Trips to Tasmania: Former prime minister Julia Gillard disembarking an Air Force jet. Photo: David Mariuz
The Tasmanian town of Wynyard - population 5000 - is a sleepy place known mostly for its cheese factory and views of Bass Strait.
But in the final six months of the Gillard Labor government, Wynyard became one of the epicentres of Australian politics.
An investigation by Fairfax Media has revealed a virtual aviation highway operating between Canberra and Wynyard. Independent senator Nick Xenophon has dubbed the route the ''pork barrel shuttle''.
Politics: VIP flights beat a path to Wynyard's door. Photo: Gary Schafer
According to the most recent disclosure log of ''special purpose'' government flights, at least six Labor cabinet ministers and then prime minister Julia Gillard flew into Wynyard, which services nearby Burnie, on Royal Australian Air Force-operated aircraft.
Labor ministers Tony Burke, Anthony Albanese, Tanya Plibersek, Mark Butler, Greg Combet and Simon Crean all touched down in Wynyard on VIP flights during January 1 and June 30 last year.
Records shows more flights to nearby Devonport and Launceston but flights in and out of little-known Wynyard cost the taxpayer $87,000 in six months - or an average of $12,400 per return trip.
"This is not so much the gravy train as the gravy plane": Senator Nick Xenophon. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Fairfax revealed in November that the true cost of VIP flights is much higher than published by the RAAF - up to $50,000 an hour once aircraft leasing costs, maintenance, pilots and airport overheads are included.
A Labor source familiar with the travel of Ms Gillard said Wynyard was perfectly located between three key electorates - Bass, Lyons and Braddon - all considered must-win seats if Labor was to cling on to power nationally.
Ms Gillard visited north-west Tasmania after the December 2012 bushfires but later trips appear to have been motivated by electoral survival.
On May 2 she announced $22 million for the sea freight industry, including $12 million for the Australian Maritime College in Burnie. The headline on the college newsletter hailed the PM's ''cash splash for seafarer courses''.
Ms Gillard also presented a $660,000 cheque to the New Zealand-owned Fonterra cheese factory at Wynyard to go towards sustainable cheese making.
Ms Gillard visited Tasmania on six occasions in six months. By comparison, she visited Perth twice.
But little changed after Ms Gillard was rolled by Kevin Rudd. Three days after his successful June 27 challenge, the new deputy prime minister Albanese flew to Wynyard at a cost of $8625.
Labor lost all three seats in Tasmania at the September election.
The disclosure log shows other key destinations for Labor ministers and the prime minister were Mackay, Townsville and Bundaberg, located in the key Queensland battleground seats of Herbert, Dawson and Hinkler.
Senator Xenophon said the Tasmanian ''pork barrel shuttle'' was a reason why the Abbott government should look to tighten the rules around special purpose flights. The guidelines stipulate that the availability of domestic airline flights and the ''importance of the occasion'' must be considered before using VIP aircraft.
''This is not so much the gravy train as the gravy plane,'' Senator Xenophon said. ''At a time when the public service and taxpayers are being asked to tighten their belts, the government should be doing the same thing, starting with the use of VIP flights.''
The log also shows that return flights for Ms Gillard and her former chief spin doctors, John McTernan and Eamonn Fitzpatrick from Canberra to NSW north coast town of Ballina in March cost $8970. The visit coincided with the Byron Bay wedding of Ms Gillard's press secretary Laura Anderson and former treasurer Wayne Swan's chief of staff, Jim Chalmers.