Australia’s refusal to allow Qatar Airways to increase flights leaves farmers struggling to export fresh meat to the Middle East market, posing a threat to the their fresh meat exporting industry.
Australian farmers have expressed their dismay at the Australian government’s decision to reject a Qatar Airways bid for 21 extra weekly flights to various airports across the country.
These farmers claim to be the unfortunate casualties of this move, asserting that it restricts their ability to expand their fresh meat exports to the Middle East market, as per reports.
Sheep producers, who rely on air freight space in passenger planes to transport premium chilled meat to the Middle East, argue that the government has failed to understand the consequences of this decision on an already-competitive export industry.
Australian lamb exports are poised for a record-breaking year, according to the Meat and Livestock Association. The majority of this produce is shipped frozen by sea to key overseas markets, including China, the United States, South Korea and the Middle East.
As such, the meat industry heavily depends on the availability of cargo hold space in passenger planes to transport premium chilled meat to the Middle East, where consumers have a preference for fresh over frozen meat.
Roger Fletcher, the founder of Fletcher International Exports, one of the country’s major exporters of lamb and sheep meat, emphasised the significance of air travel for their high-end products, stating: “The more jets we’ve got in the air, the better the chance for farmers to open up more markets. You can’t take on more contracts if you can’t get the space.”
Farmers are now “jostling to get whatever space we can,” he added.
Bindi Murray, a western Australian sheep farmer highlighted the broader impact of the Qatar Airways decision.
“This is not just about tourism. It is also about the freight that those flights actually enable. As an industry, we’ve been trying to explain this complexity to the government for quite some time.”
Murray, who serves as the director of Sheep Producers Australia, further explained the challenges faced when transitioning from live export to chilled meat export, particularly due to delayed passenger freight recovery in Western Australia.
“It’s just really disheartening because we’re obviously not getting the message through if the government doesn’t understand the dynamics around those flights,” Murray said.
Pressure to explain rejection of QA request
Transport Minister Catherine King has come under intense scrutiny, with the coalition pressuring her to explain her decision to reject Qatar’s flights request.
King defended her decision, citing a strip-search incident involving Australian women at Doha’s main airport in 2020 as a factor. This admission comes weeks after she initially denied any connection between the two.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has accused the Labour government of striking a “sweetheart deal” with Qantas, allegedly contributing to high airfares for Australians.
In response, a Senate inquiry is set to investigate the decision’s impact on travellers, the tourism and hospitality sectors, and the movement of freight in the coming month.
A spokeswoman for King clarified that there were no restrictions on dedicated international air cargo services between Qatar and Australia, and international travel capacity had reached 91% of pre-Covid levels.
“We saw 1,857 international flights operate into Australia in the first week of September alone,” the spokeswoman said.
Australia’s government continues to face intense scrutiny since rejecting the Qatar Airways bid for 21 extra weekly flights to various airports across the country, including Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
Officials from the government, tourism sector and business groups are collectively advocating for greater transparency regarding the reasons behind the refusal to grant additional flights to Qatar, particularly in light of Qantas’ reported lobbying efforts.