Anthony Albanese is facing more allegations that Alan Joyce persuaded him to block extra Qatar flights into Australia after it emerged the pair met weeks after Qantas formally opposed the bid.
The Prime Minister’s diary, released after a lengthy freedom of information request from former senator Rex Patrick, has now revealed the pair met on 23 November 2022, with the Flying Kangaroo noting its objections on 14 October 2022.
The PM has consistently denied Qantas lobbied him on the issue and insisted the decision was instead taken by his Transport Minister, Catherine King. No details of the meeting’s discussion points have been released.
It comes after the federal government announced in July 2023 that it would deny the Middle Eastern airline the right to increase its frequency into Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth.
Extra Qatar flights were opposed by rival Qantas but supported by Virgin, which would effectively have seen its now limited overseas network expand as a close codeshare partner.
Critics also claimed more flights into Australia would bring down international fares, which were far above pre-COVID-19 levels.
Minister King later stressed that no single factor spurred the decision and said her conclusion was made according to the “national interest”.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton told Nine Radio that the PM now has “serious questions” to answer over a decision he argues had a “negative effect on the travelling public”.
He insisted the former Flying Kangaroo CEO would have “surely” lobbied on this issue during the meeting.
The final decision was made on 10 July 2023 and made public just over a week afterwards.
The release of the diary comes after Virgin Australia’s CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka, told a Senate inquiry last year that she believed the government was originally planning to grant the extra services – but changed its mind after Joyce allegedly told the transport minister he was “not happy” about the decision.
Hrdlicka said Minister King personally told her about the then-Qantas CEO’s views in January 2023 and added he had requested a meeting to discuss the decision.
“Based on this conversation, I felt comfortable that Qatar would be granted additional air rights. I was so sufficiently comfortable that I did not raise [the issue] with the Prime Minister when I saw him at the Australian Open in January as part of my responsibilities as the chair of Tennis Australia,” Hrdlicka said.
She later claimed that the minister also revealed that Alan Joyce “had heard that her department was recommending negotiations with Qatar should commence, and he was not happy and had asked to speak with her”.
In a new statement, the federal government said on Wednesday, “As the Prime Minister told the House on 5 September, ‘I once again confirm I did not speak to the former Qantas CEO before a decision was made’.”