The government’s decision to block Qatar Airways’ request for an additional 21 flights into Australia will be the subject of an inquiry.
Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie has been advocating for an official probe this sitting week, and was supported 32-31 on Tuesday afternoon.
Labor and the Greens voted against the motion, while the Liberal Party, Nationals, One Nation and David Pocock and the Lambie Network voted in favour of it.
Ms McKenzie said of the decision: ‘The Senate has agreed to a short and sharp inquiry into Federal Labor’s decision to restrict flights into major capital cities.
‘Finally we can get to the bottom of why the Gov has restricted Australians from having a safe, reliable and competitive airline industry.’
The government has maintained there was nothing out of the ordinary in its decision to refuse Qatar’s request.
The government has maintained there was nothing out of the ordinary in its decision to refuse Qatar’s request
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Qantas Alan Joyce are pictured together
Several government ministers have noted Qatar can add additional flights into Canberra, the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Avalon.
Ms McKenzie also secured enough votes to demand the production of documents, giving the government until next week to table them or explain why they’re being withheld.
In Question Time, she accused the government of running a ‘protection racket’ for Qantas after the transport minister refused to elaborate on why her decision was made in the ‘national interest’.
‘Who is the government really protecting when it says this decision was in the national interest?’ she said on Tuesday.
The committee for the inquiry will be comprised of three Opposition members, two from government and two from either a minor party or Independent.
The deputy chair must be a senator from a minor party or an Independent.
It will examine all ‘federal government decisions relating to any proposals received in the past 12 months for additional services to Australia’s major airports’.
In Question Time, Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie accused the government of running a ‘protection racket’ for Qantas. Qatar Airways flight attendant pictured
The senate vote comes on the same day embattled Alan Joyce stood down as CEO with a $24million golden handshake after 15 years at the helm.
In a shock move, Mr Joyce announced he was leaving the company two months ahead of his previously announced departure date in November as the national carrier is buffeted by accusations of dodgy conduct and souring customer sentiment.
Labor Senator Tony Sheldon described the extraordinary payout as the ‘swindle of the century’, declaring the Qantas board and shareholders ‘have an obligation to knock Mr Joyce’s bonus off’.
‘If the board allows Mr Joyce to walk away with $24million after illegally sacking 1,700 people, gouging customers and while subject to an ACCC prosecution, it will be the swindle of the century,’ Senator Sheldon said.
Last week Mr Joyce was grilled during a senate hearing about Qantas’ seemingly close links to the Anthony Albanese.
Nathan Albanese (centre), the 23-year-old son of Prime Minister Albanese and his ex-wife Carmel Tebbutt, a former NSW deputy premier, was reportedly given special treatment
He repeatedly refused to say if Prime Minister’s son was given a Chairman’s Lounge membership.
Members of Parliament, with rare exceptions, are usually given passes to exclusive areas of airports to save them from having to mix with regular travellers in departure lounges.
But Nathan Albanese, the 23-year-old son of Mr Albanese and his ex-wife Carmel Tebbutt, a former NSW Labor deputy premier, was reportedly given special treatment.
This occurred as Qantas, a prominent supporter of Labor’s Voice to Parliament, lobbied the federal government to stop Qatar Airways from being allowed to bring extra flights into Australia.
Mr Joyce, appearing before a Senate committee in Melbourne on August 29 repeatedly refused to confirm if he had discussed the issue with Anthony Albanese.
‘Again, I’m not going to comment on Chairman’s club membership, I’ve got privacy issues where we will not comment on who’s in, who’s been offered it and why they’re there,’ he said.
‘I will not be making any comment on that, confirming or denying it.’
Mr Joyce also refused to confirm if any family members of any MPs had been given free Chairman’s Lounge membership, under sustained questioning from Greens senator Penny Allman-Payne, the deputy chair of the parliamentary committee.
‘Again, I will not comment on the Chairman’s Lounge, I will not comment on who’s in or who isn’t there,’ he said.
‘There are privacy issues with that.’
Mr Joyce refused to even say how a Chairman’s Lounge membership is granted.
‘I’m not making any reference to who or who is in the lounge or under which criteria that is granted,’ he said.
Nationals senator Matt Canavan interrupted to suggest Mr Joyce could take the questions on notice, calling out the Qantas CEO for using privacy as spin for avoiding scrutiny.
‘I realise there are some matters of confidentiality here,’ he said.
‘I’m not quite sure this falls into a category for that information not to be provided.’
Liberal senator Jane Hume, the chair of the Senate Select Committee on the Cost of Living, suggested Mr Joyce take questions on notice and provide written answers.
‘Perhaps this skirts the edges of that terms of reference however perhaps Mr Joyce you might come back to the committee on notice on the grounds on which … you have refused to answer the questions,’ she said.
Mr Joyce, who was paid $2.272million in 2022, agreed to have written answers provided to the committee.
‘I’m happy to do that, chair,’ he said.
Senator Hume also suggested senators declare if they had Qantas Chairman’s Lounge membership.
‘It is probably appropriate for them to declare whether they are also members of the Chairman’s Lounge and as a chair, I would declare my membership of the lounge,’ she said.
‘Thank you, very much to Qantas, for bestowing that on senators when they are elected to Parliament.’
Senator Allman-Payne also confirmed she was a member.
‘Just to clarify, chair, I have a membership,’ she said.
Outgoing Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has repeatedly refused to say if Prime Minister Anthony Albanese ‘s son was given a Chairman’s Lounge membership
Mr Joyce also refused to confirm if any family members of any MPs had been given free Chairman’s Lounge membership, under questioning from Greens senator Penny Allman-Payne (Nathan Albanese is pictured left with his father Anthony Albanese and the PM’s girlfriend Jodie Haydon, right)
The five questions Alan Joyce was asked by a Greens senator
1. Mr Joyce, in relation to the decision to grant the Prime Minister’s son a Chairman’s Lounge access, did you have any discussions with the Prime Minister regarding that decision?
2. I’m not asking you to divulge names, but my question is: have you given any family members of any other politician a similar, free membership to the Chairman’s Lounge?
3. I’m not actually asking you to divulge anyone’s name, just whether or not that is the only family member that has one.
4. Just a few more questions around this proposal for Qatar Airways to add those additional flights. Mr Joyce, you said Qantas sent a letter in October 2022. Did you discuss the proposal with either the Prime Minister of the Minister for Transport (Catherine King)? Can I provide a question on notice for you to provide the dates and times that you had those conversations and when and where they took place?
5. Would it reduce Qantas’ profit? When you say the market would be distorted, does it flow then that Qantas’ profits would have been reduced if that had happened? It’s really a simple yes or no question.
Members of Parliament are usually given Chairman’s Lounge membership but in 2019, it was revoked from former Queensland One Nation senator Fraser Anning after he blamed the Christchurch massacre on Muslim immigration, following the shooting murder of 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand.
Mr Joyce was also asked whether Qantas actively lobbied the Albanese government to block rival Qatar Airways from getting extra flights to Australia.
‘We do make representations on a lot of these issues,’ he said.
‘That’s the way the system works.
‘We think, given the nature of Qatar’s operations, what they will offer in this market would cause a short-term distortion which we didn’t think was appropriate.’
Qantas is linked to Qatar Airways through the Oneworld Alliance of airlines – but does not feature its name or logo on its website alongside its 25 other international Oneworld or partner airlines.
The national carrier partners with UAE-based Emirates airline – Qatar Airways’ Middle Eastern rival – on many of its international route, while its chief rival Virgin Australia has an official tie up with Qatar.
Mr Joyce also denied ever lobbying the government against high-speed rail during his 15 years as Qantas CEO.
‘No, we have never lobbied against high-speed rail,’ he said.
But he used spin when asked if anyone else at Qantas had, arguing it had 22,000 staff.
He also denied the government raising the possibility of the commonwealth taking an ownership stake in Qantas, which was privatised from 1992 to 1995.
Qantas last week announced it had delivered a record $2.5billion profit only a year after suffering a deep loss, with Mr Joyce delivering his last financial result before finishing up as CEO in November and handing over to his chief financial officer Vanessa Hudson.
The full-year underlying profit before tax of $2.465billion marked a major turnaround from a $1.859billion loss for 2021-22 covering a period before Australia reopened its borders to international travellers.
‘There’s lots of criticism of corporate profits at the moment, due in large part to the cost of living pressures happening in parallel and we understand that,’ Mr Joyce said.
‘In Qantas’ case, we have put a lot of thought and balancing to the needs of those who rely on us and who we rely on.’
Revenue doubled to $19.8billion in the year to June 30, up from $9.1billion, and surpassing the $17.97billion level of 2018-19, before the pandemic.
Qantas has also been a prominent campaigner for the Yes case with Mr Albanese set to call a referendum in October for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
But shortly before the hearing Labor senator Tony Sheldon, a former secretary of the Transport Workers Union, suggested Mr Joyce had destroyed Qantas, having grounded flights in 2011 during an industrial dispute with the TWU, the Australian and International Pilots Association and the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association.
‘Joyce has sucked the Spirit of Australia out of Qantas—it’s time he answered for it,’ he said reposting a tweet from TWU leader Michael Kaine.