International arrivals in Australia remain 40% lower compared to the year before the COVID pandemic, prompting calls for a re-evaluation of the current aviation landscape.
Australia’s transport minister has rebuffed allegations that the decision to deny a Qatar Airways request to increase flights to the country was influenced by the incident involving the detention and forced examinations of Australian women at Hamad International Airport, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
Catherine King appeared to provide a definitive response when asked about the reasons for the decision and firmly dismissed any insinuation that the airport incident influenced the verdict.
“I wouldn’t link the decision not to continue to engage with Qatar,” she said.
“I’m sure Qatar will continue to come to Australia and continue to ask for air rights, and we don’t want to consider that at the moment.
“And so I’m sure they’ll continue to prosecute that case; we’ll continue at this stage to say we’re not planning to change that view.”
The comments came after the Australian government turned down Qatar Airways’ proposal to introduce an additional 21 flights from Doha into Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
The decision has drawn criticism from the opposition’s tourism spokesman, Kevin Hogan, who called for transparency in publishing the reasons behind this blockage.
He expressed concern over the impact on the tourism industry and trade relations with Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries, and emphasised the need for more competition to rejuvenate Australia as an international tourism market.
The country’s tourism industry had predicted that an increase in Qatar Airways’ operations could lower the price of international airfares, which have remained high since Australia reopened its borders post COVID-19.
The minister’s denial of the Qatar bid comes amid reports of super profits by Qantas as demand exceeds flight capacity. Critics argue that this decision may provide an unfair advantage for Qantas, a claim that King vehemently rejects.
King, who is currently touring Britain’s high-speed rail projects, said, “I think it’s incumbent on Qantas to understand its role and position it plays in the Australian market.”
Qantas had also voiced opposition to granting their competitor additional presence in the Australian market.
The minister indicated that competition would be a component of the upcoming green and white papers on the future of aviation in Australia. She underscored her vision for a robust sector that is both employment-friendly and capable of contributing to the decarbonisation of the transport sector.
Australia’s decision comes as the Gulf carrier faces a legal case in the Federal Court over an incident in which five Australian women underwent invasive personal examinations at Doha’s Hamad International Airport in the year 2020.
The five were part of a group of passengers removed from ten international flights while authorities searched for the mother of a newborn baby that had been left in a bin at the airport in the Qatari capital. Among the affected passengers were women aged between 33 and 75, some accompanied by young children.
The women said they were then subjected to an alleged “non-consensual” invasive medical examination in an effort to find the baby’s mother. Investigations found that the mother proceeded to board a flight after discarding the baby.
Sources had told Doha News in 2021 that the baby was taken to Qatar’s Orphans Care Center (Dreama), where authorities have ensured she is taken care of.
Doha News also learnt that one the security official responsible for ordering the invasive searches was charged a hefty fine and given a six-month prison sentence which he then appealed, but was upheld by the Qatari courts.
The five women urged the Australian minister, King, to consider Qatar Airways’ “insensitive and irresponsible treatment of us and its failure to ensure the safety and dignity of its passengers.”
In February 2022, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani renewed Doha’s apology to the Australian women.
Responding to whether the women should be compensated, Sheikh Mohammed said the matter had been settled, as the Sydney Herald reported.
“As the government we are taking the full responsibility of this action, and we are penalising the people who were responsible for such a slip, which was a big mistake,” he said.
Sheikh Mohammed noted that “it was a single incident that happened and nothing happened after” it.
“We are assuring the safety and security of women and men who are travelling through Qatar Airways,” said the Qatari diplomat.
In November last year, seven women who were victims of the invasive search announced their plans to sue Qatar, claiming the Gulf state had yet to provide them with a formal apology.
Despite the women’s claims, Qatar did release a public condemnation and an apology for the incident. The Gulf state’s communications office (GCO) also released a statement on 28 October, 2020, condemning the violation of the women’s rights.
The Sydney Morning Herald said the lawyer representing the women in NSW Supreme Court is claiming that training regimes have never been released publicly.
In 2021, however, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee organised a training course for leaders of HIA. The programme was titled “International Standards for Human Rights at Airports” and applied international human rights standards.