Senator McKenzie calls for Qantas to be busted up, empathises with agent struggles at ATAC Future Focus

Senator McKenzie calls for Qantas to be busted up, empathises with agent struggles at ATAC Future Focus

Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie got the ATAC Future Focus conference off to a roaring start with an impassioned opening speech about the state of Australian aviation and its dominance by Qantas.

McKenzie, who led the recent senate inquiry into domestic aviation, took the moment to reflect on her tough dealings with the national carrier and related to the many travel agents who have had difficult interactions with Qantas.

Her inquiry was plagued by the former Qantas boss Alan Joyce refusing to show face, having the subsequent post-inquiry request of his presence denied by Labor, the Greens, and David Pocock, and uncooperative Qantas elites who came largely unprepared to her inquiry.

“I’d like to see Qantas busted up,” McKenzie said to ATAC Future Focus attendees.

“This entity has over 60 per cent of our airline market. Now, if that was a supermarket, we’d be screaming about it.”

The breaking up of Qantas was one of the recommendations given by McKenzie’s inquiry as a means of strengthening competition within the domestic market and stopping attempts at monopolisation.

McKenzie went on to sympathise with agents who have had to deal with commission cuts, difficult-to-use COVID credit systems, and a lack of communication.

“In the effort of just actually doing my job – we’ve got some pretty amazing evidence and had some pretty arrogant witnesses appear before us, which just beggars belief,” McKenzie said.

“And I guess you’ve had to deal with that culture of arrogance day in and day out for years.”

Extending on the difficulties agents have endured, McKenzie highlighted the devaluing of Qantas points, which has ultimately caused frustrations for clients who have to fork over exorbitant sums of money for international travel.

A particular sector hit hard by this was travel to Europe, which often goes via the Middle East and was greatly impacted by the controversial decision by transport minister Catherine King to block additional capacity for Qatar Airways into Australia. The Australian Financial Review reported in August that King’s decision has cost between $540-788m in annual economic activity for Australia.

In tackling this issue at the senate inquiry, McKenzie commended the work done by the Australian Travel Industry Association (ATIA) on its submission.

Senator Bridget McKenzie speaking to attendees at the ATAC Future Focus (Ben Appleton/Photox – Canberra Photography Services)

“Your association provided evidence to this inquiry that international airfares from Sydney for up to 99 per cent higher than pre-pandemic,” she said.

“That was just an incredible piece of evidence. I think there was sort of a sharp intake of breath when those stats were actually read out to senators.”

The vocalisation of frustrations with Qantas was unusual and extended beyond the travel industry, according to McKenzie, who highlighted that 100 regular mum-and-dad Australians wrote in about “horrendous treatment by Qantas off their own bat.”

“That never happens in a Senate inquiry,” she added.

Moving on to questions, one attendee voiced her frustration at Qantas’ commission cuts and its impact on her work. The attendee discussed the knock-on effect that Qantas cutting commissions could have on other airlines and the devaluing of her services.

“I think that’s the indictment, that Qantas has not reinstated commissions for our travel agents because you are running a service, a business that services them, that gets them customers,” McKenzie responded.

“It’s your members who’ve had to be on the end of the phone to very frustrated, upset families, who are doing it tough for the cost of living crisis as well.”

The senator called for agents to be vocal to their local members about these issues so that inquiries and instances of holding power to account like what has been seen with Qantas over the past few months, can come to reality more often

“So I think this has really tapped into a frustration that your organisation can really use,” she said.

“You can make change, but it does require effort and focus.”

McKenzie also expressed her frustration with the blocking of Joyce from appearing before the senate inquiry and the importance of ATAC.

(Featured Image: Senator Bridget McKenzie at ATAC Future Focus – Ben Appleton/Photox – Canberra Photography Services)

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