Next move over Marles’ $3.6m secret flights

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles could be forced to reveal details about his $3.6m flights on VIP aircraft after weeks of dispute.

After documents released last month revealed Mr Marles had booked more than 700 hours of flights since last year, equating to $3.6m – and spent more on domestic travel than the Prime Minister – details about the flights have been kept secret.

While it’s been practice for parliamentarians since 1967 to regularly table details of taxpayer-funded military flights, Mr Marles – also the Defence Minister – has refused to publish where he has flown, why, and the passenger manifests, citing “security” grounds.

Mr Marles sought advice from the AFP late last year on the security implications of making that information public and has defended the move.

Calling for more transparency, the Greens and the Coalition will use the Senate on Tuesday to push the government to come clean about the security guidance it obtained.

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, and 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 are 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,” Senator Birmingham said.

“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.”

Senator Birmingham confirmed 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 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.

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 for 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 sought to bring Opposition Leader Peter Dutton under the bus, telling the parliament about his 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.

Originally published as Greens, Coalition push Richard Marles over $3.6m in secret flights

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