Defence Minister Ron Mark defends using military aircraft to get to and from home

Andrea Vance
Source: 1News

Defence Minister Ron Mark is defending using military aircraft to get to and from home.

Leaving today's caucus meeting, the NZ First deputy leader told reporters "you'll know when Winston tells you.'

Mr Mark has provided 1 NEWS with a list of all the New Zealand Defence Force flights he has taken to and from Masterton.

A spokesman said it's cheaper for him to take the flights than take Crown car to Defence Force airports. He said he has also declined to take some flights because of "the optics".

In October Mr Mark hopped on a B200 flight from his home to Woodbourne airbase - and then flew back again - as part of an official visit to watch a military exercise.

This is an incredibly inappropriate use of Defence resources

—  National's Defence spokesman Mark Mitchell

And then in December he flew to and from Masterton to Waiouru to watch a military graduation on an NH90 helicopter.

"As Minister of Defence I'm acutely aware of perception when taking NZDF flights. I am making available a list of the flights I have taken, " Mr Mark said in a statement today.

"Each of the flights was taken to an official engagement. For two of the seven commitments I embarked and disembarked in Masterton. I live in Carterton.

"Please note one of these flights was a regular scheduled flight that would have departed with, or without me.

"On several occasions I have declined NZDF’s offer of transport.

"I wish to emphasise that none of these flights was for personal use. Please note that on a number of these flights I have been accompanied by NZDF officials, MPs from other parties, and/or media representatives. If at any point the Defence Force advises me that such travel is inappropriate or outside policy then I would naturally comply."

National says Mr Mark has serious questions to answer

National's Defence spokesman Mark Mitchell says Mr Mark has some serious questions to answer over what appears to be totally inappropriate use of NZDF aircraft.

"Official Information shows Air Force NH-90 helicopters and a B200 King Air aircraft have repeatedly been diverted to Mr Mark's hometown, Masterton, apparently to ferry the minister from his home to events around the country and back again," Mr Mitchell said.

"There is no Royal New Zealand Air Force base in Masterton, which suggests the aircraft are being sent from Ohakea Air Base for the Minister's personal convenience," he said. 

"Mr Mark has even used an NH90 to travel from Masterton to Waiouru and back in the same day - a three hour trip each way by car. 

"Why did he not save the taxpayer the cost and the NZDF the time and use a much cheaper Crown car instead? It's happening so regularly locals are asking questions about it," Mr Mitchell said.

"At a time when the Defence Force is being asked to do more than ever before, while also being asked to tighten its belt and brace for a funding cut it is appalling that the Minister of Defence is using the Air Force as a personal taxi service." 

Mr Mitchell said he wants to know the Minister has either requested this service, or refused to decline it, as he would have known there is no way the flying hours, fuel and cost could be justified. 

"This is an incredibly inappropriate use of Defence resources, and I am sure the public would be interested to know why the Minister is opting to use already stretched Defence assets rather than the Ministerial Crown Cars that are available to him. 

"Mr Mark needs to front and explain why he thinks his personal convenience is the most appropriate use of taxpayer funded defence resources," Mr Mitchell said.