Taxpayers shell out $31M for Australian public servants to fly business class

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Mediterranean Diet
Food is seen on a table at a restaurant at the port of El Masnou, near Barcelona May 16, 2008. Reuters/Albert Gea

Up to $31 million was reportedly shelled out by Australian taxpayers for those in public service to fly business class across the country and abroad this financial year. Business class trips accounted for over a quarter of the $112 million federal government employees spent on flights over the initial quarter of this financial year, according to documents tabled in Parliament.

If the trend continues for the remainder of the financial year, public servants could spend nearly half a billion dollars on flights. The new amount is a notable increase from five years ago when air travel across government cost $377.2 million. The spending has jumped every year.

Travels made out of the country accounted for $24 million of the business class flights. The other $7.5 million was spent on travelling business class domestically, in which the longest flight takes five and a half hours.

The total travel cost for government agencies and departments, including car rentals and accommodation has reached slightly more than $150 million for the July quarter this year. These exclude meals and other expenses.

The departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Immigration and Border Protection were said to be the biggest spenders. The Department of Human Services and the CSIRO were also mentioned.

Defence spent the most on air travel so far at $43.1 million in total for the three month period. That amount is both for domestic and international travel.

Based on an analysis by News Corp, however, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources spent the biggest proportion of business class travel. A spokesperson for the Department defended the spending, saying all flights were aligned with the official Australian Government travel policy. “One of the department’s key roles is to facilitate and expand Australia’s access to agricultural export markets,” reports the Department spokesman as saying.

Meanwhile, Australian Border Force head Roman Quaedvlieg is set to clock up seven months of paid leave amid investigation related to possible abuse of power, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. The paid leave is funded by taxpayers.

A Home Affairs spokesman has confirmed that Quaedvlieg remained on paid leave this week. A probe whether Quaedvlieg acted improperly by allegedly helping his girlfriend land a job at Sydney Airport is ongoing. He is one of Australia’s most senior public servants and is receiving $618,000 annually. Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo revealed he had approved paid "event leave" for Quaedvlieg who denied any wrongdoing.