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Labor backflips on aviation monitoring after Qantas drops opposition

Ayesha de KretserSenior reporter

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has reinstated the competition watchdog’s mandate to monitor Qantas and Virgin Australia, as a Coalition motion to extend a probe into aviation was blocked by the Greens and independent senator David Pocock.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese claimed as recently as September 4 that Australia had the most competitive aviation market “bar none”. During the inquiry, Senator Pocock grilled Qantas about its claims regarding competition, given it and Virgin control 95 per cent of the domestic market.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers led the backflip as Labor refocuses on the economy. Alex Ellinghausen

Senator Pocock also demanded to know how many politicians had taken up the offer for free upgrades as members of Qantas’ Chairman’s Lounge, before rescinding his membership this month.

Labor’s backflip suggests the government has decided to refocus its attention on cost-of-living concerns.

“A competitive airline industry helps to put downward pressure on prices and deliver more choice for Australians facing cost-of-living pressures,” Dr Chalmers and Transport Minister Catherine King said in a joint statement.


A Senate inquiry found only Qantas had opposed extending an original mandate, put in place during COVID-19, for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to continue monitoring the airlines after June.

But in a submission to the Senate inquiry on October 6, Qantas softened its stance after having originally lobbied Treasury and the Department of Transport, saying the airline “accepts there is a perception that industry oversight of some sort would restore public confidence”.

The original ACCC monitoring mandate was put in place by the former Coalition government when Virgin entered administration to ensure airlines remained competitive. Until now, Ms King has repeatedly claimed that there was no need to – and that no one had even suggested – reinstating the ACCC’s monitoring powers.

“The 12 reports under the previous government found declining service standards and higher prices but were not acted on,” the joint statement read.

“In contrast, the Albanese government will use ACCC monitoring to help inform the aviation white paper which is setting the policy direction for the sector out to 2050. We will ensure healthy competition plays a key role in shaping the future of the sector.”

Previously Ms King has claimed that the white paper, the forerunner to which former ACCC boss Rod Sims described as being “extremely thin on competition”, would deal with domestic aviation competition concerns.

Ayesha de Kretser is a senior reporter with The Australian Financial Review covering the aviation and tourism sectors. She has previously reported on banking, mining and commodity markets. Connect with Ayesha on Twitter. Email Ayesha at

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