Airfares to Darwin, Alice Springs to get Senate Scrutiny as Airlines ‘Take Advantage of Monopoly’

Top Enders forking out for sky-high airfares will get the chance to air their frustration when a Senate inquiry visits Darwin next year.

The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee is calling for first-hand experiences of flight prices in regional, rural and remote locations and will scrutinise the factors that determine pricing.

“It’s looking at regional routes and seeing what can be done from a federal perspective, from a regulatory perspective, to try and improve our connectivity,” Member for Solomon Luke Gosling said.

“We understand there’s costs for business, but what we need to do is accurately see what are reasonable and fair costs for business, and then see what is — I don’t know any other way to say it — businesses taking advantage of their monopoly.”

Flight prices are often cited as a key deterrent to settling down in the Northern Territory, where airfares can cost interstate travellers hundreds of dollars more than east coast flights of the same distance.

Mr Gosling, who worked to ensure the inquiry would visit Darwin, told ABC Radio Darwin‘s Richard Margetson that scorned Territorians should offer their experiences to the committee.

“Regional airlines and airfares are a cause of concern because we live in the best part of Australia up here, but one of the things that affects our connectivity, not only with family and friends but from business, is the cost of getting around,” he said.

Questions over Red Centre visit

Although it is unknown whether a hearing will also take place in Alice Springs, written submissions are already being received from residents in the outback capital.

Christmas Eve airfares

  • Darwin to Sydney: $445
  • Darwin to Brisbane: $680 (one stopover)
  • Darwin to Melbourne: $519
  • Alice Springs to Sydney: $396
  • Alice Springs to Brisbane: $569
  • Alice Springs to Melbourne: $546 (one stopover)

“It’s certainly something that a lot of us are pushing for and have been since the inquiry was announced a couple of weeks ago,” Tourism Central Australia’s Dale McIver said.

One submission complains of paying $330 for a one-way flight to visit family in Sydney over Christmas.

The ABC has previously revealed that residents frequently make the 450-kilometre journey for the cheaper airfares out of Yulara rather than flying out of Alice Springs.

“I’m off to Perth next week — $800 one-way. It hurts. I understand,” Ms McIver said.

“But what we really need to make sure that this inquiry hears from is real business cases. That’s what they’re really going to stand up and listen to.”

She said businesses often hesitated to send staff to interstate training sessions and enticing labourers to take up work in Alice Springs was difficult; the two issues having a domino effect on the town’s economy.

“Just because we’re a minority voice because there aren’t as many of us living out here as in the big cities, we’re just as important passengers.”

Will this change anything?

Mr Gosling was optimistic that the inquiry could effect real change.

“I think it’s up to the community to make sure our experiences are relayed to the committee so they have a good understanding,” he said.

“Obviously also it’s an opportunity for the airports and airlines to justify the amount they charge us for flying in and out of the Top End.”

“At the end of the day, the Government can’t force [airlines] to say, ‘your flights are too expensive, you must change them’,” Ms McIver said.

“However, hopefully some political pressure that comes out of this inquiry will make the airlines stand up and realise you can’t take it out on regional Australia.”

This is not the first Senate inquiry looking into the cost of airfares in the Northern Territory.

In July, the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia visited Alice Springs, Darwin and Yulara as part of its inquiry into stimulating northern Australian tourism.

While the inquiry is yet to hand down its recommendations, tourism bodies have said increasing the number of discount domestic airlines would unlock tourism in the Northern Territory.

Darwin International Airport’s submission also called for the Passenger Movement Charge, a flat rate tax of about $60 applied to all passengers, to be reduced.

Earlier in the year Qantas announced discounted airfares of up to 30 per cent for some regional locations in Queensland and Western Australia.

The inquiry is slated to visit Darwin in March.

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