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PM says claims Joyce lobbied him a ’conspiracy theory’

written by Adam Thorn | January 5, 2024

Anthony Albanese has said claims that Alan Joyce personally persuaded him to block Qatar flights into Australia are “absurd” and a “conspiracy theory”.

Speaking to journalists on Friday, the prime minister insisted a meeting with the then-Qantas CEO in advance of a decision was actually to discuss new industrial relations legislation.

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.

On Friday, Albanese said allegations by the federal opposition that he was lobbied by Joyce were “an absurdity”.

“The meeting with Alan Joyce has been known about since last September,” the PM said.

“I’ve answered questions in Parliament where I say that, and I repeat again now, Qatar was not raised. Nor were what would be at any time probably 10 to 15 different air services agreements and applications from different airlines.

“What Alan Joyce came to see me about, just like the heads of BHP, the head of the Business Council of Australia and a range of others, was industrial relations legislation that was being discussed at that time.

“The Coalition need to stop their nonsense of conspiracy theories.”

It follows the meeting’s date being revealed yesterday in his diary as 23 November 2022 – weeks after the Flying Kangaroo noted 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. However, no details of the meeting’s discussion points have been released.

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 yesterday that the PM now has “serious questions” to answer over a decision he argues had a “negative effect on the travelling public”.

He said 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”.

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