Labour says Foreign Minister Murray McCully’s $26,000 charter flight to Myanmar is unjustifiable and shows poor leadership.
McCully and his five-person entourage are on a three-day visit to Myanmar that started yesterday.
They are travelling in a small charter plane, at a cost of about $4400 per person, after what his office said was diplomatic advice from ambassador Bede Corry that it was a safer and more secure than commercial flights and road options.
Chartering a plane had become a standard method of arrival into the capital Naypyidaw, McCully’s spokeswoman said.
It comes as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade consults staff on its plans to axe 305 jobs to cut costs.
Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said McCully had a choice between spending $26,000 or $6000 on commercial flights, and he chose the more expensive option.
”At a time when you are sacking 305 staff to save money, it hardly inspires confidence in the staff or among New Zealanders that he’s got his priorities right.
”If he could have done it for $20,000 cheaper, what you would expect him to have done is take the more economic option.”
The ministry’s own travel advice says there is ”some risk” in the central areas of Myanmar the delegation will visit.
It is the same level of risk it assesses for travel to Fiji.
Goff said there was no evidence to suggest the level of risk on the commercial flight justified taking a chartered plane.
”Hundreds of people take that flight regularly.”
McCully had a track record of costly trips after spending $75,000 taking an Air Force plane to Vanuatu when he could have taken a $4000 commercial flight, he said.
”That was extreme. This is bad. But it shows a pattern of preference to do something that matches his comfort without regard to cost and cost is clearly a factor when they are being forced to save $40 million a year in Foreign Affairs.
”It’s really bad leadership for Mr McCully to then choose a charter flight because it’s slightly more convenient and a bit more comfortable.”
Labour leader David Shearer said McCully was being extravagant.
“There are commercial flights flying into Myanmar every day without any problems and we don’t understand why Murray McCully has to charter a plane.”
It was not petty to suggest McCully should have taken a commercial flight.
Shearer called on McCully to release the advice he had received from Corry, saying safety and security issues required the minister to take a charter flight.
“Unfortunately Murray McCully is prone to keeping [advice] to himself and not releasing it.”
Prime Minister John Key defended McCully’s use of the charter plane.
Key reiterated McCully’s spokeswoman’s line, saying the option was taken on Corry’s recommendation.
“New Zealand is a small country with a strong voice in human rights and democracy and the options are we use a small charter plane or don’t go. I am of the view we should be going. Plenty of people around New Zealand advocate very strongly that New Zealand should stand up for democracy and for human rights. That’s what the foreign minister is doing.
“I am not going to put him in a car and risk his security.”
McCully’s three-day trip included a meeting tomorrow with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Fairfax was quoted a fare of $6200 for the trip, which includes an entourage of five including Corry. But that included a return internal commercial flight on Air Mandalay, which a spokesman said Corry had recommended against on safety and security grounds.
Key said he did not know if Corry took charter planes during visits to Myanmar.
Vernon Small and Danya Levy