Treasurer Jim Chalmers has waved off accusations his government deliberately barred Qatar Airways flights after the Senate initiated a fresh probe into the controversial move.
Under fire from Today show host Karl Stefanovic – who said Labor was a “dog’s breakfast” on the Qatar saga – Dr Chalmers backed Transport Minister Catherine King’s decision to block Qatar Airways’ application.
He said it was “not unusual” for a minister, namely Ms King, to make the call without alerting the Prime Minister.
“People can pretend that somehow it’s unusual for transport ministers to make these decisions. Michael McCormack did that on a previous occasion, Catherine King this time,” Dr Chalmers said.
Stefanovic interjected, asking whether he conceded it was a “bad decision”.
“No, I don’t Karl,” Dr Chalmers hit back.
The Labor government rejected a proposal by Qatar Airways to add an extra 21 Australian routes in July, a move that attracted backlash after it emerged that Qantas had lobbied the government to do so.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese denied he had consulted with Qantas during question time on Monday but did confirm he had one “substantial” discussion on the issue – but did not say who with.
Dr Chalmers denied claims his government lacked transparency and said national transport affairs had been conducted “the usual way”.
“We want Qantas to acknowledge that people are unhappy about some of these arrangements and respond if they can. How they do that, whether they do that, is ultimately a matter for them,” he said.
Independent MP Monique Ryan said the government’s “unconscionable” actions had significantly impacted households struggling with high cost-of-living expenses.
“We know that if the Qatar extra routes were approved that the price of flights in Australia would come down. We know that they’re 50 per cent higher than they were,” Dr Ryan said.
A parliamentary inquiry will now investigate the federal government’s move to block Qatar flights after a motion to establish a probe passed with 32 votes for to 31 against.
Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie, who led calls for the investigation, also raised questions about the government’s relationship with the national air carrier.
“Anthony Albanese has not just a close personal relationship with the former CEO of Qantas but a very strong political relationship with Qantas,” she said.
“That’s not going to change just because Alan Joyce is out of the departure lounge.”