A Senate Committee has recommended an “immediate review” of a Government decision to block extra Qatar Airways flights into Australia.
The Government, which has faced ongoing backlash for the move, said the decision was made in the “national interest”.
The Committee also suggested further measures to prevent anti-competitive behaviour in the domestic market.
What was the Qatar Airways decision?
The Federal Government determines how overseas airlines operate in Australia.
Qatar Airways, which is owned by the Qatari government, wanted to increase flights to Australia by adding 28 weekly services to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. However, this request was rejected in July.
The Government said the decision was partly based on the impact of COVID-19 on Australian airlines. It also cited the 2020 strip search of five Australian women at a Qatar airport.
The Senate Committee
The Opposition established a Senate Committee after significant backlash against the Government’s decision.
The Opposition argued when the Government blocked Qatar’s request, it contributed to the already inflated price of air travel. It says additional services may have driven airfares down.
The Government was also accused of unfairly protecting Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, by limiting competition from other airlines.
In addition to an urgent review of the Qatar decision, the Committee also put forward measures to strengthen future decision-making processes. This includes asking the Government to publish its reasons for decisions taken.
It also made several other recommendations for the broader aviation market.
This included measures to improve decision-making processes, such as formal consultation with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the national consumer watchdog).
The Committee heard nine out of every 10 domestic passengers (travelling within Australia) fly with either Qantas or Virgin.
It recommended a separate inquiry into anti-competitive conduct in the domestic market and called for new consumer protections.
It is hoped these reforms could address the delays and cancellations that have impacted domestic services in recent years.
Division around Qatar Airways decision
Labor Senators disagreed with several findings, which they described as having a “clear political agenda”.
They said the Government’s reasons for blocking Qatar were justified.
The Greens supported the probing of anti-competitive behaviour and called for action to ensure Australians weren’t being disadvantaged by Qantas’ dominant market share.
The Government has six months to respond to the recommendations.