The federal government hired private luxury jets belonging to Crown Melbourne to deliver aid, including COVID-19 vaccinations, to two Pacific destinations earlier this year at a cost of almost $600,000.
The flights were confirmed by Crown and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, though Foreign Minister Marise Payne declined to comment.
The Bombardier Global Express XRS jets, a model described as “one of Australia’s most luxurious ways to travel”, were used to deliver AstraZeneca vaccines and returning citizens to Tuvalu in mid-June and to transport a small medical response team to Fiji in early August.
While ideal for VIP travel, the jets have less baggage capacity than a VW Transporter Van, and their use in carrying out aid work has prompted criticism from independent federal MPs Andrew Wilkie and Rex Patrick.
A joint press release from Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, referred to a single flight delivering COVID-19 vaccines to Tuvalu at the time, but a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that two trips were made.
This was the result of aircraft weight and airstrip limitations, they said, although photos online show commercial and military planes, including a US Air Force Hercules and an RAAF Spartan, using Funafuti International Airport’s 1524-metre runway.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
The unavailability of defence aircraft and the lack of commercial flights may have also been factors in the work being tendered under a standing offer arrangement to a private charter company, which then subcontracted one of Crown’s planes to undertake the work, the spokesperson said.
The trips to Tuvalu cost a total of $379,957, they said.