Treasurer Jim Chalmers has conceded Qantas has a “big job to do” to regain the trust of the country as the airline prepares to cop a grilling from the senate on Wednesday.
The senate inquiry, set up to probe why the Albanese government blocked Qatar Airways’ bid to almost double its flight offerings to Australia, will hear from Qantas chief executive Vanessa Hudson and chairman Richard Goyder.
Mr Goyder’s appearance comes as Qantas’ pilots call for him to resign after a tumultuous couple of months.
Dr Chalmers – speaking from Winton, the birthplace of Qantas – would not be drawn on whether a new chairman was needed – but said Qantas as a whole had a massive task ahead.
“I … recognise that this is ultimately a decision for the Qantas board. Our job is to make sure that we get the broader settings right in the economy,” he said.
“I think whether it’s Richard Goyder, Vanessa Hudson, really anyone associated with that company … has a big job to do to regain trust and regain credibility, and that should be the focus.”
One glaring omission from the Qantas panel on Wednesday will be former chief executive Alan Joyce, who is currently overseas.
Inquiry chair Bridget McKenzie said she was determined to summon the former chief when he was back in the country.
She said having Qantas executives at Wednesday’s hearing would help senators get to the bottom of the government’s decision, and determine once and for all whether Labor was running a “protection racket” for the national carrier.
“I find the idea that Qantas didn’t press their case with the Prime Minister or the minister to protect their dominant market share as absolutely farcical,” Senator McKenzie said.
“We have found that a decision was not made in the national interest, but in the interest of the most dominating player in Australian aviation.
“If one of our supermarkets had the market share that Qantas has in aviation when you combine it with Jetstar, we’d be ripping it apart.”
The government has routinely said the decision to block Qatar’s bid was in the “national interest” and had nothing to do with Qantas. Transport Minister Catherine King was later forced to conceding an incident at a Qatari airport in 2020 had fed into her decision.
During the incident, five Australian women were ordered off a plane at gunpoint and stripsearched after officials found a newborn baby in a bin.
Appearing on Tuesday, Australia Qatar Business Council chair Simon Harrison said Ms King had to apologise to the Qatari government for linking the decision to the incident, and questioned why the same rules did not apply to China.
Mr Harrison accused Ms King of only raising the strip searches to secure “some public support for her decision that economically did not stack up”.
Qatar Airways’ senior vice presidents will appear first up at the inquiry on Wednesday morning.
Virgin Australia – Qantas’ biggest domestic competition – will also appear after lunch.
Dr Chalmers said the inquiry was an “important way to make sure that the leaders of Qantas are accountable and have to explain what happened here”.
“I think that the new CEO, Vanessa Hudson, understands that Qantas has a lot of work to do, and that’s important to try to regain that trust and credibility,” Dr Chalmers told ABC News.