Senate debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


Aviation Industry; Order for the Production of Documents

5:38 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | Hansard source

When Minister King, the transport minister who made this decision, stands up and says she consulted all relevant ministers, she did not consult the minister for trade. It begs the question of his relevance. She consulted all relevant ministers, she didn't consult the Minister for Trade. It begs the question of his relevance. She consulted the Minister for Foreign Affairs but that minister is unable to tell us when she was informed of the decision.

Going to the very basics of the economic impact of the decision, not just on Australians' affordability of international airfares, we know this decision would have meant international airfares would have dropped in excess of 40 per cent. That's a lot of money for people who are struggling to pay mortgages and energy bills right now. The last thing they are thinking of doing is actually going on an international holiday. That decision alone not only had a significant impact on airfares but it also had an opportunity cost to our tourism industry of in excess of $788 million, to our freight industry and beyond. So you'd think Minister King would have sought the expertise of the Treasury, sat down with the Treasurer and had serious discussions about the impact of her decision on competition—domestic and international—on the freight task, on the tourism industry, on jobs, on the profitability of Qantas and beyond.

When you look, the Treasurer has complied with the order, unlike the other ministers, unlike Minister Farrell, unlike the Prime Minister, who was supposed to at 5.30 today also provide this chamber with the documents, consultations, briefings and advice he had received when it came to this Qatar Airways decision. But he has again treated this chamber and the Senate with disrespect, as has the Deputy Leader of the Government in this chamber, Minister Farrell. Now, I have my hunch about why the trade minister has not given us the advice, the briefs, correspondence that he and his department have had with the transport minister about this decision, because it would have included advice that she has made the wrong decision, that she has overruled the minister for trade's own personal view and the view of his department. But again, it is disrespectful of this government to this chamber that is actually elected to hold the executive to account. As someone who has had the great privilege to be in executive government in this country, to thumb your nose at the only oversight that this parliament and our people have on executive power—that is, this chamber, our estimates process, the orders for production of documents and other systems we have in place—is just incredible and goes to a culture of secrecy and shutdown by Anthony Albanese and his ministers when it comes to being upfront with the Australian public.

This is what this chamber received. These are the briefings. This is the correspondence. These are the documents that the Treasurer has had in his possession to do with the Qatar Airways decision. One is completely redacted. The second is his question time brief that says, 'If asked, why was the Qatar request for additional services not been approved?' The Treasurer, if he is asked that in the other place is to respond: 'The Australian government at this time has decided not to approve the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority request for additional services, taking into account all national interest considerations.' If we're playing bingo—tick!—that's one of the eight, right there: national interest considerations. We don't quite know what that means. I know the Deputy PM, Richard Marles, who was the Acting PM on the weekend, created another category of national interest on Sky when he called it 'the national aviation interest'. I'm looking forward to seeing that quantified somewhere in official documents. It continues, 'The government will continue to monitor market developments and explore opportunities to build bilateral trade and investment.' That is the only advice, correspondence or information the Treasurer of this country has to provide to this chamber as a result of this OPD.

So it is clear that the Treasurer wasn't briefed on this decision. It is clear that it is a failure of the transport minister, Catherine King, to keep her colleagues informed, and if the Treasurer of this country isn't the relevant minister to be consulted with a decision like this than I am not sure who is. It certainly shouldn't be the Assistant Treasurer, who thinks that Qantas needs to be renationalised and that the government's job is to keep it profitable—not while it's busily pocketing half a billion dollars of its customers' money through COVID flight credits. If it weren't for this chamber and its representatives holding Alan Joyce and his executives to account, that money would still be on Qantas's balance sheet and not heading back into the pockets of hardworking Australians who, in good faith, paid that money. Because of a global pandemic, it has been sitting, earning interest for Alan Joyce and his retirement package and for the board of Qantas, instead of going back where it belongs, which is the bank accounts of hardworking Australians struggling with the cost-of-living situation.

It is a failure of Catherine King, the transport minister, to consult and also to actually think of the basic questions. When you are making a decision that's not going to cabinet, the responsibility falls on you as the minister to do your due diligence. What impact will it have on competition? Will it impact foreign affairs and trade? There is a long, bureaucratic process that exists around these decisions where departments talk to departments before the brief comes up to the minister for signing, and I find it incredible that the transport department didn't talk to Treasury or the ACCC, particularly on the economic issues,.

I wrote to Treasurer Chalmers over two weeks ago when this government halted the ACCC monitoring of our aviation sector, calling on him to reinstate that monitoring and to make sure it went further, because right now cancellations, delays and prices are going in the wrong direction. Australians deserve an aviation industry they can afford to travel on, where planes take off and land on time and your bags arrive at your destination. This government just isn't up to regulating aviation. (Time expired)


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