Member for Hinkler defends $7k flight spend
HINKLER MP Keith Pitt has defended charging taxpayers $7534.55 for a charter plane during a two-day trip around central Queensland with Papua New Guinea's Minister for Trade.
The charter flight began in Brisbane on September 20 last year with the plane flying north to the Fraser Coast and then on to Bundaberg.
The next day Mr Pitt and PNG Trade Minister Richard Maru flew from Bundaberg to Rockhampton and then from Rockhampton back to Brisbane.
A NewsRegional investigation reveals the pair could have taken the entire trip using commercial flights and hire cars for $1175.50 - saving the taxpayer more than $6000.
This would have required the pair to drive for one hour and 20 minutes on the first day and just over three hours the following day.
Mr Pitt's office was asked why a plane was chartered instead of using more cost effective options.
"There are no direct flights between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay or Bundaberg and Rockhampton," a spokeswoman said.
"In order to fly commercially on those legs would have meant a return trip to Brisbane each time."
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Under the rules which govern federal MP's expenses charter travel can be claimed if commercial airlines don't fly the route in question.
Despite the claim being within the rules One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said it was outside of the public's expectations.
"There's clearly a reason why smaller country towns along the Bruce Hwy and other parts of Queensland don't see their local politicians - they're too busy flying instead of driving," Ms Hanson said.
"Again, this is another example of politicians out of touch with the public's expectations.
"I of all people understand the time spent travelling across Queensland and the rest of the country, but when I take private flights, I take them at my expense and not the public's.
"There really is no excuse why this junior minister should be flying such short distances at the taxpayer's expense when every Federal Member of Parliament is given a car or vehicle allowance.
"The public should demand this money to be repaid."
In the last six months of 2016 Mr Pitt claimed $5641.25 worth of car costs to the taxpayer.
The Labor Party did not respond to a request for comment.
The trip to Central Queensland was foreshadowed by Mr Maru in August when he told the ABC his country would be rejecting a free trade agreement which Australia had been negotiating for seven years.
"I've made it clear that PNG is not interested and that I have directed all my officers not to entertain any negotiations," Mr Maru said at the time.
Mr Maru said previous trade deals had been unfavourable as his country had not been "able to attract Australian investment in the sectors that are important", adding he wanted to see money flow into PNG agriculture, tourism and education.
Mr Pitt said the "visit to Central Queensland and Wide Bay included meetings at three university campuses, a civic reception and multiple visits to local businesses."
"It would not have been possible to fulfil the comprehensive two-day program using commercial flights."
"The feedback from all participants of the visit was that it was very beneficial for both the PNG delegation and the Central Queensland and Wide Bay-based organisations."
Last financial year Australia spent $620.3 million aiding and supporting PNG.
Mr Pitt said that last year "Australian investment in Papua New Guinea was $17.9 billion and our two-way trade totalled $5.2 billion."