Costly aircraft use for minister was initially discouraged: Mapp

By Derek Cheng

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp initially tried to dissuade his ministerial colleague Murray McCully from using Defence Force aircraft to fly to Vanuatu and back at a cost of more than $61,000.

But eventually Dr Mapp said he accepted it as the best way for Mr McCully, the Foreign Affairs Minister, to make the meeting of the Ministerial Contact Group on Fiji, which took place on February 13 and 14, and to fly back to Auckland in time to meet Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on February 15.

The Boeing 757 that flew to Vanuatu stopped in Samoa on the way to collect ministers and officials attending the meeting. When it broke down in Vanuatu, an Orion was used to fly Mr McCully back to Auckland.

The cost of fuel alone was about $65,098, and there were additional maintenance costs on top of that.

Labour MP David Shearer said a commercial flight would have cost no more than $4000.

"Being flown around in your own aircraft is a 'nice to have' but in these tough times the cost to taxpayers is vastly more than a commercial flight - slightly less convenient perhaps, but a huge saving nevertheless."

During question time yesterday, Dr Mapp was asked if he tried to convince Mr McCully to use an alternative to the 757.

He initially tried to dodge the question, but Speaker Lockwood Smith insisted that Dr Mapp give an answer.

"The answer is clearly yes, because it was then explained to me why it was not appropriate," Dr Mapp said.

"It is my clear understanding that [using commercial flights] would have meant that the Minister of Foreign Affairs would not have been able to meet Prime Minister Julia Gillard. That is obviously a pretty important thing."

Meanwhile it has been revealed that the taxpayer paid for a helicopter ride for Prime Minister John Key that was provided by the controversial Vela brothers.

Peter and Philip Vela are heavyweights of the racing and fishing industries and have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties, including New Zealand First.

Mr Key took the chopper from Waikato to Auckland in December 2009 to attend urgent meetings at short notice.

The trip was initially free, but the taxpayer picked up the bill retrospectively at a cost $2081.25.

Mr Key told 3 News it was paid for because he did not want to be seen to be taking favours from the Vela brothers.

He said the meetings were security related.

Last month Mr Key was criticised for using an Iroquois helicopter to get from Auckland to the V8 Supercar races in Hamilton and back in time for a golf club dinner.

His office justified it because of concerns that Mr Key would be delayed by heavy traffic.

- NZ Herald

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