© iStockphoto.com/Dane Wirtzfeld

We paid $930,000 for flights with no passengers

TAXPAYERS funded nearly $1 million worth of official air travel for Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the first six months of this year.

The government also spent an extra $930,000 on flights that had no passengers on board between January 1 and June 30.

A Defence Department document detailing the travel spend on the nation's political leaders was tabled in parliament during a mass dump of official reports in the final sitting week of 2012, but was largely unnoticed due to the toxic debate in the parliament that week.

The Schedule of Special Purpose Flights details the complete $2.8 million spend on air travel on the government owned "special purpose aircraft", including the Prime Minister and Governor-General's official planes.

While the Defence Department handles the planes themselves, the costs will be reimbursed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The schedule revealed $930,000 was spent on flights with no passengers aboard - either returning to home base in Canberra or travelling to pick up the Prime Minister, Governor-General or other senior politicians.

In the first six months of 2012, the Prime Minister, her staff and partner Tim Mathieson, racked up a total bill of $921,232 on official domestic and international travel, including some $90,735 on the ghost flights.

Ms Gillard and several of her team of political staffers travelled to the United States, Hawaii, Singapore, Istanbul, Dubai, the Philippines and New Zealand, among other destinations.

But the majority of flights were short-haul trips around the country, with the most common flight for the Prime Minister being return trips between Canberra and Sydney.

Similarly, Governor-General Quentin Bryce travelled widely, with $712,983 worth of flights in the six-month period, with $71,415 worth of flights with no passengers on board.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott travelled fairly widely too, racking up $70,725 worth of flights, but with much fewer ghost flights - just $4830 worth.

While there were many ministers with extensive travel recorded in the document, Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean were two notable high fliers.

But one Coalition heavyweight, Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce, racked up one of the highest percentages of ghost flights among non-government parliamentarians.

Senator Joyce's travel bill totalled some $47,955 for 10 taxpayer-funded flights, primarily between Melbourne or Canberra and St George.

But he was only on board for three of those flights, with the remaining seven costing nearly twice as much as the flights he was on board for - racking up $31,395 worth of ghost flights.



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