypocrisy of the Albanese government,” he said.
“Having come to office promising greater transparency, its failure to answer Senate questions by the due date is in effect, contempt not only of the Senate, but Australians who rightly expect ministers be held to account.”
A government spokesperson said the government was not avoiding the questions because it had actually answered more than twice as many Senate questions as the former Coalition government.
“In the first two rounds of estimates, the government answered all but two. We will continue to respond to all outstanding questions,” they said.
“When the opposition left government, they left nearly one thousand questions unanswered dating back as far as 2019.”
Aleksandra Bliszczyk is the Deputy Editor of VICE Australia. Follow her on Instagram.