Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
London: Tourism and Trade Minister Don Farrell has not denied he supported granting extra flights to Qatar Airways as a way of boosting Australia’s tourism sector, which has struggled to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
Farrell has been reported as having privately backed giving Qatar Airways extra landing rights but has never commented publicly on the matter as the Albanese government comes under pressure to explain its reasons for blocking the airline, which will keep European ticket prices sky-high.
Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
The block benefits Qantas, which has reported super-profits partly as a result of the fares it can charge while demand outstrips the number of seats available on flights, and has been criticised by the travel industry.
Asked by this masthead during an interview alongside his Kiwi counterpart from his winery in the Clare Valley, South Australia following talks focused on boosting trans-Tasman trade as a way of diversifying each other’s markets, Farrell said he did not have a say in the final determination.
“The issue of extra flights from overseas is not my issue,” he said. “These are not issues that I determine.
Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell (left) and New Zealand counterpart Damien O’Connor on Zoom.Credit: SMH
“They’re issues for [Transport] Minister [Catherine] King, and she took into account a range of issues and made her decision at this point not to extend this to Qatar.”
Farrell pointed to China’s decision to permit its citizens to travel in groups to 70 countries, including Australia, as a “huge boost” to the sector.
“It will mean lots of extra flights from China to Australia,” he said.
The latest statistics show international arrivals are still one-third below pre-pandemic levels, with huge falls in visitors from Asia, Europe and the United States.
Visitor arrivals from north-east Asia were down 62 per cent in the calendar year to May, driven by a 78 per cent fall in arrivals from China alone.
China was Australia’s largest tourism market before the pandemic, with group travel alone representing about half a billion dollars.
Farrell said that encouraging Chinese tourists to come back was consistent with trying to diversify Australia’s tourism markets.
“In terms of our diversification strategy, it’s not about shrinking the pie, it’s not about taking any less Chinese tourists, it is about expanding,” Farrell said.
“I was in Vietnam a few months ago, where I launched the first flight from Ho Chi Minh [City] into Brisbane.
“There are four Vietnamese airlines that are flying into Australia, so we are diversifying.”
King has struggled to explain why she blocked granting Qatar extra flights.
She told this masthead there was no link to her decision and the treatment of Australian women who were taken off their Qatar Airways flight and forced to undergo invasive searches at Doha Airport, despite having made her first comments confirming her determination in a private letter to them.
That correspondence has been seen by this masthead.
King has gone on to cite various reasons, including protecting the national interest, climate change and the desire to protect Australian jobs.
Meanwhile, her spokeswoman warned that it would be “many months” until extra flights from Turkey would come online, with legal negotiations ongoing.
Turkish Airlines also wants to add more flights to Australia, but chairman Ahmet Bolat said the request was delayed, citing legal issues.
Turkish Airlines chairman Ahmet Bolat in Melbourne in July. Credit: Eamon Gallagher
King’s spokeswoman said in a statement: “At this stage Turkish airlines have not applied to Australian aviation authorities to operate services to Australia.
“These critical regulatory processes will take many months to complete before services could commence to Australia.
“Australian aviation officials recently met virtually with the Turkish Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for initial discussions on air services arrangements and agreed to a path forward for formally considering future updates to them, the responsibility for which rests with each country’s aviation authorities.”
James Goodwin, from the Australian Airports Association, said the government should be rolling out the red carpet for airlines to add long-haul flights to Australia to their schedules.
“We should be encouraging as many international carriers to fly here as we can and help facilitate existing airlines to increase their flight numbers,” he said.
“It’s good for Australia – good for travellers and good for the aviation and tourism sectors that are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic.
“More seats mean more competition, more options and more work for those at the airport and beyond.”
Get a note from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.
Most Viewed in World
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article