Government forced to confront controversial Qatar Airways decision

After causing a media storm over recent months, the polarising decision by the Federal Government to block Qatar Airways from doubling capacity locally has been formally rebuked by a Senate Committee. Adam Bishop reports.

The Senate Select Committee’s Inquiry into Commonwealth Bilateral Air Service Agreements handed down a thorough list of recommendations for the Federal Government this week, headlined by a suggestion to review a high-profile decision to block Qatar Airways from expanding in Australia.

While the spotlight was firmly fixed on Qantas as the prime suspect as to why one of its major competitor’s plans were stymied, the waters were muddied further by suggestions from Minister King that moral concerns also formed a key part of the rationale for its call to block Qatar.

The moral concerns referenced included a shocking incident on the tarmac in Doha a few years ago, which saw many women, including Australians, invasively searched at gunpoint.

But after intensively reviewing evidence from a variety of stakeholders regarding the way Australia conducts its aviation agreements, the Senate Committee didn’t hold back in its assessment of the way business is currently being conducted.

Here is the full list of recommendations:

  1. The committee recommends that the Australian Government immediately review its decision not to increase capacity under Australia’s bilateral air services agreement with Qatar
  2. The committee recommends that when making decisions relating to bilateral air service agreements, the Australian Government have regard to a cost benefit analysis, consult widely with key stakeholders including the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and publish a statement of reasons for decisions taken
  3. The committee recommends that the Australian Government review reform options to strengthen competition in the domestic aviation industry, including potential divestiture powers to remedy any misuse of market power
  4. The committee recommends that in order to reinstate monitoring of the airline industry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Senate urgently pass the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Continuing ACCC Monitoring of Domestic Airline Competition) Bill 2023
  5. The committee recommends that the Australian Government direct the Australian Competition and Consumer Committee to conduct an inquiry into potential anti-competitive behaviour in the domestic aviation market
  6. The committee recommends that the Australian Government develop and implement consumer protection reforms as soon as reasonably practicable to address significant delays, cancellations, lost baggage and devaluation of loyalty programs
  7. The committee recommends that the Australian Government urgently respond to the Review of the Sydney Airport Demand Management Scheme including the Mr Peter Harris AO recommendations to improve airport slot management and strengthen the ‘use it or lose it’ rule
  8. The committee recommends that the Australian Government consider introducing limited cabotage for foreign airlines to regional airports
  9. The committee recommends that the Senate adopt the following resolution:

    (a) the Select Committee on Commonwealth Bilateral Air Service Agreements, appointed by resolution of the Senate on 5 September 2023, as amended on 7 September 2023, be reappointed on the same terms, except as otherwise provided by this resolution, so that the committee may:

    (i) receive evidence at a public hearing from:

    • (1) witnesses who were unavailable prior to the committee’s original reporting date, including Alan Joyce;
    • (2) government affairs representatives from Qantas, noting that Qantas’ answers to questions on notice from senators were unsatisfactory,

    (ii) report on any matters arising relevant to the committee’s terms of reference; and

    (b) the committee or any subcommittee have the power to consider and make use of the evidence and records of the select committee appointed on 05 September 2023;

    (c) senators who were members or participating members of the previous select committee are appointed to the new committee; and

    (d) the committee report by 29 November 2023

  10. The committee recommends that the Senate request the House of Representatives to require the attendance of the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King, before the re-established Select Committee on Commonwealth Bilateral Air Service Agreements to provide public evidence.

The Australian Travel Industry Association (ATIA) was quick to welcome the comprehensive list of recommendations, many of which align with key asks in its submission and evidence in the Senate.

“ATIA’s submission highlighted the critical importance of consumers being at the heart of all decisions being made about which airlines fly in and out of Australia and the need for that to be reflected in the legislative and regulatory frameworks which govern Government decisions,” ATIA CEO Dean long said.

“With 70% of all international travel conducted by Australians booked through one of our members, we see first-hand where the problems are for travelling Australians and for the travel agents and businesses who support them.

“In the 12 months to August 2023, over 10 million tickets worth nearly $14 billion were issued by Australian travel agents.

“We know where the pain points are because our members are continually fixing up the problems created by the cancellations and delays and refund/credit issues.”

“This is an opportunity to evolve the current approach so that it delivers better outcomes and we look forward to working with Government and the relevant Departments and Authorities on finding a better path forward,” he concluded.


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