Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 8 September 2023


SUBJECTS: International aviation

NATALIE BARR: The Transport Minister has admitted a historical incident involving Qatar Airways provided context for her decision to reject the airline’s expansion plan. In 2020, 13 Australian women were forced off Qatar flights and invasively searched. The Opposition is demanding full disclosure on the reasons for the rejection, saying the decision impacts competition and flight prices.

Let’s bring in Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Lee. Good morning to both of you.

Jason, why not explain this further?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, Nat. First, Qantas has behaved appallingly, and I think the new CEO has got her work cut out for her in rebuilding trust in the airline.

Secondly, Qatar Airlines could put more flights on to Australia right now. Qatar Airlines is deliberately withholding more flights to Australia now and at the same time they’re asking for more flights. This is like my six‑year‑old not finishing his dinner and asking for dessert.

If they want more flights to Australia, they should be providing the flights that they can provide to Australia right now.

BARR: So are you saying Qatar Airways is not blocked from putting on those 28 additional flights that they want?

CLARE: Absolutely, they can put on more flights today. I’m not saying the 28, I’m saying that they can put on more flights today that they’re allowed on the existing agreement, and they can put on bigger planes that put more people on those planes right now.

They can fly to Cairns, they can fly to the Gold Coast, they can fly to Adelaide, they can fly to Canberra. They’re asking for more flights when they’re not flying passengers to Australia right now under the existing agreement.

BARR: So Sydney and Melbourne? They can fly to Sydney and Melbourne?

CLARE: They can put on bigger planes there with more passengers on them but they’re deliberately not doing it. Now when they’re not doing that I think there’s a legitimate reason to say that you’re not going to provide them with more flights.

BARR: Sussan, you’re shaking your head?

SUSSAN LEY: I am, Nat. What a chaotic week from a chaotic government. What this boils down to is the Albanese Government has blocked flights coming into Australia that would have made airfares cheaper.

We all know Sydney and Melbourne are the main places our commuters want to fly from. They can’t explain the timeline and they can’t explain why they made the decision, what they based it off. It looks as though they’re helping their mates at Qantas, and ‑‑

BARR: Well hang on, Jason just said they’re not blocking any flights?

LEY: Well he didn’t say they would allow the flights in that Qatar has asked to come to Sydney and Melbourne. And they’ve spent all week avoiding it. Anyone who watched Question Time would have seen it. They actually can’t explain the decision and they can’t give a clear timeline about who knew and who told the Prime Minister, and therefore it looks incredibly dodgy. But unfortunately, it’s Australian consumers and travellers that are paying the price and that’s what we’re standing up for here, Nat. Because if you can’t explain the decision then you know it’s dodgy. Are you helping your mates out at Qantas, Jason?

BARR: Jason, you are accused of running a protection racket for Qantas. Have you blocked flights in and out of Sydney and Melbourne from Qatar? Are you now saying you haven’t?

CLARE: What I’m saying is if Qatar Airlines wants more flights to Australia, they should fill the flights that they are allowed to fly right now.

Now this argument that Sussan’s running. Sussan’s saying prices will be cheaper. There are 30 different international airlines that fly to Australia right now. Singapore Airlines are putting more flights on, so is Cathay Pacific, so are China Airlines. You’ve got more international airlines flying into Australia. So that argument is just rubbish. This sweetheart argument ‑‑

LEY: Well it’s not my estimate. It’s the estimate of the experts. It’s the estimate of experts who understand capacity. You add capacity, costs go down.

BARR: Well it is a bit of high school economics that you put more supply in and the prices go down?

CLARE: They can fly to the Gold Coast right now and I would have thought out of everybody, Sussan, you would support more flights to the Gold Coast.

LEY: Cheap shots aren’t going to help Australian flyers.

BARR: Jason, there are not too many Australians ‑‑ saying “Gee, there’s a lot of cheap international flights out there.” We have to go. We thank you both very much. It feels a bit clear as mud, doesn’t it, out there? I’m not sure if you can work it out.