MPs rack up $350k bill for ghost flights
TAXPAYERS have coughed up about $350,000 in just six months to send empty VIP jets across the country to ferry around government ministers.
The Herald Sun can reveal the RAAF's five special-purpose planes took more than 80 "ghost flights" to pick up, or return from dropping off, senior members of Malcolm Turnbull's team.
The schedule of flights, from the past six months of 2016, includes a $6900 trip from Canberra to Adelaide to collect Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop after she celebrated her 60th birthday with dinner at her sister's house.
The most expensive empty flight cost taxpayers $21,620, when a VIP jet was called from Canberra to Perth to pick up West Australian MPs including ministers Christian Porter, Michael Keenan and Mathias Cormann, who were flown back to the nation's capital.
RAAF planes took nine trips without passengers between Tamworth and Canberra to provide chartered flights to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, with each flight costing more than $4000.
There was also a $17,940 ghost flight from Darwin to Canberra after a VIP jet dropped off Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his staff.
Politicians and their staffers, as well as occasionally family members, are offered hot meals and beer and wine on the charter service.
The air force says the five planes are operated in a "cost-conscious manner" and are used when "commercial travel arrangements are not suitable for official commitments".
About 30 empty flights were made during the six-month period on the Canberra-Sydney route where commercial flights are usually available.
On one occasion, Mr Turnbull's official photographer was the only passenger aboard a $2300 flight from Canberra to Sydney to pick up the Prime Minister and his staff for a trip to Adelaide.
The ghost flight to Adelaide to pick up Ms Bishop came after she billed taxpayers $1341 to fly from Perth to her home town for the family dinner.
The VIP jet then took her to Melbourne to host then-US vice president Joe Biden. Her spokeswoman said there was no commercial flight option to get her there in time, and that the Prime Minister's office had approved the use of the government plane.
Nationals ministers Fiona Nash and Nigel Scullion also required several empty flights to and from regional areas.