‘Debacle’: Qatar questions left unanswered

A “debacle” of an interview by the Acting Prime Minister has capped off a disastrous week as the fallout of the Qatar decision continues. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Richard Marles has revealed he was not consulted on the decision to reject Qatar’s bid to double flights to Australia during a “debacle” of an interview where he was repeatedly asked to justify the move.

Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie has accused the government of running a “protection racket” for Qantas, and slammed Labor for failing to answer the most “basic of questions” as to why Qatar was knocked back.

The Acting Prime Minister has maintained embattled Transport Minister Catherine King was well within her remit to make the final decision on July 10.

Mr Marles confirmed on Sunday he was also Acting Prime Minister on that day but he had not been consulted before the decision was taken.

Asked at least six times by Sky News host Andrew Clennell on Sunday morning, Mr Marles could not offer a definitive answer behind Ms King’s decision or who she had consulted before she made it.

The government has denied the Qatar decision was made for Qantas’ benefit, as the Coalition has accused. Picture: NCA NewsWIRE / Emma Brasier

Ms King has previously said concerns over human rights, the national interest, decarbonisation, and jobs all factored in to her decision.

The minister last week confirmed the invasive strip search that five Australian women were subject to in Doha airport in 2020 formed part of her decision; as evidenced by her signing a letter to those women on the same day she formalised her position.

Mr Marles could not point to any definitive reason for the decision, but backed in Ms King.

“This is a decision that was within the Transport Minister’s responsibility,” Mr Marles said a number of times.

Another reason he offered was that Ms King had made the decision “on the basis of our national interest”.

“And that’s what she has done in this instance. And that’s the sole basis on which she has done that,” he said.

Pressed further, Mr Marles said: “The Minister has made a decision, and there are a range of factors which go into that”.

Senator McKenzie – who will chair an inquiry seeking to probe answers as part of a larger review of airline competition in Australia – described Mr Marles’ interview as a “debacle”.

Qantas Chief Alan Joyce
Senator Bridget McKenzie will probe answers to the Qatar decision. Picture NCA NewsWire / Aaron Francis

“The political cover up continues. Whether it’s the personal relationship between Prime Minister Albanese and (former CEO) Alan Joyce, whether it’s the political need for that relationship to be quite cosy because they’ve chosen Qantas to be the flagship carrier for the Voice campaign.

“Or whether it’s ideological reasons within the Labor Party where some want to renationalise Qantas … It just beggars belief that they still can’t answer the most basic of questions,” she told Sky News.

Ms King has said she made Mr Albanese aware of her decision “sometime” before the matter was made public on July 18, and the Prime Minister has denied speaking to former Qantas boss Alan Joyce before the matter was dealt with.

Senator McKenzie queried how Ms King could publicly say she had “consulted widely”, yet there was yet to be “one single minister put their hand up and come forward and say that she talked to them”.

She said Ms King should have consulted with Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, Trade Minister Don Farrell, as well as the Prime Minister – and that it “beggars belief” that the minister “refuses to talk about who she consulted with”.

“She can’t tell us who she consulted with. She’s refusing to answer those questions,” she said.

“It shouldn’t be a tricky question.”

Mr Marles said it was normal government process for Ms King to make the decision, even without consulting him.

“The fundamental basis upon which this decision was made … the main issues that were in the Transport Minister’s mind was how we pursue Australia’s national aviation interest in terms of airline access,” he said.

“The answer is evidence.”