Qantas Group CEO Joyce faces grilling at Senate inquiry

Outside view of Qantas headqarters.
MDRX, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has faced a grilling in an Australian senate inquiry over issues including the high cost of airfares, flight cancellations, market competition in the airline sector and the matter of COVID-19 travel credits.

Joyce was issued with a summons to appear at the Senate inquiry, which was focused on Australian cost of living matters. Also appearing before the committee with Mr Joyce were Jetstar CEO Stephanie Tully and Qantas Group executive for corporate affairs Andrew McGinnes .

A heated committee session

With Mr Joyce facing questions which went on for just over one and half hours, the temperature in the room grew a little heated, with Joyce asking senators to stop interrupting him and to allow him to answer their questions.

Australian senators pointed out they were stopping the CEO because he was not directly answering questions posed to him.

The deputy chair of the select committee, Greens party Senator Penny Allman-Payne raised the question of whether Mr Joyce had discussed the matter of Qatar’s proposal to increase flights to Australia with Prime Minister Albanese or Transport Minister King.

Mr Joyce declined to answer the question, saying that he would never divulge any discussion he has had with any Australian Prime Minister.

Instead he agreed to take on notice the question with regards to the dates that he met with either Prime Minister Albanese or government ministers. Is there required to provide this information to the committee by September 18.

Senator Allman-Payne took up a further question aligned to the issue of Mr Joyce’s negotiations with the Prime Minister; asking whether any discussions had taken place before his decision to grant the Prime Minister’s 23-year-old son access to Qantas’ exclusive invitation-only Chairman’s Lounge.

Mr Joyce similarly declined to answer questions on the matter, citing privacy issues. Liberal Senator Jane Hume, the committee chair, reminded senators that if they elected to take up questioning about access to the Chairman’s Lounge, they themselves should declare if they were a member.

“As the chair, I would declare my membership of the Lounge. Thank you very much to Qantas on bestowing that upon senators when they are elected to parliament,” Senator Hume noted.

The two senators who pressed questions regarding access to the exclusive Chairman’s Lounge – Senators Allman-Payne and Senator Canavan – are also both members of the aforesaid facility.

Qantas windfall profit

Today’s Senate committee hearings followed closely after the Qantas Group disclosed its first full year profit since the beginning of the pandemic.

Last week, Qantas Group disclosed its first full year statutory profit since FY19. For FY23, the Group achieved an Underlying Profit Before Tax of $2.47 billion and a Statutory After Tax Profit of $1.74 billion. This compares with $7 billion in accumulated statutory losses over three prior years.

News of the windfall profit was not received well in all quarters, with some Australians saying the bumper profit has come at the expense of the airline’s customers.

COVID-19 credits

This month, the national flag carrier Qantas found itself at the centre of a class action lawsuit concerning its refund policy for flights cancelled in the wake of the pandemic.

The legal action, filed by law firm Echo Law in the Federal Court, has raised pertinent questions about the fairness and transparency of Qantas’ refund policy, invoking discussions about customer rights, financial implications, and potential industry-wide ramifications.

The issue of COVID-19 credits was also raised in today’s Senate hearing. Qantas delegates conceded after intense questioning that the true value of credits yet to be redeemed is at least $100 million higher than the $370 million figure that the Group has been constantly referencing with respect to subsidiary Jetstar and overseas bookings.

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