The Herald reports:
Defence Minister Ron Mark has justified his use of Air Force flights to and from Wairarapa, where he lives, as simply doing what the Defence Force suggested.
“On several occasions I have declined NZDF’s offer of transport,” he said.
He rejected claims by National that he was using the Air Force as a personal taxi service, labelling the claims as “scurrilous” and an attack on the Defence Force itself.
He said he was “acutely aware of perception” when taking NZDF flights.
Mark has had four one-way flights either to or from Masterton, near Carterton where he lives.
Former Defence Minister Mark Mitchell says he knows that all the flights were to or from official duties but it was still inappropriate for the minister to have accepted the flights to an airfield near his home – where the Air Force does usually go.
Mitchell said he himself lived three minutes away from the airfield at Dairy Flat near Auckland, which was not that far from the Air Force base at Whenuapai
“In terms of convenience, they could have popped over from Whenuapai, picked me up at Dairy Flat and taken me to wherever we were going.
“I wouldn’t in a million years even consider asking them to do that – and had they had offered I would have declined it because it is just wholly inappropriate to have helicopters and planes flying around to make your life a bit more convenient.
“They are burning hours, they are burning fuel, it is just not right and it sticks in my craw. In my view there is no excuse.”
Mitchell said his National predecessors Gerry Brownlee and Jonathan Coleman had not accepted such flights either.
This is the key point. No other recent Defence Minister has had the RNZAF basically pick them up from home or the closest airport to home.
Yes Defence Ministers will sometimes travel on RNZAF transport to get to official duties, but previous Defence Ministers have always travelled by car to the closest RNZAF base and then flown from there.
The next time was a helicopter flight on December 9 from Masterton to Waiouru Camp where he was the reviewing officer at the graduation parade.
He was flown back to Masterton on the same afternoon on the same helicopter.
Mark Mitchell said it was only a three-hour trip each way by car.
“The Air Force is not a taxi service for its minister,” he said.
“Why did he not save the taxpayer the cost and NZDF the time and use a much cheaper Crown car instead?
“It’s happening so regularly, locals are asking questions about it.”
You don’t need a helicopter to get to Waiouru from Masterton.
Sometimes RNZAF transport is the only viable transport for the PM or Defence Minister. PMs often have four or five events a day to attend and you can’t do them all with land transport or scheduled flights.
But using a helicopter just to save a drive to Waiouru looks like entitlementitis.