The Federal Government is under increasing pressure to explain its decision to prevent Qatar Airways from adding extra flights to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane in July.
The Opposition has accused Transport Minister Catherine King of blocking the decision to protect Qantas from competition, keeping airfares higher as a result.
King has defended her decision as in the “national interest”.
Why is the Government involved?
The Federal Government, which previously owned Qantas, has the power to limit the operations of foreign airlines in Australia. The Transport Minister is responsible for assessing foreign applications.
Australia’s agreements vary between countries. Some share an ‘open-skies’ deal without any restrictions, while other airlines must adhere to stricter boundaries.
What was the Qatar Airways decision?
Qatar Airways is considered among the best in the industry. It placed second in this year’s world airline rankings, behind Singapore Airlines.
Earlier this year, the Qatari Government-owned airline asked the Australian Government to expand its flying agreement to include more flights to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
In July, King rejected the request, saying it was “not in our national interest”.
King has said she acted partly to support Australian carriers after their international services were heavily restricted during the pandemic.
She also cited the 2020 case of five Australian women who were subjected to a strip search at Doha Airport in Qatar, which became public knowledge in October 2022.
King said she remained open to bids for international flights from other foreign airlines.
Politicians and key business figures have accused the Government of contributing to high airfares by shutting a potential competitor out of the market.
Specifically, the Government has been accused of unfairly protecting Qantas, Australia’s national carrier.
Qantas posted a $2.5 billion full-year profit last month as the airline returns to pre-COVID operations. It was the airline’s biggest before-tax profit ever recorded.
During a recent Senate Inquiry, now-former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce admitted the airline wrote to the Government last year, opposing Qatar’s request.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has denied speaking with anyone directly at Qantas about Qatar Airways. King says the decision was not made “with any one airline’s commercial interest” in mind.
The decision will now be scrutinised by a Senate Inquiry set up by the Opposition.