Tuesday, 12 April 2016

On the Turnbull-Joyce ticket the old Age of Entitlement endures

On Thursday 24 March 2016, in a week in which the House of Representatives was not sitting and on the eve of the Easter long weekend, Nationals MP for New England and Deputy-Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce decided to go to faux election campaigning by helicopter – slugging very weary Australian taxpayers somewhere between $3,836 and $4,166 for the ride (depending on which of his staffers journalists were quoting).

However, despite his protestations otherwise, this was not the first time Joyce had hopped into a helicopter rather than a car since 2013.

Ah, yes….on the Turnbull-Joyce ticket the old Age of Entitlement endures.

It was the day before Easter in Drake, a sleepy village in northern NSW, when the peace was interrupted by a helicopter depositing Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on a sporting field behind the popular local pub, the Lunatic Hotel.

Drake is just a 40-minute drive from Mr Joyce's second electorate office in Tenterfield but his office insists a helicopter was the best option to avoid a four-hour drive from his home base in Tamworth. It was his second chopper ride to the village in less than a year.

After I'm finished I'll have a beer and jump in the chopper and head off to fly over the blueberry farm 

The latest Drake visit, which will cost the public almost $4000, happened two days after the Turnbull government released a long-awaited review into parliamentary entitlements sparked by the "choppergate" scandal that engulfed former speaker Bronwyn Bishop and sent Tony Abbott's prime ministership into a final nosedive.

The review called for clear guidelines so the "use of charter transport must constitute value for money, and in particular that, in the absence of compelling reasons, helicopters cannot be chartered to cover short distances".

Mr Joyce, who has been in unofficial election campaign mode since Tony Windsor recently declared his challenge in New England, arrived in Drake on March 24.

During the three-hour visit he launched a Telstra mobile tower - first announced in June 2015 - and visited the school, a local blueberry farm and inspected a bridge in need of an upgrade.

The Age, 8 April 2016:

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce chartered a helicopter to visit an area less than an hour and a half by road from his ministerial office in Armidale.

The flight to Copeton Dam places a question mark over a key plank of the National leader's defence of his helicopter usage, supported on Friday by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, that choppers were used as an alternative to unreasonably long drives.
The 120 kilometre flight from Armidale to Copeton Dam cost $2211 return.

The most controversial helicopter flight in Australian political history, Bronwyn Bishop's $5000 hop from Melbourne to a Liberal Party fundraiser in Geelong, was just 40 kilometres shorter…..

He took a fourth helicopter trip from Armidale to Legume near the Queensland border in February last year, according to parliamentary records for electorate-related travel.

That flight, to announce a $350,000 road upgrade, cost the public $4737.

Confirmation of four helicopter flights forced Mr Joyce's office on Friday to withdraw its statement to Fairfax Media on Thursday that the two flights to Drake were his only helicopter usage since becoming the MP for New England in 2013.

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