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Qantas boss in fiery clash

Alan Joyce has refused to answer questions when making his first appearance before a parliamentary inquiry in nine years, following Qantas’ sky-high profit result.

Qantas reported an “incredible year of recovery” with an underlying profit of almost $2.5 billion, according to Sky News Business Editor Ross Greenwood. “It’s astonishing – after $7 billion worth of losses in the previous three years, and that was around 11 weeks from bankruptcy as the pandemic stopped it flying,” Mr Greenwood said. “Well, that record profit was driven by its costs and cutting, high loads on its planes and elevated ticket prices – so now Qantas has to deal with the accusations that it’s deliberately thwarting competition to keep those profits flying.”

Mr Joyce is appearing before the Senate select committee on the cost of living in Melbourne, days after Qantas posted a full-year pre-tax profit result of $2.47bn after it incurred more than $7bn of statutory losses during the pandemic.

The airline’s successful efforts to lobby the federal government to cancel additional Qatar Airways flights to key capital cities has also been called into question.

In a fiery clash over outstanding flight credits across Qantas and Jetstar, Labor senator Tony Sheldon accused Qantas of investing “too little, too late” in customer service, meaning refunds have not been easy to access.

“$3bn of refunds have been given in the last three years, 4.3 million people have had a refund over that period of time,” Mr Joyce said.

Outgoing Qantas boss Alan Joyce has faced intense questioning over the airline’s recent performance. Picture NCA NewsWire / Aaron Francis

“Qantas [has] doubled the size of its call centres, with lots more resources in and then call centres average a three minute waiting time.”

Previously, the airline had refused to confirm whether the $370m included Jetstar and overseas bookings.

“You’re not being transparent,” Senator Tony Sheldon said.

“You’ve just admitted there’s another $100m that’s not been disclosed.”

Mr Joyce also defended his remuneration package which Senator Sheldon alleged was $125m over 15 years.

“What I get paid is by the shareholders of Qantas, as per my salary every year, and to relate my salary to how the Qantas share price has performed, and that’s the way every CEO on the ASX works,” Mr Joyce said.

Senator Sheldon retorted, “I would feel embarrassed if I was you.”

Asked earlier by Greens senator Penny Allman-Payne to provide any details on conversations he had with the Anthony Albanese or other members of the government about lobbying against increased capacity for Qatar Airways, Mr Joyce refused to answer.

“I’m not going to comment on any conversations that took place,” Mr Joyce said.

A fiery clash between Labor senator Tony Sheldon and Qantas chief executive has occurred at the parliamentary inquiry. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Senator Allman-Payne also asked whether the Prime Minister’s 23-year-old son, Nathan Albanese, was given membership to the Qantas Chairman’s Club. Mr Joyce again declined to answer.

“I will be not be making any comment on that,” Mr Joyce added.

While Mr Joyce cited “significant privacy concerns” which barred him from divulging details of Chairman’s Lounge membership, Nationals senator Matt Canavan said the committee may demand Qantas to reveal details over which family members of politicians have membership.

“It seems to me that this is these grounds are not particularly ones that would be usually accepted by a Senate committee,” Senator Canavan said.

“I realised that there are some matters of confidentiality here. And perhaps if I could just through you request that perhaps Mr Joyce could take these questions on notice and come back to us with exactly on what grounds he may not be willing to answer them.”

In separate questioning, Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie asked about allegations of slot hoarding’, the practice of deliberately cancelling flights to hold onto takeoff and landing times in order to stifle competition.

Mr Joyce said the airline was the most on time and had the lowest level of cancellations of any of the major carriers for 11 of the last 12 months.

Speaking to the committee, Mr Joyce said Qantas’ post-pandemic return to flying “was not nearly as smooth as we had hoped.”

“The result was long queues, delays and cancellations,” Mr Joyce said. “And for that we have apologised sincerely.

Mr Joyce said Qantas’ post-pandemic return to flying “was not nearly as smooth as we had hoped. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Aaron Francis

The Qantas boss said cuts to service capacity was required to reduce pressure on the system and address customer service issues.

“This created an imbalance between supply and demand, which meant fares rose across all airlines,” he said.

“Fares peaked in December of last year and they have been trending down since as more capacity is returned by all airline.”

Mr Joyce also added that to bring airfare costs down, investment in sustainable aviation fuel and adding competition to bust airport monopolies was necessary.

Speaking before the hearing, NSW Labor Senator Tony Sheldon, who was formerly secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union, said Qantas needed to be held accountable.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce tried to justify the national carrier’s record profit result. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Aaron Francis

“After almost a decade of evading parliamentary scrutiny, even while receiving a $2.7bn no-strings-attached bailout from the Morrison government, Mr Joyce has a lot to answer for,” Senator Sheldon said.

“Qantas has transformed from an aviation pioneer, into a pioneer of corporate greed, extracting every last cent possible from its workers, its customers and even the previous federal government.

“Between its war on its workers, price gouging on fares, its shonky credits system and aggressive competitive behaviour, it is high time that Qantas is held to account.”

Today’s hearing is the first time the Qantas boss has fronted the Senate since March 2014. During that previous appearance, Mr Joyce defended the airline‘s choice to cut 5000 jobs and outsource aircraft maintenance work.

More to come

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