The Albanese government is facing mounting pressure to reassess its decision to deny a Qatar Airways bid for additional flights to Australia following a Senate inquiry recommendation.
Former Qantas Chief Alan Joyce has remained under the Senate’s scrutiny even though a final report has been issued following weeks-long hearings.
The Senate committee, which investigated the government’s decision to reject a Qatar Airways bid to increase its flights to Australia, has urged the government to reconsider its stance immediately.
While the report has already been released, it advises that the investigation be revived to allow testimony from Joyce, following claims of his significant sway on the government’s decision.
Evidence presented to the inquiry indicated that in January, Transport Minister Catherine King was poised to approve Qatar’s bid.
However, it took until July for her to officially reject the proposal. Despite being summoned, Joyce failed to appear before the committee during its reporting period due to overseas commitments.
Bridget McKenzie, the Committee Chair, highlighted Joyce’s crucial role in this.
“All evidence points to the fact that Qantas played a role in the government’s decision-making process,” she told ABC News.
She warned that Joyce would be compelled to appear, stating, “He will present his testimony before this committee to reveal the key information kept from us, as both the Minister and the Prime Minister have restricted their departments.”
Last month, McKenzie hinted that legal consequences, including potential imprisonment, might be on the horizon if Joyce persists in his refusal.
Joyce’s close relationship with the Prime Minister was underlined as a possible reason for his influence on King’s change of heart between January and July. “His testimony is critical to our understanding of the situation,” McKenzie emphasised.
The report further suggested that the House of Representatives command King to appear and present public evidence, echoing McKenzie’s call from the previous month when faced with an uncooperative department.
Both King and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had earlier dismissed these requests as mere “political theatrics” and stressed the uncommon procedure of summoning a house MP before the Senate.
Albanese reprimanded the Coalition for challenging parliamentary conventions, arguing that traditionally, House of Representatives members do not testify before Senate committees.
The inquiry also urged the government to reinstate flight price monitoring, directing the competition watchdog to launch a new probe into potential unfair practices in the domestic flight market.
This comes as Australian passengers face escalated flight costs, attributed to the decline in market competition.