Former Qantas chief Alan Joyce has temporarily avoided a senate inquiry grilling by leaving the country – though officials are still determined to see him front up.
The former airline boss was expected to front the committee, formed in the wake of the Albanese government’s decision to reject Qatar Airways bid to increase flight capacity to Australia.
But Mr Joyce’s lawyers said late on Tuesday he was not available to appear as he was not in the country for “personal obligations”.
Inquiry chair, Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie, vowed to not be deterred by his overseas trip – even though there was “no indication” he would be available before the committee’s October 9 deadline.
“The Committee has therefore determined today to summon Mr Joyce upon his arrival back in Australia to appear before the Committee,” Senator McKenzie said.
Senators are expected to press the former chief, who vacated his position early, over whether he lobbied the government to knock back Qatar’s request and separate accusations the airline sold tickets for cancelled flights.
Mr Joyce also oversaw the illegal sacking of 1700 ground workers during the pandemic.
Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine told the committee on Tuesday the Qantas had been reduced to a “wannabe luxury consumer brand”.
“Our system needs reform so we can never again be hostage to a Joyce-style leadership,” he said, championing Labor’s second tranche of industrial relations laws.
He said the Qatar decision was a “symptom of a much bigger issue” that wasn’t going to be fixed by maintaining Qantas’ “domestic monopoly”.
It comes as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese refused to be drawn on the future of chair Richard Goyder despite demands from the Australian and International Pilots Association for him to step down.
Mr Albanese again defended Transport Minister Catherine King’s decision to deny Qatar Airways, arguing it was made in the national interest.
“This is business as usual. And the airline industry know that that's the case,” he told reporters in Adelaide on Tuesday morning.
Ms King has also cited the national interest but earlier this month conceded the invasive strip searches of five Australian women in Doha in 2020 provided “context” for her decision.
Australia Qatar Business Council chair Simon Harrison said Ms King must apologise to the Qatari government for linking the decision to the incident, and questioned why the same rules did not apply to China.
He accused the Transport Minister of only raising the strip searches to “secure some public support for her decision that economically did not stack up”.
“Perhaps she’s potentially allowed others a dog whistle to the Islamophobic characterisation of the treatment of women in Muslim nations,” Mr Harrison said.
“The signal that this decision sends to Qatar and the region more generally are a serious damage to an expansion of bilateral trade and investment.”
Meanwhile, Turkish Airlines claimed it has been waiting more than 45 days for a response from the federal government or the Civil Aviation Safety Authority about an application to run flights to Australia.
The carrier made the application last month in hopes to secure more slots before launching flights via Singapore in December.
But Australia and New Zealand general manager Ahmet Halid Kutluoğlu he’s yet to hear back.
“We are still to this day expecting a reply,” Mr Kutluoğlu said.
“It's important to have a quick response because in aviation everything is about planning. We have to plan six to eight months ahead for ticket sales to start.
“Our first plan was to start in December … now it doesn’t seem possible.”
Turkish Airlines would not reveal how many additional flights it was seeking approval for but did say it would not be for direct flights into Australia.
Landing rights agreements are negotiated between governments rather than government to airline.
Mr Kutluoğlu said he was not aware how long negotiations normally took place in Australia.
Last week, it was confirmed Qantas would not oppose the Turkish Airlines application.
Meanwhile, the productivity commission said Australians would be better off if greater access to the nation’s capital cities was granted.
Acting chair Alex Robson stressed there was room for improvement for current arrangements and called for more transparent cost benefit analysis in government decision making.
“Restrictions on access to aviation markets can impede competition between airlines, which matters because it can harm the community in many ways,” Dr Robson said.
“Less competition can mean that airlines offer fewer or lower quality services and charge higher prices. As a result, Australians may pay higher prices for worse service.”