Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has brushed off Coalition attacks about a meeting with ex-Qantas boss Alan Joyce, labelling the comments as an “absurdity” and a “conspiracy theory”.
Albanese has come under fire from the opposition after a freedom of information request showed he had a half-hour meeting with Joyce at Parliament House in November 2022.
The government was criticised in 2023 for blocking rival airline Qatar Airways from having additional flights in Australia, with accusations it was protecting Qantas.
The meeting between Albanese and Joyce – who was then the CEO of Qantas – was already public knowledge. But Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Albanese should be upfront about the nature of the talks.
On Friday, Albanese said the meeting was to do with industrial relations laws being debated at the time by parliament.
“This is just an absurdity; the meeting with Alan Joyce has been known about since last September,” he said in Sydney on Friday.
“Qatar was not raised, nor were what would be at any time probably 10 to 15 different air services agreements and applications from different airlines.”
Albanese said Joyce also met other federal MPs and senators during the visit to Parliament House.
The industrial relation laws before parliament at the time would make changes to multi-employer bargaining.
“The Coalition needs to stop the nonsense of conspiracy theories and explain why it is they voted against the interests of those workers at Qantas, who simply wanted a fair crack and a fair go,” he said.
The Qatar controversy was one of several hits to Qantas that led to Joyce bringing forward his retirement by two months. It also prompted a Senate inquiry into air service agreements.
Coalition senator Bridget McKenzie said it would be unlikely the former Qantas boss would not have raised the Qatar issue during his discussions with Albanese.
“For him not to bring that up, I find that absolutely inconceivable,” she told Sydney radio station 2GB.
“That’s why it begs the question why has the government and Qantas put Alan Joyce in a witness protection program plan?”
Joyce was summoned to appear before the Senate committee, but said he was unable to attend due to being overseas.