Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has insisted officials keep looking for lower-cost options after he “inherited’’ Tony Abbott’s $190 million plan to replace his clapped-out VIP jet.
Mr Turnbull’s dilemma has been revealed in the Defence White Paper that confirms officials have allocated $190 million to buy a single A330 plane and gut the inside to accommodate future PMs, their spouses and a travelling press pack.
It would be flying high with the current or a future PM from 2019, raising the prospect that it could ferry Bill Shorten around the world if he wins the next election.
The Defence White Paper released last week by Defence Minister Marise Payne has been widely praised for its long-term planning but it has been hit by claims that it was largely finalised under the Abbott government.
Senior MPs have suggested the only major changes were “watering down’’ the rhetoric on China and inserting more “rainbow’’ language on inclusion in the military and climate change.
“They were entitled to add what they like, but the reality is there was no real change in the strategic assessments and direction,’’ a Liberal source said.
Mr. Turnbull yesterday said he was concerned about the $190 million price tag he inherited.
The Prime Minister said no final decision had been made and he planned to consult with Labor.
“The PM was concerned about the high cost of the proposal and asked for lower cost options to be investigated and they have been,’’ a spokesman said.
“No final decision has been taken. As this would be an acquisition which would not be completed until after the 2019 election and would be a long-term investment affecting many governments, the PM discussed it with the Opposition Leader some time ago and has arranged for him to be briefed by the Secretary of Defence and CDF (Chief of the Defence Force).
“The PM’s view is that an investment of this kind should only proceed with bipartisan support.’’
Complaints about the existing Boeing Business Jet 737s include that the aircraft are ageing and have limited range and seating. This means they are forced to stop and refuel more often on overseas trips.
“The argument for acquiring the new aircraft is longer range and more seating enabling media and business delegations to travel with the Prime Minister,” the spokesman said. “In accordance with the plans in the Defence White Paper, the RAAF’s air fleet will increase to well over 100.”
Australia previously leased a modified Airbus A330 to transport business delegates on Mr Abbott’s Asian diplomatic missions.
But that flight was not without drama, with the business leaders stranded in Tokyo after the breakdown of a RAAF jet.
Original article can be found here: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au