Television interview, The Today Show

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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1 September 2023

SUBJECTS: Qantas; Special Purpose Aircraft Schedules.

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, Qantas is back in a tailspin this morning, the airline to face court over allegedly selling tickets for flights that had already been cancelled. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton join us now. Good morning, guys. Nice to see you. Richard, to you first up, your Government couldn't have been more loved-up with Qantas. It's toxic, and you all hitched your wagon to it.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously, what is being reported today is very concerning in relation to Qantas. I get that it's now in front of the court, so there's a limit to what we can say. Clearly, Qantas have done the right thing in terms of extending the expiry date in relation to those tickets. But I think what we need to see is greater competition in the aviation market. That's why we've actually increased capacity for a number of airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay, China Southern. That's why we're also doing an aviation white paper so that we can look at getting ways of more competition in the aviation market. That's the way in which every airline, including Qantas, lifts their game and that's the way that we get to cheaper air tickets.

STEFANOVIC: Minister after Minister has backed them. The perception is you're all in on it, that's damaging. Your white paper, you mentioned that, on aviation is being called a lame duck this morning. Seriously, how can you have a white paper without looking at competition between airlines and airports?

MARLES: Well, that's exactly what we will be looking at, is how we can get greater competition in the aviation market. And look, every airline–

STEFANOVIC: But that's not in the white paper. That’s not in the terms of reference.

MARLES: Well, ensuring that we have greater competition is at the heart of what we will be doing with the white paper and it's at the heart of what we're doing in terms of increasing capacity. And every airline needs to lift their game and make sure that they are engaging in the best possible service for their customers, and that very much includes Qantas. And obviously, I look at what's reported in the papers today and find that very unsettling, and that is now in front of the courts. But we need greater competition. That is the pathway to cheaper tickets, and that’s the pathway to better service.

STEFANOVIC: Richard, before I give Peter a free hit, you can't sit there and say that it's not damaging for the Government. You have hitched your wagon to Qantas, in a big way.

MARLES: Well, I don't accept that. Qantas is a private company and Qantas needs to service its customers in the best possible way. And where there are mistakes that have been made and things that have been done wrong, they need to do better. This matter is now in front of the courts. The allegations that are being made are obviously very disturbing. But what we need to see is greater competition, and that's why we're increasing access.


PETER DUTTON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look, Karl, there's nothing of what Richard said that rings true there. As you point out, in the white paper there's no mention of competition. The fact is that Qatar was excluded from participating. That means that because of the decision the Prime Minister's made, every Australian, every time you book to go and see your family member in Europe, or in Asia, or America, you're paying literally thousands of dollars more for the ticket than you would otherwise need to. People are already under huge pressures. And, look, the relationship between Alan Joyce and between Anthony Albanese is well documented. I mean, Anthony Albanese hasn't found a red carpet that he's not willing to trot down with Alan Joyce. That's just the reality of their relationship. So, they've been proud about it up until this point and now the Government's trying to drop Qantas. But the fact is that Qantas has some serious questions to answer. If their conduct is as reported, then they owe a huge apology and compensation to many Australians. The whole credit debacle where Australians haven't been able to get money back has been completely unacceptable. And it's off the back of a huge amount of taxpayer assistance to Qantas over the course of COVID to help them keep employing people and keep flying. So I think Australians are right to feel like they've been poked in the eye by this Government.

STEFANOVIC: Richard, Rex says–

MARLES: Karl, let me be clear– can I just say, that assistance has been provided to a number of airlines, done by the former government, but done appropriately. This is not about any person's relationship with Qantas–

STEFANOVIC: Well it is.

MARLES: And it’s not about dropping Qantas or supporting Qantas. Qantas need to do their job, as every airline needs to do their job. And in terms of Qatar, I mean, there are a whole lot of issues which go into the specifics of any particular agreement. Qatar have unused access right now. That's the issue. And we are increasing access, which is what we've done with Singapore, with Cathay Pacific, with China Southern.

STEFANOVIC: So, you'll do a deal with Qatar? You’ll allow them in?

MARLES: Well, there's a whole range of issues which go to any given agreement. The issue with Qatar specifically is they've got access to the Australian market right now, which they are not using and that is one of the key factors in terms of that issue.

STEFANOVIC: All right, we'll roll on. Let's turn to the other aviation story that seems to be burning a significant hole. Your ‘frequent flyer marles’, Richard, you like what I did there? Are you going to come clean about your flight schedule? I mean, how many times have you taken the RAAF from Canberra to Avalon and return?

MARLES: Well, look, I'm glad you raised it Karl because it's been a very frustrating week, I might say, in terms of looking at the media. I mean, obviously I am the authorising person for a whole lot of those flights. A lot of people travel on those flights. So, my direct component is a fraction of the number that's been reported. Everywhere I have gone, everything I have done has been on behalf of the Australian people and the duties that I do in that regard. And I stand by every one of the flights that I've taken. This has been kicked along over the course of the week by a dodgy spreadsheet produced in Peter's office, which is about smear and fear, because Peter has literally nothing else to say.

STEFANOVIC: Richard, why don't you just produce the manifests, the flight schedules? I'm mindful of security, but seven and a half thousand dollars a day, you can probably just explain how many flights you've taken. That has nothing to do with security. Just give us the schedule.

MARLES: Well, to be honest, where we’re at now, my preference would be to have all of that out there, because that would make things much clearer. But there is a genuine security issue here. I mean, there are patterns of behavior which get–

STEFANOVIC: But you can say how many flights that you’ve taken?

MARLES: Well, the information that we've put out there does provide the number of hours. But obviously the manifests give rise to patterns of behaviour which then do create a target. But let me also be clear about this, Karl, the reason why this is also in the media is because we've released information about these flights.

STEFANOVIC: All right, Pete, quickly.

MARLES: When Peter was the Minister for Defence, no information about this was released at all. Not one shred at all. And so we've actually been transparent about this.

DUTTON: Karl, the difficulty that Richard's got is that if you go back through social media, he ripped into Bronwyn Bishop at the time for spending $5,000, I think it was, on a helicopter. Well, he makes Bronnie look like completely inefficient approach to air travel. I mean, he's dispensed with the helicopter and is happy with the plane. So, if he's ripping into Bronwyn Bishop, there is a double standard that's operating here. And I think you're right to ask the question.

STEFANOVIC: Well, when you've got Bronwyn Bishop having a go at you for travel, I mean. Richard, I'm sure you'll sort it out.

DUTTON: He puts Bronnie to shame.

(All talking)

MARLES: I was not taking helicopters to political fundraisers.

STEFANOVIC: We’ve got to run, we’ve got to wrap.


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