Transcript - doorstop in Melbourne

CATHERINE KING: Thanks. Thanks, everyone. We were made aware this morning of Bonza flight cancellations, and now we obviously have a number of Australians stranded at airports across the country. My department has spoken with Bonza this morning, and we understand that there are further discussions underway at the board level as we speak. We are seeking regular updates from them, but at this stage, the information we have about what is happening with Bonza is somewhat limited. We have made it very clear to Bonza that our expectations are that they inform passengers about what their options are, what changes are being made, and that they respect their consumer rights, of which they do have some. The government’s first priority, obviously right at this point in time, is making sure that stranded Australians can get home and to do so safely and as quickly as they possibly can. Obviously, our thoughts are also with staff who are obviously concerned at the moment. 

I spoke first thing this morning with Qantas and Virgin. They both have offered every assistance they possibly can give to get passengers home. I’m very grateful for that. I understand both Qantas and Virgin have already had Bonza passengers flying on their flights this morning. To that end, it’s really important that Bonza customers are at an airport, to make yourself known to either the Qantas or Virgin customer service desks. If you head to those desks, they will assist you to get onto an ongoing flight. 

We’re also conscious, obviously, because of where Bonza flights, that you may need to get yourself to a hub where Qantas and Virgin are flying out of. Both Virgin, Qantas or Jetstar are happy to assist, and I’ll read out the call numbers that people should call if you are also not at the airport yet. Virgin is 13 67 89, Qantas 13 13 13 or Jetstar – Jetstar 13 15 18. My department has also established a hotline. Again, this is for stranded passengers at this stage and that hotline. If you need to seek further assistance or find out what other options might be available to you, that hotline will be up. It should be up and running now at 12:00 and will be open until 10:00pm tonight. And that number is 1800 069 244. Obviously, again, as I said, in circumstances like this, our priority is making sure we’re at the end of school holidays in some states, getting passengers home as quickly as we possibly can. And there’ll be further updates, either from the government, but also we expect Bonza themselves to also inform customers about what the next stages are for them. Really happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: If passengers are stranded at a regional airport where Qantas and Virgin may not be flying. What role does the government play in assisting them?

CATHERINE KING: Well, as I said, we’re providing the options through Virgin and Qantas and through Jetstar to get home. If people are stuck at regional airports where they don’t fly, Rex has made the offer also to assist if they are available and have got seats available. They obviously don’t fly in all of the areas of Virgin, but there may be circumstances where people are stuck that they’re going to need to make their way to the nearest hub where Virgin and Qantas do fly out of.

JOURNALIST: Has Bonza approached the government for any sort of bailout?

CATHERINE KING: Well, certainly our focus right at the moment is to assist Australian passengers who are stranded at the end of school holidays. We’ll await to hear what the Bonza board is deciding. As I said, they’re meeting at the moment as to what their next options are. 

JOURNALIST: Can you elaborate at all on what’s being discussed in that board meeting? 

CATHERINE KING: Well, no, I’m obviously not at that board meeting. Obviously, this has come, you know, there was some media speculation last week in terms of Bonza. I think we’ll leave it to Bonza to make statements as to what’s actually occurred. But the first we were made aware was obviously reports that there had been cancellations of flights. We’ve also have asked Bonza not to continue selling tickets right at the moment until they have some certainty about what their process is going forward from here.

JOURNALIST: What do you think this says about the state of the airline industry in Australia, given we’ve had a new entrant and they’ve lasted only a couple of years before it looks like they might be going out?

CATHERINE KING: Well, I think it’s always really tough for a new entrant. So, we are a small market, despite the fact we are amazing travellers and we do want to travel everywhere and all the time. But we are a small market and it is always very difficult for new entrants. We’ve seen that through the process of aviation history here in Australia, but we are determined as a government to make everything we can do to try and improve competition. So, the slots reforms I announced not that long ago at Sydney airport are obviously the first time there’s been any reform in that in over 27 years, that assists, but also making sure that consumers have their rights upheld. People under Australian Consumer Law do have rights when they are sold flight tickets about getting credits, getting refunds for those making sure that the service that they have paid for is actually delivered and again, if people are concerned about future bookings that they have, I’d encourage them to look at the ACCC’s website and look at what information is available to them about what their rights are under Australian Consumer Law. Thank you.