Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has said he was not consulted when the country’s transport minister decided to block Qatar Airways’ request to operate additional flights into the country.
In July, Australia’s Transport Minister Catherine King formally rejected a bid from Qatar Airways to add flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, saying that the proposal was not in Australia’s interests.
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“I was acting prime minister on that day … and consultation happens over a significant period of time,” Marles told Sky News on Sunday.
Marles added that the decision was “within the purview” of the transport ministry, and “we want to see greater access into the Australian market”.
King’s decision faced intense political scrutiny and she was accused of protecting Qantas.
The airline, which has admitted to lobbying against the Qatar Airways bid, has also faced criticism over a series of recent controversies, including allegations it sold about 8,000 tickets for flights it knew had already been cancelled.
Public anger towards the Australian carrier – which controls more than 60 percent of the domestic market – culminated in the stepping down of its Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce.
Leader of the opposition National Party of Australia and chair of a government inquiry, Bridget McKenzie, openly accused the government of protectionism over the decision to block Qatar Airways’ request.
“I believe they are running a protection racket for Qantas,” McKenzie said while speaking to Sky News.
Last week King added that “the context” for her decision to not grant more flights to Qatar Airways was also linked to invasive body searches conducted on a group of Australian women at Doha’s Hamad International Airport in Qatar.
In October 2020, more than a dozen female passengers were subjected to “invasive” and “humiliating” internal exams in Qatar after a newborn infant was found abandoned at the airport.
“Your experience remains in my thoughts” and the government “is not considering additional bilateral air rights with Qatar,” King wrote in a letter to the women who are suing the airline.
The cost of flights between Australia and Europe has soared since the coronavirus pandemic and travel industry figures have argued that more competition could help bring fares down.