/ 08 September 2023

A political scandal takes flight

Image source: Getty
Image source: Getty


The growing criticism of Federal Transport Minister Catherine King’s rejection of additional Qatar Airways flights into Australia reached boiling point yesterday. At a press conference, King said the “context” behind her decision was the invasive strip searches that were carried out on 13 Aussie women who were flying Qatar Airways from Doha to Sydney in 2020. But she said “no one factor” swayed her, and she rejected the airline’s request “in the national interest, not commercial interest”. This is a thing because the Albanese Government has been accused of protecting Qantas from competition at a time when it’s making record profits. And King’s comments contradict what she said 6 weeks ago when she denied the decision was linked to the strip searches. All that played out as King launched a report on the future of the aviation sector in Australia… 


In October 2020, international headlines resulted from Qatari authorities’ search for the mother of a newborn baby found at Hamad International Airport. Officials removed women from their planes at gunpoint – including a Qatar Airways flight about to leave for Sydney – and performed forced medical examinations to check if they’d recently given birth. The incident was met with strong condemnation from the federal government, and 5 Aussie women launched legal action. This week, it came out that King wrote to those women on 10 July to tell them she “was not considering additional bilateral air rights with Qatar”. 


It means that these 3 strings – the experience those women had in Qatar in 2020, the request from Qatar Airways to add more Aussie flights, and Qantas’ woes – have collided spectacularly to create a mess for the Albanese Government. For political watchers, it’s interesting because King has been inconsistent in her account of how she’s exercised her duties as the Transport minister – and you know what happens when there’s a whiff of a scandal. And others are wondering why Qantas has a rails run with the government given the legal, customer and shareholder plates the airline is spinning. So you can bet this week isn’t the last we’ve heard about it – the Coalition will likely pick it up again in Question Time when parliament resumes next week. And we’ll hear from former Qantas boss Alan Joyce and his replacement Vanessa Hudson when they face a Senate inquiry into these issues later this month. 

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