Australia’s transport minister blocked a request from Qatar Airways to operate more flights into the country without consulting Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles.
(Bloomberg) — Australia’s transport minister blocked a request from Qatar Airways to operate more flights into the country without consulting Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles.
Marles, who was standing in for the prime minister when the decision was made in July, said in an interview with Sky News on Sunday that the call was “within the purview” of Transport Minister Catherine King.
“She makes the decision on any specific application,” Marles said, adding that “we want to see greater access into the Australian market.”
The refusal of the Qatar request has come under intense political scrutiny. Australia’s aviation market is highly consolidated and public anger toward Qantas Airways Ltd., which controls about 61% of the domestic market, has been growing for months. Outrage over fake-ticket allegations, exorbitant fares and canceled flights culminated in the airline’s chief executive officer, Alan Joyce, stepping down on Tuesday, two months earlier than expected.
Traveler rage reached its peak in July last year, when Joyce’s Sydney home was pelted with eggs and toilet paper.
The Qatar request was blocked after lobbying by Qantas and fueled the perception that the government was protecting the dominant carrier at the expense of rival airlines and consumers.
Bridget McKenzie, deputy leader of the opposition National Party and chair of a government inquiry into the decision over Qatar Airways, told Sky News that the government’s approach to the airline was inconsistent. She said the aviation sector was not included in a two-year review of competition laws and policy that was announced last month. “I believe they’re running a protection racket for Qantas,” she said on Sunday.
Marles cited “our national aviation interest” as one of a range of factors behind the decision and said that a 2020 incident at Qatar’s main airport, during which five Australian women were strip-searched, was also “a factor.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has previously said he did not know about the Qatar decision until after it was made.
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