Transport Minister Catherine King has rebuffed her attempt to launch an inquiry to answer questions into the decision to reject Qatar Airways’ proposed expansion at major Australian airports, saying it would be a waste of time.
- Transport Minister Catherine King asked to investigate airlines
- Senate committee wants to question minister on decision to block Qatar Airways expansion project
- Minister says this request is a political stunt and that there is a practice where members of the House do not attend Senate investigations
Ms King’s decision to block Qatar from doubling its weekly flights at Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports has come under scrutiny amid claims it helped slash airfares and that the proposal had been heavily lobbied by Qantas.
Under the airline rules, countries must reach agreements on international flight services, including the number of flights an airline can serve.
An investigation into the transport minister’s decision has questioned what led Ms King to block Qatar’s expansion. Virgin Australia learned last week that approval appeared imminent in January this year, but was rejected a few months later on “nationality” grounds. interest”.
Virgin boss Jayne Hrdlicka said ministers had cited a 2020 incident at a Qatar airport to her as one of their concerns about whether to allow Qatar’s expansion.
The Senate committee asked Ms King to attend the inquiry after her department was unable to answer a number of questions related to the decision.
It is rare for a member of the House of Representatives to appear before a Senate committee, but it is not unprecedented: Scott Morrison, then immigration minister, led a Senate inquiry into boat turnbacks in 2014.
In a statement, Ms King did not definitively reject the invitation to appear, but told the ABC that inquiry chair Bridget McKenzie had invited her as a stunt.
“It is a long-standing practice that members of the House of Representatives do not appear before Senate committees,” Ms. King said.
“This is also the approach taken by the current Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton.
“While Senator McKenzie wastes time on political maneuvering, I am spending time doing the hard work that the Coalition never did to prepare our aviation sector for the future.”
Liberal senator Simon Birmingham said the committee had not yet formally heard from Ms King.
He said Ms King’s comments to the ABC calling the request a stunt were another “snub” to the Senate.
“Catherine King’s office told the committee that if it wanted answers to the legitimate questions it had to ask her, she now refuses to appear before the committee,” Senator Birmingham said.
“This is the height of evasion on the part of a minister who should be responsible for the decisions she makes, but who instead hides from controls.”
Senator Birmingham said the Coalition would now ask the Senate to consider other means of forcing the minister to reveal any lobbying efforts that might have convinced him to reject the Qatari proposal.
If a lawmaker rejects an invitation to attend an investigation, parliamentary procedures require the Senate to pass a resolution to send a message to the House of Representatives.
The House should then authorize the member to attend.