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Labor voters revolt over Qatar as Senate launches inquiry

written by Jake Nelson | September 6, 2023

Craig Murray snapped this Qatar Airways A380 at Sydney Airport.

A new poll has shown Labor voters want Qatar Airways to be allowed to expand its Australian services despite the federal government moving to block the expansion.

The news comes at the same time as the Senate narrowly passed an inquiry into the Albanese government’s handling of the issue.

Critics have argued the decision will both reduce the number of seats for sale into Australia and hinder competition that could bring prices down. It’s also drawn criticism from Virgin Australia, a close codeshare party of the overseas carrier.

On Wednesday, a new poll by RedBridge Group, reported in The Australian Financial Review, showed 59 per cent support of extra Qatar flights among Labor voters surveyed, with 56 per cent of all voters sampled wanting the Middle Eastern flag carrier to be allowed to put on additional services.

RedBridge director Tony Barry told the AFR that Labor was not just tone-deaf but “stone-deaf” on the Qatar issue, adding that Transport Minister Catherine King’s decision is hurting the party’s own base.


“For most Australians, particularly those with loved ones overseas, travel isn’t a luxury purchase, it’s a cost-of-living issue,” he said.

Support from Labor voters for Qatar was highest in Queensland at 55 per cent, with 53 per cent support in both NSW and Victoria. Among all voters, 12 per cent were opposed to Qatar’s bid to operate an extra 28 services per week across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, with 32 per cent unsure. 1,001 people were surveyed.

The polling comes as the Senate establishes an inquiry into the reasons for the government’s decision to block the expansion of Qatar’s air rights, a move which was supported by Qantas but staunchly opposed by Qatar codeshare partner Virgin Australia. Queensland’s state Labor government has also signalled it would approve Qatar’s expansion.

The motion to establish the inquiry narrowly passed the Senate on Tuesday, with Labor and the Greens opposed while the rest of the crossbench sided with the Coalition. Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, who put forward the motion, said the decision had left “everyone in the aviation industry” except Qantas “scratching their heads”.

“Every other major airline, former chairs of the ACCC, several state Labor governments, Australian airports, customers, business leaders, economists and major tourism operators have all called on this Labor government to review or reverse this decision,” she said.

“Australians are suffering in a cost-of-living crisis that is only being exacerbated by the Albanese Labor government. Airfares are currently 50 per cent higher than before the global pandemic just three years ago. International seat capacity is 25 per cent lower than at the same point in time.

“So, at a time when we need to boost our capacity and competition to get Australian travellers on their way and to bring tourists back, what does this government do? It rejects the offer of more flights, more seats and cheaper airfares.”

McKenzie dismissed the government’s arguments that blocking Qatar is “in the national interest”, accusing Labor of a cover-up and calling on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to ensure the decision is fully explained.

“Today, the Coalition – the Liberal and National parties – with the support of the crossbench, not the Greens and not the Labor Party but individual senators from right across this country, have successfully established a select committee into the issue, and we will get the answers,” she said.

“It is time for you now to fess up, to take responsibility and to make sure the department gives truthful answers to the Senate inquiry.”

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