Greens Call for More Government Transparency

Greens Call for More Government Transparency
Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek speaks during House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra on Feb. 15, 2023. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Crossbench powerhouse the Greens are leading calls for more transparency from the federal government after ministers did not answer several questions during Parliament's sitting.

The Greens, which currently hold the balance of power in the Australian upper house, said Aussies were sick of politicians refusing to answer questions.

“If you ask a minister why they’re approving more coal projects, they should answer, not waffle on about something else," Greens leader Adam Bandt said.

“Question Time is meant to be where we can hold governments to account, but it is becoming a farce because ministers don’t have to answer questions.

Mr. Bandt says changes to the Australian Parliament's Standing Orders are needed to compel federal government ministers to directly answer questions.

But the move has been stonewalled by both the Labor and Liberal parties, who have refused to back it.

“For too long, the establishment parties have teamed up to ensure questions don’t have to be answered, and we have seen that again today, but the Greens will continue this push,” Mr. Bandt said.

Government Under Pressure Over Alleged Qantas Protection

The federal government is under pressure for not explaining its reasoning behind its rejection of Qatar Airway's bid for more flight routes in Australia. The airline wanted extra flights into Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane by July 2023.

The federal government has been accused of protecting Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas.

Qantas general counsel Andrew Finch rejected the allegation.

"The reality is that no one has any idea what the counterfactual would look like if Qatar had been given permission to add the capacity that it had sought through the government," he said.

Qantas posted a profit after tax of $1.74 billion (US$1.13 billion) for the 2022-2023 financial year, a turnaround after accumulating around $7 billion in losses over the past three years.

Coalition Senator and Shadow Foreign Minister Simion Birmingham has called on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to be more transparent about the government's decision-making process around the issue, telling Sky News it is a "gross failure."

"The prime minister, if he was going to show any leadership, should demand that this decision be reviewed, transparently reviewed, with proper modelling about its impact on airfare prices into Australia, its impact on the tourism industry, its impact in terms of freight capacity out of this country," he said.

"They should realise this is a debacle and actually get on and undertake a proper, thorough review of this decision and a transparent one at that. Because it's the secrecy around this."

Senate Inquiry to Go Ahead

Currently, the Parliament is in the process of organising a Senate inquiry into the decision.

This followed an alliance of crossbench senators, involving the Coalition, the Greens, and independent Senator David Pocock,  pushing for the release of confidential documents concerning the decision.

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie has said she will move a vote in the upper house to require the Albanese government to release documents relating to Qatar Airway's application.

Ms. McKenzie said there was an allegation that at the government level, Labor had potentially blocked competition to protect Qantas.

"I asked Mr. Joyce (Qantas CEO) yesterday around the assistant treasurer's comments that the government had made a decision not to allow more flights out of Australia to protect the profitability of Qantas after they posted a $1.7 billion profit," she said.

"We want our aviation sector to be profitable … but by not allowing and exposing it to reasonable competition, it's the Australian consumer that ends up getting slapped at the end."

Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this article.
Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.