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QANTAS: Senate inquiry hearings into decision to refuse Qatar more Australian flights start in Sydney today

QANTAS: Senate inquiry hearings into decision to refuse Qatar more Australian flights start in Sydney today

Briget McKenzie, the shadow transport spokesperson, has been on morning radio today. She is spruiking the Australian Senate Inquiry into ‘Commonwealth Bilateral Air Service Agreements’ – better known as the Qatar/Qantas enquiry.

McKenzie has been indulging in some Qantas and government bashing and has specifically laid into the Chair of Qantas, Richard Goyder. She described him as having:

“overseen some egregious behaviour from his company”.

Briget McKenzie on ABC Radio National Breakfast

Although the inquiry is ostensibly about finding the reasons for Transport Minister Catherine King’s decision to refuse Qatar Airways an additional 28 flights into major Australian cities, this hastily called hearing is designed to embarrass the government. It has been so hastily called that there is no program or starting time for today’s hearing publicly available on the inquiry’s website.

a woman smiling at the camera
Briget McKenzie, shadow spokesperson on Transport, Chair of Senate inquiry [ABC]

Monitor the inquiry

The first day of the inquiry is happening now (Tuesday, 19 September, 11:32 pm), and you can monitor the audio here. You can download a copy of who’s appearing at the hearing here.

The terms

Here are the terms of reference:

The Senate established the Select Committee on Commonwealth Bilateral Air Service Agreements to inquire into and report on all Federal Government decisions relating to any proposals since 2016 for additional services to Australia’s airports, with particular reference to:

  1. the impacts of any such decisions on competition in the Australian aviation sector and the cost of living pressures on families and business;
  2. the impacts experienced in other countries associated with such decisions;
  3. the impact on the Australian economy, including on Australian travellers, the tourism and hospitality sectors and movement of freight;
  4. the rights of airlines or other bodies to appeal decisions regarding bilateral air services agreements made by the responsible minister; and
  5. any other related matters.

What’s interesting about these terms is that they allow the enquiry to look back to 2016, a time when the Liberal/National party coalition was in power. 2016 is also the year that Canberra, Australia’s capital, started accepting International flights, with Singapore Airlines as its first carrier. Without any apparent prior consultation, Qatar Airways also announced in 2016 that it would be flying to Canberra – but it turned out not until 2018. That Qatar route was really a way of adding a flight out of Sydney. Qatar is limited on the number of flights it can conduct out of major Australian airports, which does not include Canberra or Adelaide for that matter. So because the final destination was Canberra, Qatar could terminate and initiate flights there, still within its current air services agreement

Qatar A380 Business Class, Qatar Airways [Schuetz/2PAXfly]
Qatar A380 Business Class, Qatar Airways [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

Who’s appearing

Akbar Al Bakar – Qatar CEO, has been called to appear before the inquiry, as have ex-Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, current CEO Vanessa Hudson, and Qantas Chair Richard Goyder. However, Mr Al Bakar said he will not be available to attend today’s hearing. Rumour has it that he may appear later.

The inquiry is starting today with the appearances of Choice – the consumer magazine, Airports and travel industry representatives and opinion makers. You can download a copy of who’s appearing at the hearing here.

The lawyer representing the five women who were forced into gynacological examinations a few years ago, Mr Michael Bradley of Marque Lawyers is also appearing today

Qantas 737-800 interior 2023 [Schuetz/2PAXfly]
Qantas 737-800 interior 2023 [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

2PAXfly Takeout

I don’t hold out much hope for dramatic revelations or change emerging from this inquiry. Having said that, we might learn something about the internal workings of Qatar, Qantas and the Airports, and more information on slot hoarding.

Of course, this inquiry has a political agenda, particularly from conservative forces, but that does not preclude it from shining a light on the industry and giving a bit of sunlight to the aviation industry.

As a sidelight, social media is abuzz with talk that Qantas is lowering fares on various routes in 2024. The advent of the inquiry and this fare reduction will be seen by some as portentous. Given Qantas is perfectly capable of selling flights long after they have been cancelled, I am reticent to dismiss such a conspiracy theory without thorough examination!

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