15 Mar 2018

Defence minister under fire over Air Force flights

7:14 pm on 15 March 2018

Defence Minister Ron Mark is denying any inappropriate use of military aircraft after revelations he has used them to fly to and from home.

Ron Mark is defending his wearing of medals from Oman

Ron Mark Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Mark has this afternoon released a list of all his trips after the National Party accused him of using the air force as a taxi service.

In October, Mr Mark caught a B200 flight from Masterton to Woodbourne airbase to watch a military exercise. He returned that afternoon.

Mr Mark lives in Carterton, about 15 minutes' drive from Masterton.

Again in December, the minister flew to and from Waiouru Camp on a NH90 helicopter to review a graduation parade.

In a statement, Mr Mark said none of the flights were for personal use.

"Each of the flights was taken to an official engagement," he said.

"On several occasions I have declined [the defence force's] offer of transport."

As defence minister he was acutely aware of perception when taking defence force flights.

"If at any point the defence force advises me that such travel is inappropriate or outside policy then I would naturally comply."

Mr Mark later told Checkpoint he had never used the Air Force as a personal taxi service.

"This is an attack on - not just me - but on the Air Force as well," he said.

"The Air Force make recommendations as to what's easiest for them to do and I take their recommendations on that basis."

Mr Mark said every flight he'd taken had been justified and was appropriate.

"We're very conscious of the constraints on the Defence Force."

The Defence Force declined to answer questions about whether the flights were an appropriate use of its military assets.

It also wouldn't say whether it had offered former defence ministers a similar service.

A spokesperson said such questions should be directed to Mr Mark's office.

National MP Mark Mitchell said Mr Mark had some serious questions to answer.

"Why did he not save the taxpayer the cost and the [defence force] the time and use a much cheaper Crown car instead?" 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."

It was an "incredibly inappropriate use of defence resources", 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."

He wanted to know why the minister had either requested the service, or refused to decline it.