Planes, trains, and automobiles
In September 2008, the Daily Telegraph blared:
“Kevin Rudd should ask himself: am I the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister? Kevin 07 has become Departure Gate 08.”
In 2009, newly crowned LOTO Tony Abbott said:
“Kevin Rudd loves a crisis to give him an excuse to run to the airport and jump on a 747 and go off and do photo ops with [then British prime minister] Gordon Brown and Barack Obama. I accept that Australia’s voice should be heard in the councils of the world, but it would be nice to hear the prime minister’s voice at home occasionally.”
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop accused Mr Rudd of harbouring an “obsession with chasing the global limelight”.
Tony picked up the criticism again when Rudd resumed the leadership in June 2013, saying:
“I think he wants to campaign for the prime ministership of this country from the front of a 747. I don’t think the Australian public are going to really warm to that but I think that’s the temptation before him now, to not only be Kevin 747 but maybe Kevin A380 and spend most of the next few months out of the country.”
In contrast to his rhetoric in opposition, since getting the keys to the plane, it is hardly any surprise to hear that Abbott has made 11 international trips, the same number as Mr Rudd made during his first 12 months in office.
At the beginning of this year it was briefly reported that:
“The $600 million lease on the current RAAF fleet of two Boeing 737 business jets and three smaller Challenger 604 aircraft will expire next year and the government will seek agreement from media companies to limit criticism of any decision to opt for bigger planes. Any negative publicity would be limited to plush add ons such as gold taps or marble sinks.”
This report is disturbing for a number of reasons. Tony wants bigger planes fitted out in VIP luxury so he can fly his media pack around with him, along with hundreds of businessmen, whilst directing the media to not criticise the decision or presumably risk losing their free ride.
Every major media outlet has correspondents in other countries. If Rupert wants to fly extra people in I am sure he could afford to do so. After all, the ATO just gave him $882 million for being good at shifting money around. (One wonders why they chose not to appeal that decision).
Tony Abbott paid a visit to China last April, accompanied by a record number of over 700 businessmen who together represented over half the value of the Australian stock exchange. Few realise that this was the first ‘outing’ of the REAL ‘Team Australia”.
“Five state premiers, along with 700 business leaders, including three billionaires are with the prime minister. The government has dubbed it “team Australia“.”
There was also a trip to Indonesia immediately after Tony’s coronation where he hosted 20 business heavyweights including the big banks, mining companies, and health care companies. Among them was Anthony Pratt, CEO of Visy, and Australian’s second wealthiest person according to BRW. Surely he owns his own jet. Must we fly James Packer around the world when he wants to land deals to build more casinos?
In August it was revealed that:
“DEFENCE Minister David Johnston has blown more than $100,000 sending empty VIP air force jets across the Nullarbor to pick up colleagues from WA, including Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.… the VIP planes (RAAF Boeing 737) fly 3000km to Perth empty of passengers. The “ghost flights’’ cost up to $16,000 each, excluding wages. On the return trip, MPs and their wives enjoy fine wine, craft beers, cocktails and gourmet hot meals. MPs’ children have also taken the flights, according to passenger lists.”
Perhaps our airlines would be doing a bit better if they were supported by our politicians. It is also rather incongruous that government representatives attending conferences get bumped from Tony’s flying circus to make way for photographers and billionaires.
No discussion of planes would be complete without a mention of our squadrons of fighter jets that we may or may not see in a decade or two. As I have said before, I consider this an enormous waste of money as what we need most are planes that can do humanitarian drops or disaster relief or evacuations or search and rescue. We will not be engaging in dog fights and to waste tens of billions on a training jet to play war games in is a ridiculous waste of resources.
Trains don’t get much of a run with the Abbott government. Despite Infrastructure Australia identifying the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel as a project of national significance and placing it at the top of its priority list (the board was subsequently replaced), despite the Gillard government offering funding for the project that was marked ready to go, Tony Abbott is determined to build roads instead. If states want public transport they will have to sell assets because Tony wants thousands of kilometres of pollution-producing bitumen heat islands to be his legacy.
Australia and Antarctica are now the only two continents in the world where there is no high speed rail project underway, though we have no hope of the discussion to progress under this government even though the reasons for it seem compelling. Traditional rail lines could be opened up for freight and fuel guzzling planes would largely be replaced for the trip between Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. Regional areas could be revitalised giving the option for people to relocate with an easy commute when necessary without having to queue up at airports or joust with trucks on our congested highways.
Not content with buying himself some new planes, Tony Abbott has also just bought a new fleet of bombproof BMWs. The $6.2 million fleet can withstand AK47 fire, attacks with explosive devices or armour-piercing weapons. I’m just wondering how many AK47s and armour-piercing weapons are in circulation in Australia. I hope they have special resistant paint because they are far more likely to get egged which is a real bugger to get off if you don’t do it straight away.
One wonders why we are paying the money to a German company when Holden won the tender process. Abbott said Holden had not even submitted a bid for the tender, something the company says is incorrect. Abbott’s critics claim opting for BMW was all part of discrediting Holden around the time it announced it would cease Australian operations.
We have been assured that it had nothing to do with Bridget Abbott being given a gig as a “brand ambassador” for the BMW Sydney Carnival in 2012. Just as Louise Abbott got the job in the UN and Frances Abbott got the $60,000 scholarship, she was no doubt chosen on merit. Successful accreditation of courses and extension of fee loans to colleges such as the one that offered Ms Abbott the scholarship are also entirely unrelated events. But I digress into murky waters.
As well as Tony’s new fleet of BMWs, we have the endless use of comcars by MPs. Unless a very ‘helpful’ employee steals your diary and goes to the trouble of matching your movements to your cab dockets going back over several years, who would know what the cars are being used for? Apparently if you need to justify claiming travel and accommodation, just get your photo taken visiting something even if it DOES mean keeping all your colleagues waiting.
I have suggested before how much we could save by building an accommodation wing at Parliament House. Those who choose not to stay there pay for their own accommodation and travel to and from work. Those who make appointments during sitting time for places outside Canberra should also pay for travel out of their generous electoral allowance or use the private vehicle provided to all MPs. Not having free RAAF jets and chauffeured limousines at their disposal might make them a little more circumspect about dashing off for parties and sporting events.
Most of the criticisms I have made in this article could be directed at either of the major parties, though some are unique to Tony. But it is Tony who has been lamenting waste and Labor’s debt and deficit, Tony that has mercilessly attacked the most vulnerable for the sake of a number on a piece of paper, Tony that has been telling us that nothing is free and we all must help to fix the problem.
All of us except Tony, that is.