The Australian government's choice to reject additional flights by Qatar Airways into the nation was made without the inclusion of the cabinet or consultation with pivotal ministers.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese distanced himself from the verdict, emphasising that such decisions fall under the purview of the Transport Minister, Catherine King.
While he argued that it wasn't unusual for Australia to control the number of international flights, he pointed out that Australian airlines face similar restrictions.
In the past, similar rulings had been made without making it a cabinet-level discussion. Yet, several ministers, including Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, couldn’t confirm they were consulted before King's announcement.
King defended her discretion in the matter, stating the decision was taken in the "national interest". This phrase, as highlighted by Assistant Minister for Competition Andrew Leigh, remains ambiguous in legislation and can encompass a broad spectrum of factors affecting the nation.
At the QUT Business Leaders Forum, ANZ chief Shayne Elliott expressed concern, suggesting that this move seemed to shield Qantas from competition. Meanwhile, Virgin's CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka, projected that airfares might reduce by 40% if Qatar Airways was granted more landing rights, considering current fares were 50% higher than pre-Covid rates.
However, Qantas executives, including Alan Joyce, opposed this stance, suggesting that permitting Qatar more flights might deter other carriers from augmenting their capacity.
In a historical reference, Michael McCormack, Nationals MP and former deputy PM, mentioned he had paused a similar request from Qatar in 2018 due to his fresh tenure. However, he eventually sanctioned additional Qatar flights, albeit not as many as requested.
Opposition figures, including Bridget McKenzie, urged leaders to own up to their decisions, signalling increased scrutiny over this controversial choice.
Concerned have also been raised over Albanese's association with Joyce, including his son’s membership of Qantas Lounge which was personally overseen by the Qantas CEO.