Recently departed Qantas CEO Alan Joyce made no secret that he lobbied the government on the issue of Qatar Airways seeking more flights into Australia.
He told a Senate cost of living inquiry on August 28 that Qantas ‘put its case to the government’ and ‘made representations’ in a letter in October 2022.
Transport Minister Catherine King formally rejected Qatar’s request in July 2023.
Now, she says she can’t recall having any discussions with Mr Joyce about the matter.
She does remember Virgin lobbying in favour of the request, and a ‘third party’ approaching her office on behalf of Qatar, but when it comes to Qantas, she draws a blank.
In Parliament on Wednesday, Ms King said if memory serves, the only matter she spoke to Mr Joyce about around that time was the government’s ‘same job, same pay’ legislation.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese categorically ruled himself out of having received the correspondence earlier this week.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Qantas Alan Joyce are pictured together
The PM said in Question Time he ‘received no lobbying from Qantas on this issue’. He, too, revealed he had ‘one substantive conversation’ on the Qatar decision, but would not elaborate on who that conversation was with.
Both revelations beg the question: Who did Qantas approach with their concerns about the Qatar request in October 2022?
Daily Mail Australia has sought clarification on the matter from Qantas, the Prime Minister’s office and Ms King’s office.
Mr Joyce said during the inquiry Qantas had been ‘open’ and ‘clear’ about the fact it had made representations to the government about Qatar.
‘Like everybody, a lot of airlines and a lot of other parties, we did make representations. We’ve been open about that,’ he said.
‘We did put our case to the government and we said we said to the government that capacity was coming back.
‘Granting a carrier a doubling of their traffic rights in the short term would cause distortion.’
Mr Joyce defended the government’s decision and said it was standard practice globally.
He told a Senate cost of living inquiry on August 28 that Qantas ‘put its case to the government’ and ‘made representations’ in a letter in October 2022
Transport minister Catherine King (left) defended blocking Qatar’s expansion with a range of various excuses, including that it was ‘not in the national interest’. Assistant treasurer Stephen Jones (right) later said allowing Qatar more flights would ‘make it unsustainable for the existing Australia-based carrier’
He added: ‘Various countries around the world protect the national interest.’
Mr Joyce was asked to clarify if the proposal was discussed with either the Prime Minister or the Transport Minister, but he refused.
‘One thing that I’ve always done… is say that any conversations I have with the Prime Minister or a minister I never divulge.
‘I’ve kept that for all seven prime ministers either way, and I have no intent on changing my approach with divulging conversations that take place.’
The government maintains there was nothing out of the ordinary in its decision to deny Qatar’s expansion request.
Ms King simply says ‘it was not in the national interest’, while Assistant treasurer Stephen Jones suggested it would ‘make it unsustainable for the existing Australian-based carrier’.
The transport minister claimed when she was in London in July that the decision to block Qatar was being taken on environmental grounds, saying that she wanted to ‘de-carbonise the transport sector’.
‘I want more capacity for people to be able to enjoy travel, but equally I want to be able to de-carbonise the transport sector,’ she said at the time.
‘Aviation has a role to play in that as well, so there’s a mix of things I look at.’
In Question Time, Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie accused the government of running a ‘protection racket’ for Qantas. Qatar Airways flight attendant pictured
The decision to block the move was also initially linked to the 2020 incident at Qatar’s Doha Airport when 13 Australian women air passengers were among 18 travellers intimately examined by investigators after a newborn baby was found abandoned in a bin.
Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie successfully sought an inquiry into the decision on Tuesday afternoon, with Qantas boss Vanessa Hudson and her predecessor Alan Joyce to be grilled over their talks with federal ministers.
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. It passed 32-31.
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.’
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 the week since Mr Joyce appeared at the cost-of-living inquiry, he has chosen to step down from his post and retire early.
The transport minister claimed when she was in London in July that the decision to block Qatar was being taken on environmental grounds, saying that she wanted to ‘decarbonise the transport sector’