Topics: Senate aviation inquiry; Mike Pezzullo;

07:35AM AEST
26 September 2023

Pete Stefanovic: Let’s go live to Brisbane now. Joining us is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon and it is good to see you as always. I do want to start with aviation and in particular Qantas today because the pilots union has got some choice words to say, urging Qantas to sack Richard Goyder, claiming pilot morale has never been lower. How tenable is this situation as it is?

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Pete. Well, clearly Qantas continues to have a number of challenges that are beyond those in terms of the remit of government decisions. Now it’s up to Qantas to make sure that it rebuilds confidence with its customers, with its employees and with all of its different stakeholder groups. They’ve got a big task to do in terms of achieving that. But we’re here particularly focused on the Albanese Government and their failure to approve more competition against Qantas.

Well, competition in our aviation sector that could ensure we enjoy lower fares, better opportunities and more services, particularly through the Middle East to Europe. The decision to reject Qatar Airways application and today I expect we will hear in Queensland from many tourism dependent businesses and operators who will be devastated at the fact that their industry is paying $1 billion price because the Albanese government said no to more competition against Qantas, said no to Qatar’s extra flights and therefore said no to thousands of extra seats coming into Australia that would help those tourism operators.

Pete Stefanovic: Just back on Goyder. Though, can Qantas have credibility while he’s there? After all, he would have had a say about all those controversial decisions that Alan Joyce took all the bullets for.

Simon Birmingham: Look that really is a matter for Qantas, its shareholders and and working through issues with their workforce as well. Now, clearly, pilots are a very critical part of the workforce for an airline and having confidence with the pilots is critical for Qantas in their operations. So they’ve got to work through those issues. I think we’ve seen some positive indications from the new CEO in terms of recognising that there are challenges and recognising they’ve got a job to do in rebuilding confidence and we want to see a strong Qantas that is important for Australia. So, I don’t want to be spending all of my time badmouthing Qantas. I want to make sure the policy settings are right though to ensure we’ve got a competitive aviation market in Australia that drives Qantas to be their best, that drives Virgin to be their best and that drives all of our airlines to be their best, but also gives the best deal to Australian consumers the cheapest possible fares available, the greatest frequency and access to those fares, access for our exporters. You know, in this hearing for this inquiry last week, we heard real concerns from Western Australia’s exporters about the cost of freight and the reduced opportunities for them to be able to transition from the live sheep export market into chilled meat products being sent to the Middle East. What they need for those chilled meat products are more planes and yet the Albanese government said no to those more planes and that’s part of the concern coming through. And so we want to get to the bottom of that decision and how we achieve the type of competition necessary.

Pete Stefanovic: I notice on the rundown this morning, Simon, you’ve got Turkish Airlines up at 9:00 this morning, not too far away. This is after a bid for Turkish to get more lines in Australia, which would be strange given Qantas has been knocked back. But anyway, aside from that, would you like to see Turkish get more airlines into Australia?

Simon Birmingham: Well, there’s got to be greater transparency around these decisions. So, yes, Turkish Airlines can provide a new form of competition, greater services with also greater connectivity into different parts of Europe. And so that would be welcomed by many people. But as you say, it is particularly odd to say yes to Turkish, but no to Qatar. What are the reasons for this? There’s been no clarity from the Albanese Government about why they might do one, not the other. We think there’s got to be clear analysis, evidence-based decision making and transparency as to how it is those decisions have been made.

Pete Stefanovic: Okay. Just a final one here. Simon, do you expect Mike Pezzullo to return to work as Home Affairs secretary?

Simon Birmingham: Look, he deserves the right to have a proper process. But clearly, I think the odds are probably stacked against him in terms of the concerns that are being weighed. However, I respect that process and let’s see how that runs through. He’s obviously stood aside while that is considered.

Pete Stefanovic: Okay. Simon Birmingham, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, appreciate your time.