Anthony Albanese urged to come clean after photo exposes private jet use

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A Labor frontbencher has downplayed accusations he wasted taxpayer funds by taking his own private jet to a climate announcement rather than hitching a ride with Anthony Albanese.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen and the Prime Minister were under pressure to come clean after an eagle eyed local revealed two Royal Australian Air Force planes waiting on the tarmac at Scone Airport.

Both men were in Hunter Region on Thursday last week to visit the site of the former coal-fired Liddell power station, splashing cash for subsidies and grants to ensure more solar panels are built in Australia.

But after the Coalition branded the photograph as evidence of a “scandal” on Monday, Mr Bowen fronted up to the media at his electorate office in Sydney.

He argued the reason he couldn’t hitch a ride with the Prime Minister was simple: the runway could not accommodate a larger plane Mr Albanese would usually take.

“The Prime Minister always travels with the Royal Australian Air Force … that’s for security reasons and quite appropriate,” Mr Bowen said.

“The runway at Scone wasn’t strong enough to take the large jet so the Air Force recommended, took a decision, for two small jets.”

Mr Bowen said the number of staff who accompanied the pair on the trip also had to be scaled back due to the weight restrictions.

Mr Albanese and Mr Bowen travelled to Muswellbrook and announced the $1bn for the solar panel program, Sun Shot, alongside local MP Dan Repacholi, fellow frontbencher Pat Conroy.

The chiefs of AGL and Sun Drive – who had just signed an early agreement for the build of a solar panel PV manufacturing facility at the former Liddell site.

Both planes arrived in the region from Canberra. According to 2GB, one of the jets sat on the tarmac for roughly three hours.

The other remained on site for just an hour and a half.

It’s not unusual for ministers to use taxpayer funded Royal Australian Air Force jets to travel around the country to make announcements.

When asked about the photo, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s office stopped short of offering a reason the pair couldn’t take the same plane.

“The Prime Minister and Ministers were excited to be back in the Hunter region to make a $1b announcement which brings us another step closer to ensuring the regions that have always powered Australia aren’t left behind,” she said.

But Coalition housing spokesman Michael Sukkar said the photo, posted to a local Facebook community page, was “pretty damning”.

“It’s a scandal, no matter how you look at it,” he told 2GB, who first broke the story.

“You’ve got a situation here where clearly the Prime Minister and his minister are using taxpayers’ dollars to live the high life flying around on private jets.

“Now the Prime Minister is entitled to the use of a private jet. And what would typically occur is a minister if they were travelling with the Prime Minister and making the same announcement or visiting the same place, would hitch a ride with the Prime Minister.

“But to take a second plane for himself, is something that I think is remarkable is a grotesque use of taxpayers dollars, at a time when … (people) are struggling to fill the basket at the supermarket.”

Read related topics:Anthony Albanese