Threats of jail time or fines against former Qantas boss Alan Joyce should he fail to front up to a Senate inquiry have been renewed by Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie.
In an interview on Sky News on Sunday, the inquiry’s chair and opposition transport spokeswoman Bridget McKenzie reasserted her threat against Joyce if he refused to appear before a Senate probe into the federal government’s controversial decision to block Qatar Airways from increasing its capacity into major east coast airports.
“It's not something the Senate does lightly or regularly, but that is the end penalty. You can be held in contempt and there can be either fines or jail terms attached to that finding of contempt,” Senator McKenzie said.
Senator McKenzie claimed Joyce was one of only three people – alongside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Transport Minister Catherine King – who could shed light on the government’s decision to block Qatar’s bid to increase flight capacity to Australia.
Joyce, who was asked to appear before the committee earlier this week but declined the invitation, citing “personal obligations”, will be summoned when he returns to Australia, Senator McKenzie said.
If he appears, Senators are expected to press the former Qantas boss over his supposed conversations with King and Albanese over the decision that advantaged the national carrier over its major domestic rival, Virgin.
Jail time as a result of the refusal to appear before a parliamentary inquiry is not without precedent. In the 1950s, two journalists were jailed for not adhering to a summons order.
The committee has also taken the rare step of calling upon lower house minister Catherine King, who returns from leave on Monday, to front up to the inquiry.
“You'd hope Ms King will take up the kind invitation of the committee to come and explain her decision,” Senator McKenzie said.
“There is precedence for members of the House of Representatives fronting up to Senate inquiries and helping ... I've fronted up to a Senate inquiry.
While King cannot be compelled to appear before the inquiry, Senator McKenzie said she had an obligation to Australians to explain the government’s decisions.
“If you really believe in your decision, it's time now for the Minister to actually act on that and actually front up and answer these questions,” she added.
Senator McKenzie also defended the inquiry’s work amid accusations that it hadn’t delivered results and was instead limited to theatrics.
“We’ve had powerful evidence thus far and already gotten powerful results,” she said.
“You’ve seen Qantas apologise profusely and repeatedly … it’s because of this inquiry.
“This inquiry would never have had to be set up here if the government answered simple questions in question time, produce documents for the Senate, or indeed was upfront with the Australian public with the reason they blocked the Qatar Airways flight request.”