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Weasel Words in Aviation: Protecting the Flying Kangaroo

Ambrose Bierce, whose cynicism supplies a hygienic cold wash, suggested that politics was always a matter of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. It involved conducting public affairs for private advantage. How right he was. One way of justifying such an effort is through using such words as the “national interest” or “public interest” in justifying government policies, from the erroneous to the criminal. They become weasel-like terms, soiling and spoiling language.

In various large-scale industries, companies can find themselves in the pink with governments keen to underwrite their losses during times of crisis while taking a soft approach to their profiteering predations in time of prosperity. The former is a policy that socialises losses, thereby throwing public money after deals gone bad; the latter is simply called, absurdly, the free market (another weasel term), where corporate gains are put down to entrepreneurial genius.

There is no evident sign of that genius in the global aviation market. In Australia, with a market typically in the stranglehold of a handful of firms, its absence is conspicuous. In one of the world’s most concentrated markets in the field, two operators reign: Qantas and Virgin. This classic duopoly has made the idea of reduced airfares a dreamy nonsense, an aspiration of the deluded.

The picture from an international perspective is also dire. Despite its appalling conduct over the last two years, be it towards ground staff, the gruff cancellation of flights, the stubbornness in refunding them, and the squeezing of extortionate fares, Qantas was privileged by a government decision to block an offer by another carrier to operate more flights into Australia. The move also had the faint odour of protectionism, made somewhat stronger by the A$2.47 billion in profits registered by the only aviation outfit that was generously cushioned by Commonwealth government funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July, Canberra rejected a bid by Qatar Airways to add 21 extra flights per week into Australia’s three largest cities: Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. These would have supplemented the 28 weekly flights currently on offer. But it took till August for the government to cook up a feeble justification for having made a decision that will annually cost the Australian economy, according to one estimate, between A$540 million and $788 million.

According to federal Transport Minister, Catherine King, speaking to Parliament, “We only sign up to agreements that benefit our national interest, in all of its broad complexity, and that includes ensuring that we have an aviation sector, through the recovery, that employs Australian workers.”

Given that Qantas has relished sacking workers – in certain cases illegally – the comment was not only patently wrong but distasteful. But King seemed happy enough to continue distastefully, claiming that an agreement to furnish “additional services is not in our national interest, and we will always consider the need to ensure that there are long-term, well-paid, secure jobs by Australians in the aviation sector when we are making these decisions.”

The decision was at least perplexing enough to excite the interest of such Labor Party stalwarts as former Australian treasurer Wayne Swan. In his view, expressed as the party’s current national president, an “appropriate review” of the whole matter was necessary. (Reviews, in such cases, is code for identifying the damnably obvious.)

The rejection certainly drew baffled consternation from the inaugural chair of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), Alan Fels. “It’s really a bad decision by any standards, especially if the government is talking about doing a competition review.” Prices, he noted, were already 50% higher than they had been before the pandemic. “They would come down a lot if Qatar entered.”

Much the same view was expressed by another former ACCC chair, Rod Sims. “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.”

The federal government’s decision is also a curious one in light of policies pursued by the State governments. Queensland, for instance, made a decision to attract airlines to the state drawing from a fund worth $A200 million. The scheme yielded agreements with some 25 international airlines.

While this was happening, the ACCC was marshalling its resources to launch an action in the Federal Court of Australia alleging that Qantas, has “engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct, by advertising tickets for more than 8,000 flights it had already cancelled but not removed from sale [between May and July 2022].” The ACCC is also alleging that, for more than 10,000 flights scheduled to depart between May and July 2022, the company continued selling tickets on its website for an average of more than two weeks. In certain cases, this persisted for up to 47 days after flights were cancelled. Not content with robbing actual ticket holders, the carrier is happy to advertise tickets for spectral journeys.

There is nothing to suggest that more flights will automatically reduce prices per se. As Karl Marx documents with expansive brilliance, markets tend towards concentration. In time, companies, much in the manner of hoodlums carving up neighbourhoods for their drugs trade, will divvy up their share and keep prices lucratively high. Miserable customers make for happy shareholders.

In the Qantas-Qatar Airways affair, the basic motivation to at least moderate the pricing regime in the short term is simply not there. Threatened, Qantas would have to respond. To date, given its traditional, enduring dominance, the approach of the Flying Kangaroo has been to stomp and box competitors into the ground, always aware that it has the backing of the Commonwealth government. That’s the sort of private enterprise its outgoing CEO, Alan Joyce, is most pleased with.


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  1. Ken Robinson

    Australian democracy gives the voter the choice of voting for what they consider the least worst party to govern, just like the other so called democratic countries, where is the difference to choose from????

  2. Harry Lime

    That detestable little Irish leprechaun has certainly done a number on Qantas,the sooner he fucks off the better.However,that departure still leaves us with a government that is badly out of step with public expectations,and one that looks increasingly prone to making shit decisions,USUKA,for example,and not making decisions,urgent overhaul of the taxation regime,for instance.Although nowhere near as bad as the last rabble,they’re catching up.Politics in this country,as in most places, seems to attract some pretty stupid people.Very depressing.

  3. Phil Pryor

    QANTAS is now a business, exposed to international low standards of decency and honesty, to be run by ruthless, greedy profiteering ambitious riser upperers like A Joyce, the modern descendant of old type thieves and swindlers.., so that we all deserve a rejigging whereby a cheaper seat, better service, more reliability returned. Let us dream on…

  4. terence mills

    Let’s not forget that it was Qatar Airways that authorised invasive gynaecological searches at Doha airport of dozens of women in 2021 which included 13 Australian women after a newborn baby was found in a Doha airport bathroom.

    All women on ten Qatar Airways flights from Doha were subjected to intimate examinations to ascertain if they had recently undergone childbirth. The incident caused international outrage, and fuelled concerns about Qatar’s treatment of women in the ultra-conservative Muslim monarchy, where sex and childbirth outside marriage are punishable by jail.

    This may have been a consideration when deciding whether to offer Qatar Airways additional access to the much sought after landing rights.

  5. Clakka

    Indeed Terence

    Let’s also not forget that the vast majority of major airlines are ‘national flag carriers’, in the vast majority of cases completely owned and funded by their nation, whether they make a profit or not – and most often they don’t. The reasons for this, is not only a matter of national pride, but also as a government directed fall-back in case of major security issues, and also as in the case of servicing domestic remoteness, like for example, in Indonesia, the airline can be subject to government direction.

    That is not to say Joyce is not detestably blinkered and ruthless, nor brought in to enhance patriotism – he brings to mind the likes Freddy Laker and Bryan Grey. Shenanigans throughout.

  6. paul walter


    Couldn’t get over the rubbish talked by the politicians in parli today. The panderings of the government to these creatures has made me.ill and I can’t understand what has gone wrong with this government over the last few months.

  7. Harry Lime

    terence..why don’t the government treat the public with some respect, instead of treating us with apparent contempt,and explain clearly their reasoning.? We know that Qatar are hardly an exemplar of enlightened government,as are many others,but hiding behind questionable logic that smells like outright bias does Albo & co no credible good.Keeping airfares ridiculously high is not going to win any friends either.Neither is being an apologist for an increasingly worrying ‘Labor’ government.Have you an ‘in” with the current government decision making?To be clear,I want our government to succeed,but they need to get their shit together before they alienate more supporters.

  8. Lyndal

    Meanwhile, is anyone looking at the necessity of reducing the use of aviation at all? We know that the economic world is only concerned with business as usual and increasing economic activity. Having cheaper flights and more of them should not be given such a high value

  9. Terence Mills


    Have you an ‘in” with the current government decision making?

    No I don’t but when considering giving an airline additional flights I guess all these things would be on the table and I dare say, cynically, that they thought about the media reaction had they given Qatar the slots.

    Headline The Australian : Albo gives women hating airline special favours

  10. Kerri

    If only Australians had been paying attention years ago to what Joyce was doing?
    Maybe if we had ALL listened to Nick Xenophon?
    We should have run QANTAS into the ground at a time when the weasel would not be allowed to escape with most of our taxes?
    There was a speech Nick Xenophon made to the Senate over 10 years ago exposing the way Joyce was promoting Jetstar and systematically destroying QANTAS. It was a brilliant expose that went to the heart of the future plans for Australia’s Flying Kangaroo.
    Does anyone else remember that event? I cannot find it on YouTube, which-is where I first viewed it, posted by Scott Ludlam as I recall?

  11. Fred

    Perspective check – apart from the obvious Qantas and Virgin Australia, the list of airlines flying into Australia includes: Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Air Niugini, All Nippon Airways (ANA), American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, China Airlines, Fiji Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Japan Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, LATAM, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Qatar Airways, Royal Brunei Airlines, S7 Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, Scoot Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Sri Lankan Airlines, SWISS, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines and United Airlines.

    So why should Qatar get an extra 21 flights a week unless all of the other airlines receive a proportionate increase?

    The current Qantas bad press comes as an unfortunate coincidence with the Qatar slot increase request, but the minister needs to make a decision based on the whole “aviation” picture.

    That said, I cannot wait to see the back of Mr Joyce.

  12. Terence Mills


    Xenophon was a lone voice against Joyce and the way he gutted Qantas :

    Xenophon says Qantas claims on Jetstar not credible


    You will probably find that SIL will look to take on those additional slots – Singapore was damaged when Joyce shifted to Dubai as a hub. The cuddling up to Emirates didn’t work out so well – passengers to London prefer Singapore as a stopover.


    We don’t reward misogyny !

  13. Clakka

    And I note that the LNP and Greens have made it a disgusting blood-sport to make a sensationalist hostile drama and attack on Labor, particularly Albo, for every single decision Labor makes or Bill put. They do so when mostly they know the realities, and the severe constraints and risks, financial and strategic issues faced by government. To me it is also patently obvious they are both out there geeing-up every organisation, and Tammy, Tom, Debbie, Dick, Heather and Harry to make a claim for finance and/or organise a blockage, and to promulgate it as a hostile gotcha. All making for a morale destroying sensation feed-in for our disgusting mainstream media.

    In all this, it’s hard for most to sift the shit from the clay – sadly most of it is shit. And to the extent it is shit, it’s substance is the fetid remains of a decade of guile, inaction, diversion, hatred of the needy, and pork-barreling of the feckless LNP government. Their ugliness and hypocrisy is mind-blowing.

    PS: This morning it’s great to hear that today is Joyce’s last day at Qantas. Excellent to know that move, the cancelled flight credit payback, the ACCC’s federal court action against Qantas, and the mooted prompt payback of the ‘pandemic loan’ have all happened under Labor’s watch. Compared to nothing under the decade of LNP farnarkeling.

  14. Terence Mills

    Of course the strip-searching of women in the Doha airport was a factor in Australia not giving Qatar Airways additional slots into Sydney and Melbourne.

    In the world of diplomacy it would be most unusual for the minister to come out and say “they’re just a mob of mysogynists so we won’t give them additional land rights” but this behaviour by Qatar officials had to be a consideration – as it should have been in my view.

    The coalition must be very short of issues if they really want to pursue this…………Helloo !

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