Senate debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers To Questions

3:34 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm really pleased to be able to speak today in regard to aviation in this country, but I will say before I continue that on the Labor side of parliament we let our ministers make decisions. We don't have a prime minister who comes in, takes over, makes himself a minister and forgets to tell the ministers that that's what he's doing. We actually let our ministers make decisions.

It might be timely to remind our colleagues opposite that requests for additional capacity for airlines are made routinely by governments around the world, including by Australia, and sometimes these requests aren't granted, including when they were in government. In the case of Qatar's request, the minister determined that it was not in Australia's national interest to grant their request. It was the minister's decision, just like it was when Mr McCormack was minister. He made decisions. That's how it works. It is interesting that those opposite, since they've been in opposition, have developed a level of suspicion that, I hesitate to say, I think verges on near-paranoia. Everything's a little 'gotcha' moment. They try to make everything a 'gotcha' moment, but they're not doing that well in that regard either. I'm sure the minister's aware—we're all aware—that there are some businesses and airlines who would like to have made a different decision. But she is the minister, and it is her right to make the decision, just like Mr McCormack made the decision when he was minister.

Capacity is going up in Australia. Cathay Pacific, China Southern and Singapore Airlines have all announced more flights. I remind people that Qatar Airways can operate as many flights as it wants to to our secondary gateways, including Adelaide, Darwin, Canberra, Cairns and the Gold Coast. It could even fly to Hobart, the capital of my and Senator Duniam's state, but it doesn't choose to do that.

It's important to note that, regardless of who is in government, it's not normal practice to delve into all the factors that are part of the national interest when making these decisions. Those opposite took that view when they were in government. We take that view. We don't do that when we talk about international investment through the FIRB, for example. We particularly do not do it when it comes to foreign investment by governments. Having said that, Minister King outlined in a television interview last week a number of considerations that went into the decision. Not all decisions are made on just one factor. I can't believe that those on that side worry that there might be more than one factor that helped make the decision. That's illogical to me. If you've got more issues come in, then those issues help make the decision. Minister King mentioned what's happening with the international aviation market with COVID recovery, capacity coming back into the system and the impact any decisions would have on jobs in the long term. It's also the usual course of action for the government to consult with Australian airlines, including Qantas. Qantas are not my best mates. I object to the fact that they took all that JobKeeper money and didn't give it to the people that really needed it there. I find that completely immoral. But I will say this: what if we hadn't consulted with Qantas? We know what those opposite would have done. They would have jumped up and down. But because we did consult with Qantas, they jump up and down too.

As I've said, the request before the minister was for a doubling of Qatar's flights under their bilateral international aviation service agreement. It was four times more than has ever been granted before. Let's make that clear so that people listening know what we're actually talking about. Qatar could still increase its flights into any of Australia's regional secondary airports—into Cairns, into Gold Coast. I'm sure there'd be lots of people that want to go to the Gold Coast or Darwin or even Hobart. We're doing very well in regard to tourism in Hobart, I understand.

If the opposition are trying to suggest that Qantas received some kind of special deal, then I suggest they take a good look in the mirror. I do not forget that it was that side, when they were in government, that gave $2 billion to Qantas without any strings attached. That's what I call a special deal.


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