Ex-competition watchdog heads slams Australia’s rejection of Qatar Airways expansion

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Qatar Airways’ proposal to expand flights in Australia has been rejected by the government, a move that former heads of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) claim was a “really bad decision”.

In July 2023, the Australian government rejected Qatar Airways’ bid to add 21 extra weekly flights from Doha Hamad International Airport (DOH)  to Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport (SYD), Melbourne Airport (MEL) and Brisbane International Airport (BNE). This would be in addition to the 28 weekly flights it currently offers.

According to a report by the ABC, the government said that reducing airfares could threaten the “national interest”, saying that national carrier Qantas should remain viable. 

Former heads of the ACCC have since expressed their opinions on the government’s decision. 

Allan Fels, the inaugural chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), who held the position from the commission’s inception in 1995 until June 2003, said in an interview with News Breakfast that it was a “really bad decision by any standards, particularly when the government is talking about doing a competition review”.

Meanwhile Rod Simms, ACCC’s chair from 2011-2022, has said that he thinks the decision will hurt competition. 

“What we see now, particularly in Australia, is very high airfares internationally and not enough capacity. If there was a time to allow new entrants in, this is it,” Simms said in an interview with  ABC’s RN Breakfast.

When asked if the Qatar Airways expansion would have lowered airfares, current head of ACCC Gina Cass-Gottlieb simply gave a curt one-word reply: “yes”. 

Calls for the government to provide an explanation behind the decision are getting stronger, with Flight Centre Travel Group CEO Graham Turner saying: “it doesn’t make sense for the Australian government to prevent Qatar Airways’ expansion.”

In an interview with KarryOn, Virgin Australia’s CEO Jayne Hedlicka opined that the government should reconsider its decision to block Qatar, saying that more options and capacity would help reduce airfares.

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