The Qantas Chairman's Lounge is an exclusive lounge within Australian airports which has been described by former-Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, as “probably the most exclusive club in the country.” Access to the lounge is invite-only, with memberships being approved for periods of 2 years a time. Members are provided food and refreshments in a restricted section of Australian airports.
Chairman’s lounge members include many Australian MPs at both the state and federal levels, high-ranking business people and CEOs, Qantas Ambassadors, celebrities, elite media personalities and leaders of major unions.
In October 2023, several MPs began returning their access to the lounge “in the name of integrity” following a series of scandals related to both the lounge and Qantas more broadly. Most recently, independent senator, David Pocock, and the Greens’ Barbara Pocock, registers of interests had been updated revealing that they were no longer members of the lounge.
Speaking to Guardian Australia, Mr. Pocock stated that access to the lounge was symptomatic of the “cosy relationship” between government and corporations:
“I just don’t think it’s worth it…It’s kind of an example of what’s wrong with Australian politics when it comes to lobbying…The use of sort of soft power and little benefits here and there that over time add up.”
Ms. Pocock stated that even the perception of a conflict of interest was reason enough to give up her access:
“I just felt uncomfortable being involved in work which holds others to account while I have a potentially perceived conflict of interest…Perception is important. You don’t have to be taking a cash kickback or … be in consultation with [former Qantas CEO] Alan Joyce to have a perception of conflict.”
Nationals Senator, Bridget McKenzie, is currently leading a Senate Inquiry into the federal government's recent decision to block Qatar Airways’ bid to double its flights to Australia cities. As part of this investigation, the committee has also been reviewing whether Qantas’ lobbying had influenced the government in its decision-making.
When asked whether Ms. McKenzie saw her access to the lounge as being a conflict of interest against her role as committee chair on the inquiry, she dismissed the assertion:
“If Qantas wants to kick me out tomorrow, so be it, you know, it’s been a lovely experience over a period of time…But at the end of the day, it should stop none of us doing our job and that is holding them accountable.”