WESTERN Australian sheep producers have supported action by Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie to get to the bottom of federal Transport Minister Catherine King’s denial of additional airport access to Qatar Airways.
WA meat processors have told Sheep Central that granting the Qatar Airways request would have increased airfreight access to Middle East markets at a time when the state’s sheep producers face limited live export options due to the Northern Summer moratorium and a proposed trade phaseout.
A spokeswoman for the Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Minister, Catherine King, told Sheep Central there is no restriction on international air cargo capacity between Qatar and Australia.
“While the government at this time has decided not to approve the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority request for additional passenger services into Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, taking into account all national interest considerations, we look forward to continuing to facilitate the operation of international air services to Australia,” the spokeswoman said.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has said the minister’s decision to deny Qatar Airways additional access to Australian airports is a question for government while Senator McKenzie labelled it “anti-competitive.”
However, National Leader David Littleproud has sought more details on the government’s reasoning and Senator McKenzie has tabled an order of production of documents of the Transport Minister over her Qatar Airways access decision. She is seeking no later than 5.30 pm on Wednesday 13 September 2023, copies of all documents provided to the minister that relate to the application by Qatar Airways for additional international flight services to Australian airports, or helped inform the minister’s decision regarding the application.
Senator McKenzie said the government has put forward six different reasons for the Qatar decision, “with Minister King variously claiming it was a human rights issue, a way to ‘decarbonise aviation’, ‘protecting local jobs’, ‘not in the national interest’, and then helping Qantas afford to buy new planes, while Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones claimed it was to keep Qantas profitable.”
“The anti-competitive decisions being made by the Albanese Government are making the affordability and reliability of our aviation industry worse, not better,” she said.
“Australian industry have estimate Labor’s decision to block Qatar Airways from offering additional flights could cost the nation up to $788 million in economic activity.
“That is fewer jobs for Australians and a lost opportunity to export more premium agricultural product to the Middle East and Europe in the belly of the planes,” she said.
Mr Jones reportedly told The Australian National Review: “We can drive prices down but if we drive them down to a level where it’s actually unsustainable to run an airline, instead of having two carriers we will design our markets in a way which will make it unsustainable for the existing Australian-based carrier.
“We have a viable [airline] industry in Australia, and we always want to ensure we’re doing things to drive down the cost of airline tickets,” Mr Jones told the AFR.
“But we want to ensure that they do that in a way that doesn’t destroy the industry over the medium and long term.”
WAFarmers president and sheep producer John Hassell said the Albanese Government has “absolutely hamstrung” the live export industry by threatening to close it.
“And just when there is a Ray of sunshine streaming through for a little bit of relief the government slams that door too.
“One would have to wonder whether the Labor absolutely deplores the primary producers who help provide the largest lifeblood blood of this country,” he said.
“They have made this abundantly clear with additional taxes in the form of an increase of 5 percent per year of the heavy vehicle road users charge that will affect country people more than anyone else.
“Biosecurity is also the reason for an additional tax with $50m being levied against primary producers when we don’t cause the additional risk,” he said.
“Farmers are again being expected to carry the lion’s share of the burden.
“When will the Labor Party realise that the prosperity of this country is reliant upon supporting export industries,” Mr Hassell said.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook said he totally supported Senator McKenzie.
“It was an appalling decision and needs to be reversed post haste.
“It will have a dozen unintended and expensive outcomes, especially for WA.”