Minister blocks release of Qatar flight decision papers as Richard Marles claims there is ‘nothing to hide’
A Senate select committee on commonwealth bilateral air service agreements is due to hold hearings next week, asking senior Qantas executives, as well as former CEO Alan Joyce, to appear.
The Senate has also requested the government to release documents relating to its decision to knock back Qatar Airways’ application for a doubling of flights.
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles (pictured) has defended the Transport Minister’s decision to block a Senate request, to access documents outlining the government’s decision to block flights from Qatar airways
‘There’s nothing to hide,’ Mr Marles told Nine’s Today show on Friday.
‘A decision was made by the transport minister in the ordinary course of her work, as transport ministers have made over an extensive period of time, around how to apply the national interest in respect of this.
‘And that’s all that she’s done.’
Transport Minister Catherine King has claimed public interest immunity over documents relating to the Senate order.
She said in a letter that air services agreements were ‘treaty level agreements between countries’.
‘There is a public interest in not disclosing such discussions so the government’s negotiations over air services agreements with a range of countries can continue unimpeded.’
Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie, who is chairing the committee, said the government was continuing its cover-up.
‘It is shocking that Transport Minister Catherine King waited until parliament rose to tell us that she will now not be disclosing advice from her department on why she blocked more Qatar Airways flights based on ‘public interest immunity’,’ Senator McKenzie said on Friday.
‘After giving nine different excuses for her decision, it will be up to the Senate inquiry to try to get to the bottom of this fiasco.’
The Senate inquiry will also look at federal government decisions on additional air services going back to 2016.
Senator McKenzie has flagged questions about Qantas’s unlawful outsourcing decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic could also be under the microscope.
‘I think the Australian public deserves an answer for a whole raft of questions,’ she told 2GB radio.
She has accused the Albanese government of having a ‘cozy, personal and political relationship’ with Qantas.
Senator McKenzie admitted the former coalition government had partially knocked back Qatar Airways in the past.
‘That’s why this committee is actually going to look at past decisions, what played into those and the most recent decisions so we can make some serious recommendations about opening up one of the most consolidated aviation markets in the world,’ she said.
The minister knocked back the request to release the papers which outlined the governments decision to block Qatar airway flights, on the grounds it would breach the pubic interest based on ‘air services agreements’ with other countries
Asked whether former transport minister Michael McCormack should front the inquiry, she said: ‘The department that worked for the former minister will be called and we’ll be asked those questions.’
Past transport ministers she had spoken with had all said Qantas had been ‘very muscular’ in its advocacy to government over many years.
‘They use words like ‘muscular’ and ‘bullish’, but not ‘bullying’,’ Senator McKenzie said.
‘They all agreed that the culture of Qantas was very aggressive about protecting their market share.’
The inquiry will examine whether a lack of competition in the aviation sector is pushing up airfare prices and impacting on the tourism and hospitality sectors.
It is due to report by October 9.