Government Denial of Qatar Airways Expansions Sparks Renewed Senate Probe Calls

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The contentious decision by the government to deny Qatar Airways permission for additional routes into Australia has prompted calls for a renewed Senate probe. The final report of the previous inquiry urges the continuation of this investigation to hear evidence from Alan Joyce, former Qantas chief, who has thus far evaded Senate committee scrutiny while in Europe.

Focusing on the federal government’s refusal to allow Qatar Airways to operate 28 additional weekly flights to east coast capitals, the Coalition-led Senate inquiry spent the past month delving into this matter. The report, published Monday, calls for a greater explanation from government-affiliated individuals of Qantas.

Moreover, the document emphasizes the need for the Senate to summon Transport Minister Catherine King to provide public evidence. Pointing out the shortcomings in responses Qantas gave to senatorial queries, the report also demands that Qantas’s government affairs representatives make an appearance before the committee.

The report puts forth the committee’s recommendations for immediate review of the government’s decision, reinstating airfare price monitoring and commissioning a fresh investigation by the competition watchdog against potential anti-competitive actions in the domestic aviation market. It further advocates for new consumer protection measures to tackle major delays, lost baggage, and loyalty program devaluations. Resuming a previous review into airport slot hoarding is another action advised by the committee.

Decision to block Qatar Airways’ request has been severely criticized by competing airlines, the aviation and tourism sectors, and opposition and crossbench politicians, amidst escalating airfare costs and allegations that the government favoured Qantas. Catherine King approved the decision on July 10, before announcing it to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on July 18.

The inquiry had previously learned that Catherine King had blocked the initiation of discussions with Qatar Airways by the Department of Transport and Infrastructure, despite the airline’s request to do so in January, before her official refusal of Qatar’s application in July. The government’s reasons for blocking Qatar ranged from protecting Qantas jobs, supporting company profits, greenlighting purchase of new aircraft to decarbonising the aviation industry, and ensuring the national interest.

When called to testify before the inquiry, King refused, and referred to the 2020 Doha airport incident where Australian women were subjected to bodily inspections – stating it as a backdrop to the government’s refusal of Qatar’s application. These women are seeking redress from Qatari authorities and Qatar Airways and have filed a lawsuit in Federal Court.

Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson and Chair Richard Goyder along with representatives from major Australian airports, the travel sector, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and rival airlines including Qatar Airways were part of the inquiry. Alan Joyce, Former Qantas CEO, is expected to testify on his return to Australia. Failure to do so may lead to serious repercussions, including potential jail time, warns committee chair and Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie.

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