‘Toxic’: Minister grilled over $3.6m flight bill

Labor has faced accusations of cosying up to Qantas. Picture: Supplied.

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles has defended his use of expensive VIP flights and anger over his government’s “loved-up” relationship with Qantas in an epic confrontation on Friday.

Mr Marles was quizzed over revelations his office had spent $3.6m on private flights since April last year, including booking military planes to pick him up and drop him off to Avalon airport to be closer to his Geelong home.

“How many times have you taken the RAAF jets to Canberra to Avalon?” Today host Karl Stefanovic asked.

Mr Marles did not clarify a figure but said “a lot of people” had travelled on the flights.

“Everywhere I have gone, and everything I have done, has been for the Australian people,” he said.

“This has been kicked along by a dodgy spreadsheet produced in (Opposition Leader Peter) Dutton’s office based on fear and smear.”

Defence Minister Richard Marles took a grilling over his frequent flyer habits. Picture: Supplied.

Stefanovic dug into the Defence Minister after it emerged major airline Qantas had sold thousands of tickets to customers for flights that had already been cancelled

“Your government could not have been more loved-up with Qantas, it is toxic and you all hitched a wagon to it,” he said.

The ACCC launched major legal action against the airline on Thursday, alleging it had misled passengers and breached consumer law.

Qantas faces severe penalties for continuing to sell tickets on cancelled flights for up to two weeks.

“There are mistakes made and things done wrong, they need to do better. This matter is now in front of the courts. The allegations that have been made are, obviously, very disturbing, but what we need to see is greater competition and that’s why we are increasing access,” Mr Marles said.

Peter Dutton weighed in on the Qantas scandal. Picture: Supplied.

Mr Dutton lashed the Prime Minister, declared Qantas had serious questions to answer.

“Anthony Albanese hasn't found a red carpet he is not willing to trot down with Alan Joyce. That is the reality of their relationship. They have been proud of it up to this point,” Mr Dutton said.

“The whole credit debacle where Australians haven’t been able to get money back has been complete unacceptable. It is off the back of huge taxpayer assistance to Qantas over the course of Covid to help them employing people and keep flying.

“I think that Australians are right to feel like they have been poked in the eye by this government.”

The ACCC said it was seeking substantial penalties for the airline, with each breach of consumer law having a maximum fine of $10m.