Australia’s consumer watchdog will target a $250m payout from Qantas over allegations the national carrier lied to customers about cancelled flights.
ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb revealed the penalty target in an interview with ABC’s RN program.
“The highest penalty to date against a breach of the Australian consumer law was $125m against Volkswagen and we consider that this should be a record penalty for this conduct,” she said.
When RN Host Patricia Karvelas pushed the consumer protection boss on a possible penalty figure, Ms Cass-Gottlieb said she believed a fine double the size of Volkswagen’s penalty would be appropriate.
“We would want to get to more than twice that figure, yes,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
Ms Cass-Gottlieb said the ACCC wanted to see corporations pay out greater sums of money when they were found guilty of serious misconduct.
“This is going to be an important test for us, we consider these penalties have been too low,” she said.
“We think the penalties should be in the hundreds of millions, not tens of millions for breaches.”
The ACCC has launched legal action against Qantas, alleging the company misled customers by advertising tickets for more than 8000 flights that it had already cancelled but not removed from sale.
“The ACCC alleges that for more than 8000 flights scheduled to depart between May and July 2022, Qantas kept selling tickets on its website for an average of more than two weeks, and in some cases for up to 47 days, after the cancellation of the flights,” the ACCC states.
“It is also alleged that, for more than 10,000 flights scheduled to depart in May to July 2022, Qantas did not notify existing ticketholders that their flights had been cancelled for an average of about 18 days and in some cases for up to 48 days.”
Anger is exploding over the allegations and Ms Cass-Gottlieb, appearing on 2GB with Chris O’Keefe, said the watchdog was “holding Qantas to account”.
“Oh Gina, dear oh dear, I think Alan (Qantas chief Alan Joyce) might be in a bit of trouble here,” O’Keefe said.
Qantas said it would take the ACCC’s allegations seriously and respond to them “in full” in court.
“We have a longstanding approach to managing cancellations for flights, with a focus on providing customers with rebooking options or refunds,” the company said.
“It’s a process that is consistent with common practice at many other airlines.
“It’s important to note that the period examined by the ACCC between May and July 2022 was a time of unprecedented upheaval for the entire airline industry.
“All airlines were experiencing well-publicised issues from a very challenging restart, with ongoing border uncertainty, industry wide staff shortages and fleet availability causing a lot of disruption.”