Rex has announced it has appointed a legal firm to “pursue all legal remedies” against Qantas over the flag carrier moving into its previously exclusive routes.
The airline said the team will be led by Clayton Utz’s Fred Prickett, who has previously represented gambling business Tatts in its “nine-figure dispute” with the state of Victoria.
The move follows a long-running war of words between Rex and Qantas over network expansion, which has seen Qantas’ chief executive, Alan Joyce, mock Rex’s “empty aircraft” and Rex deputy chairman John Sharp argue that he doesn’t know how Joyce can “look at himself in the mirror some mornings”.
Qantas has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
“Qantas has a long history of engaging in illegal anti-competitive activities all around the world,” argued Rex in a strongly-worded statement.
“In November 2007, Qantas pleaded guilty in a US court to price-fixing spanning several years and was ordered to pay ‘a US$61 million criminal fine’ according to the US Department of Justice media release.
“One of Qantas’s senior executives was also sentenced to six months in a US jail for his role in the price-fixing.
“In December 2008, Qantas was ordered to pay [$20 million] in pecuniary penalties after being found by the Australian Federal Court to have been part of a price-fixing cartel.
“In May 2011, the High Court in Auckland ordered Qantas to pay a NZ$6.5 million penalty for breaches of the Commerce Act, the highest penalty to date in New Zealand for price fixing.”
Sharp said, “While these criminal activities took place more than 10 years ago, it does show what Qantas is capable of. Since then, its illegal anti-competitive activities continue unabated.”
While ACCC chair Rod Sims has warned his organisation would be keeping a close eye on different airlines’ expansions post-COVID, he has previously backed Qantas’ new routes. Sims even argued in a Senate committee that it would be wrong for Rex to brand its rival predatory.
“If Qantas has the aircraft, it’s incurring the fixed costs, it realises it can make a cash contribution by flying somewhere – it’s a bit hard to call that predatory,” said Sims.
The row between the two airlines began in February when Rex accused Qantas of uncompetitive behaviour by launching rival services on its previously exclusive routes such Melbourne–Merimbula and Melbourne to Wagga Wagga.
“Rex’s idea of competition is that it’s something that happens to other people, because they believe they have an enshrined right to be the only carrier on some regional routes,” Qantas said.
In April, Joyce and Sharp exchanged withering newspaper columns about each other in the AFR.
“It’s a well-known fact in the industry that Rex has now chalked up another dubious honour,” wrote Joyce. “It has presided over the worst launch of a new jet airline in Australia’s aviation history, with empty aircraft and announced routes that have never been flown.”
It came after Sharp wrote that Joyce was a hypocrite for going “cap in hand” to the federal government for help.
Finally, on the Australian Aviation podcast, Sharp claimed Joyce sees himself as a “wizard” but is actually failing his staff, customers and shareholders.
“Qantas has got this arrogant approach that we’re too big to fail and that we’re an icon,” said Sharp. “We play We Still Call Australia Home in the cabin to remind people that we’re the Australian airline. They call themselves a national carrier, but they’ve been privatised. They’re this big bully.”