We have often reported on these flights and the reporting of both VIP flight schedules and the expenses run up by the politicians who use VIP flights.
As we last reported, there has been no cost or schedule reporting since December 2020 !
You may remember that Senator Wong in February that year tried to have the matter rectified. To absolutely no avail.
The Guardian today continued the reporting on this sorry state of affairs and lack of transparency with the headline:
“Government use of VIP jets open to potential misuse as defence stops publishing passenger lists
Department ceased releasing details about politicians’ use of business jets, citing potential security threats”
Once again the AFP is in the news – this time asserting security concerns for the lack of VIP flight reporting. What absolute bollicks!
There were 2 computer systems previously used in the reporting process but replacement systems were undertaken by Morrison’s government and the results were a complete botch resulting in an Audit Office inquiry. How convenient – under the completely lack-lustre 46th government, key expense reporting systems failed and meant that transparency disappeared for 2 years. According to the new government, the new systems won’t be up and running until later in 2023.
It is worth repeating excerpts from The Guardian’s article here as the role of the Defence Dept seems key to a lot of the system failures:
“The defence department has stopped providing details about the use of taxpayer-funded VIP jets to Australia’s independent expenses watchdog, leaving it unable to recover funds from the offices of MPs who use them to ferry electorate staff and family across the country.
The defence department in 2021 suddenly ceased publicly releasing details about politicians’ use of its fleet of business jets, citing potential security threats. The lack of transparency has denied journalists the ability to scrutinise how politicians are using the costly special purpose aircraft fleet.
But freedom of information documents also reveal that defence has stopped providing passenger details to the expenses watchdog, the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority. It appears to have ceased providing passenger manifests for the flights to IPEA in December 2021. (Those manifests are part of the Schedules that have ceased being reported)
The defence department has primary responsibility for overseeing the use of its fleet of jets, preventing misuse, and making sure politicians and their staff use them in accordance with its guidelines. (But where are those guidelines? We can’t even see for ourselves when pollies breach them!)
The department has also withheld reports about the jets’ use from the public since August 2021. The last disclosures were for those taken between July and December 2020.
The Defence department has previously said that it was reviewing its practice of releasing details about the flights due to security concerns. That review was being conducted with the Australian federal police and the Department of Finance.
“This review will ensure that security considerations are balanced with the need to remain accountable and transparent in the use of a public asset,” a spokesperson said this year.
Both reporting systems are frequently used by news outlets, including Guardian Australia, to examine MP’s expense claims and hold them to account. In 2020 the Guardian used the report to expose how the then deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, had taken a private RAAF jet to Melbourne before the Melbourne Cup. A spokeswoman for McCormack at the time said the independent parliamentary expenses authority had confirmed the travel claims were within the rules.”
From our research over the last 3 years, there appear to be numerous expenditure cases that were “within the rules”.
We were unable to find out when this Defence review will be complete but we do know that the previous ‘guidelines’ document seemed to be ‘vapourware’ as we found no evidence it even existed. No wonder the pollies played fast and loose with the ‘rules’!
You know what astonishes us? Guess who was Defence Minister during most of the time mentioned above? Yep! Peter Dutton (Minister for Defence from 30.3.2021 to 23.5.2022). Can’t help but feel as if the whole 2 year shemozzle was planned and executed by the now ‘NO’ Leader of the Liberal party.
We hope Don Farrell expedites the release of up-to-date expense reports and flight schedules for the last 2 years. He should also ensure that the revised VIP Flight Guidelines are posted on the appropriate Defence web page for Special Purpose Flights which they supervise.
As for the passenger lists for all VIP flights, well, they were valuable for those of us in the media looking for transparency and accountability. From our experience, this is another reporting area that needs revision. A far more productive and useful format should be adopted for the reporting and costing of passenger lists – even if they are only converted into spreadsheets (eg. XLS or XLSX format).
BTW – The Defence Dept web page on Special Purpose Aircraft has not been updated since November 2020!
IT Tip: Numerous PDF files covering a topic such as VIP flights are not as searchable as a database or at least a spreadsheet. (Well, not unless you want to concatenate the damned things first!)
GB / AB