Aviation Industry

05 September 2023

The politicisation of this issue by those opposite over the past few weeks has been absolutely shameful. To be clear, as other speakers on this side of the House have said already, Qatar Airways are already able to fly more planes into Australia right now, today, because Qatar Airways are able to increase their capacity on their current flights. In this city, Canberra, which I represent, Qatar Airways operated flights between Doha and Canberra via Sydney for several years before the pandemic. When COVID hit, they stopped operating that route, and understandably so. But the pandemic is over now, and that route today is still available for them to operate. They could start flights as soon as they wanted, tomorrow even.

Canberra has a world-class airport with fantastic facilities, and I am sure that the almost half a million Canberrans and hundreds of thousands of people who live in the surrounding regions, including in the seat of Riverina, the electorate of the member who has moved this MPI today, would be very appreciative of the opportunity to access those flights from Canberra Airport. I have no doubt that the route will be commercially successful as well. That doesn't just extend to Qatar Airways. I'd love to see Qantas, our national airline, commence international flights out of our national capital.

But the problem isn't just Canberra. The same goes for flights into Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns and the Gold Coast. The sky is the limit for Qatar Airways. But they don't do this. On top of this, going into Sydney, Qatar Airways aren't operating their largest-capacity aircraft. Qatar Airways could change their operations tomorrow to use their bigger planes with more seats. So there are options for Qatar Airways to increase their services into Australia and they are not currently taking them.

What does surprise me, though, is that this matter of public importance is being brought by the former minister for transport, who should know better. The member for Riverina was, in fact, the decision-maker when the former government put the Qataris on ice as they sought further flights between Doha and Sydney. That was in 2018 and it lasted until 2022. Indeed, not only did they put that application from Qatar on hold but they also attached a safeguarding mechanism due to concerns over a potential abuse of market power, something that had never been done before. So the hypocrisy from those opposite is particularly galling.

I think there is a problem at the moment with the Flying Kangaroo losing the goodwill of the Australian people. Qantas and Virgin have a combined domestic market share of around 96 per cent, and two-thirds of that market share is owned by Qantas. That is an incredibly privileged position for any private company in any industry and in any country to have access to. This concentration of the market is a cause for concern. That is why our government is working towards our election commitment of an aviation white paper. First, we will deliver a green paper which will start a discussion around the productivity regulation, consumer protections and bilateral agreements in the aviation sector.

I am deeply concerned about Qantas's practice of flight cancellations at Canberra Airport, particularly for flights to Sydney. In July, Qantas cancelled 53 Canberra-to-Sydney flights. In June, they cancelled 58. In May, April and March, Qantas cancelled 51 flights each month. To put that in perspective, the cancellation rate for Qantas on this route is regularly around 12 per cent. On the same route, Virgin cancels around 2.5 per cent. I note that Qantas has 80 per cent of the market share on that particular route and that this is one of the routes that has actually not recovered as fast as others as we come out of the pandemic. My constituents are getting a dud deal with Qantas flying to Sydney, and when I questioned Qantas about this in the House economics committee they failed to take any responsibility. They blamed Airservices Australia and they blamed the weather. Last time I checked, Virgin also deals with Airservices Australia and they experience the same weather between Canberra and Sydney that Qantas does.

Qantas has also undertaken some seriously poor employment practices and sacked thousands of Australians and rehired them under sketchy labour hire contracts with lower pay and fewer entitlements. Qantas has also recently been accused by the ACCC of ripping off customers by selling tickets for flights that had already been cancelled. They are now facing a $600 million fine for those practices. From tomorrow, Qantas is under new management. I sincerely hope that through their actions they restore the goodwill they have lost from the Australian people. But we mustn't forget the actions of the former government when it comes to Qantas.