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Chaotic scenes in Parliament amid heated row over Qatar ban

Push to strip Alan Joyce of mammoth Qantas bonus

Federal Parliament has erupted in raucous scenes as the row over Labor’s move to block extra Qatar Airways flights turned into a political bonfire.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton heaped pressure on Transport Minister Catherine King on Wednesday as she faced the first direct questioning over the Qatar decision.

In the minutes afterward, Question Time turned into a rowdy yelling match, prompting Independent MP Kylea Tink to demand better behaviour from Mr Dutton and senior Labor ministers.

“There are Australian public sitting in this chamber at the moment watching this behaviour and I do not believe this behaviour is speaking well of this Chamber,” Ms Tink said.

“If we could please have this debate and have it reasonably without yelling at each other I think that would be in the best interests of everyone.”

But that failed to quell the shouting match between Mr Dutton and senior government MPs. Mr Dutton shouted across the chamber as he pushed the Coalition line that Labor was running a “protection racket” for Qantas by limiting rival airlines.

“Australians are paying more for their flights because of a protection racket you put in place,” he said.

“The minister is running a protection racket for Qantas and she is making it a lot harder for Australian consumers who are paying more for their flights.

“Interest rates are spiking under this government. Food is more expensive. People are having to cut corners everywhere with their family budgets.

“Just when they need relief through flights, what are you doing? You are establishing a protection racket.”

Leader of the House Tony Burke returned fire, accusing Mr Dutton and MP Andrew Hastie of being behind the “silliest moments I can imagine on a dissent motion”. It was his please, he said, to respond to the “Leader of the Opposition and the future leader of the opposition”.

“What they are objecting to is the fact that the standing order says you have to be relevant. That is what they are actually descending to,” he said.

“That is the problem they have.”

The government meanwhile is standing by Ms King’s controversial July decision to bar Qatar from bringing extra flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Treasurer Jim Chalmers said earlier on Wednesday that her decision would not be reviewed.

“Transport ministers from both sides of politics from time to time take decisions in the national interest and that’s what’s happening here,” Dr Chalmers said.

He said it had not impeded extra international flight capacity into Australia.

“We are seeing extra capacity come on,” he said.

Alan Joyce exits Qantas as pressure mounts

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been drawn into the furore after having to clarify comments he made in parliament.

Mr Albanese initially told parliament, in answer to an opposition question on Tuesday, that he had spoken with Virgin Australia after the transport minister blocked Qatar Airways’ bid for more flights.

Virgin has a strategic partnership with Qatar Airways.

Later, Mr Albanese clarified his answer, telling parliament he spoke to Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka on July 13 – three days after the Qatar decision – by phone from Perth while travelling to Canberra after being overseas since July 9.

“In that call, the CEO made representations relating to air services arrangements with Qatar,” he said.

“During that discussion, I did not know that the Transport Minister had made a decision on July 10, 2023, a detail that was only advised to me after Question Time today.

“I once again confirm I did not speak to the former Qantas CEO (Alan Joyce) before a decision was made.”

Also on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong revealed she had spoken with her Qatari counterpart earlier this week, but the issue of the air services agreement was not raised.

“I initiated the call to discuss a range of bilateral matters. One of those is in regard to the airport incident (the alleged strip-search of five Australian women in Doha),” Senator Wong said.

“That is something I spoke about in opposition and obviously it was a very distressing event for the women concerned.”

The women are taking legal action over their alleged strip-searching at the Hamad International Airport – the Doha home of Qatar Airways – in October 2020.

Whether that incident had anything to do with the Qatar Airways decision is expected to be raised in a Senate inquiry, alongside issues of competition and ticket pricing.

Ms King has been formally asked to provide documents explaining the decision.

Liberal deputy leader Sussan Ley said the government believed higher airfares were in the national interest.

“We know that international airfares are up by 50 per cent but seat capacity is down by 25 per cent and that we’re missing out on about $788 million a year from inbound tourism,” she told Sky News.

She said the Qatar decision should be overturned.

Qantas also faces Federal Court action by the competition watchdog over allegedly advertised tickets for flights that had already been cancelled.

The company is reviewing the allegations made by the consumer watchdog and has acknowledged its standards “fell well short” as the airline emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month Qantas announced a record pre-tax profit of $2.47 billion for the past financial year after recording a loss of almost $2 billion the previous year.

-with AAP

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