An investigation conducted by the Senate advised that the Australian government should immediately reassess its decision to prevent Qatar Airways from introducing further flights to Australia. The investigation also urged for a greatly increased role and powers for the competition and consumer watchdog in the sector.
The Senate select committee on bilateral air service agreements was established to investigate the denial of Qatar Airways’ request to almost double the number of flights it operates into Australia’s major airports. The committee has also recommended that its own deadline be extended to November so that the former CEO of Qantas, Alan Joyce, could face members of the committee upon his return to Australia, and so that other Qantas representatives who provided “unsatisfactory” responses could be re-questioned by senators. This would take place in November.
The significance of the politically heated nature of the situation was brought home by the report. Dissenting reports were submitted by senators affiliated with the Labor Party and the Green Party, despite the fact that senators reached a consensus on a number of proposals targeted at minimizing strategic cancellations at Sydney airport, eliminating anti-competitive behavior exhibited by larger airlines, and improving the way customers are considered in decisions made by the government.
Bridget McKenzie, a senator for the Nationals and the chairperson of the committee, is the opposition transport spokesman and has accused the Albanese government of preventing the investigation from accessing evidence, of silencing department personnel, and of acting to protect Qantas. She also accused the government of acting to protect Qantas.
Catherine King, the Minister of Transport, Refused to Appear Before Hearings The committee has recommended that the House of Representatives require Catherine King to give evidence prior to an extended investigation since she refused to appear before hearings.
“[Joyce] is the only one that can go to conversations that he’s informally had with his bromance partner, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and indeed Minister King,” McKenzie said. “[Joyce] is the only one that can go to conversations that he’s informally had with Minister King.”
Tony Sheldon, a member of the Labor Party who also serves on the committee, took exception to the findings of the study and criticized it for containing “inaccuracies and obvious bias.” Sheldon asserted that senators affiliated with the Labor Party did not have “any faith that an extension of the committee would serve any public interest.”
King also gave her response to the report that was critical of her behavior. She called it “a political stunt” that was performed by the Coalition, whom she has accused of being negligent toward the aviation industry while they were in office.
During this time, the senator for the Green Party, Penny Allman-Payne, called on the government to seriously explore purchasing either a full or partial ownership stake in Qantas. She did so in order to protect Australians from the negative effects of the company’s dominant market position.
Despite King’s refusal to answer a variety of questions as to the reasons behind her decision, a key recommendation was made to re-examine the decision regarding Qatar Airways. This has fuelled concerns regarding the influence of Qantas and the lack of input from the consumer perspective in government aviation decisions.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s domestic aviation monitoring program has been recommended for reinstatement by a committee of the Senate. This program was initially implemented as a Covid measure by the Morrison government, but it came to identify various competition concerns about the behavior of major airlines, before it lapsed and was not renewed by the Albanese government. The committee has recommended that this program be brought back into effect.
In addition, the Senate investigation has requested that the government issue a directive to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to start an investigation into alleged anti-competitive behavior in the domestic aviation sector.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) and other stakeholders should also be consulted when the government is making decisions about giving extra flights to carriers from various nations. This would allow the cost-benefit analysis of such air agreements to properly factor in the concerns of both the industry and consumers.
In addition, the report suggested that the government take immediate action to rectify problems with the legislation that governs entry to Sydney airport. Takeoff and landing slots should only be used for their intended purposes, according to the findings of a review that was mandated by the government and is scheduled to be completed in 2021. This conclusion has been echoed by a broad chorus of aviation industry leaders and smaller airlines.
Larger airlines operating out of Sydney airport have been accused of scheduling more flights than they intend to run and strategically canceling some services in order to block smaller competitors like Rex and Bonza from accessing scarce peak slots, which has led to high cancellation rates out of Sydney airport. These airlines include Qantas Airways, its budget carrier Jetstar, and Virgin Australia.
Both Qantas Group, which owns Jetstar, and Virgin Airways have repeatedly rejected allegations that they have abused their slot allocations.
In the delayed green paper that was finally released last month, the government acknowledged the need to address the demand management system at Sydney Airport.
In response to the report, Sydney Airport’s Chief Executive Officer Geoff Culbert stated the following: “The one thing that has become abundantly clear throughout this whole process is that high airfares, cancellations, and the misuse of slots at Sydney Airport are all symptoms of an outdated regulatory framework in the aviation sector.”
After the report was made public, McKenzie made the following statement in response to it: “at a time of a cost-of-living crisis in Australia the government has made decisions that have protected Qantas’s market share and kept the cost of air fares higher for Australian families and exporters, and they have delayed making critical decisions to improve the reliability of domestic travel, particularly at Sydney airport.”
McKenzie also stated that “clear evidence was provided of the aggressive use of market power by Qantas” and that “the committee heard evidence that Australians could have been enjoying cheaper flights to Europe and the Middle East as early as April this year had the Government approved additional Qatar Airways flights.” McKenzie said that “the committee heard evidence that Australians could have been enjoying cheaper flights to Europe and the Middle East as early as April this year had the Government approved additional Qatar Airways flights.”