Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey says the restrictions of the Qantas Sale Act should be debated, saying they are a “set of handcuffs” that competitor Virgin Australia doesn’t have to wear.
“We all, as Australians, need to carefully consider whether we retain restrictions on shareholdings on Australian companies, and if we do in the national interest, then we need to be prepared to pay a price for that,” Hockey told media on Thursday. “And as far as I’m concerned, we should not be in the business of putting taxpayer’s money or putting taxpayer guarantees on the table if it’s not the view of the taxpayers that that should happen.”
Earlier Hockey had told radio station 3AW that there are costs from keeping the Qantas Sale Act, which limits total foreign ownership to 49 per cent and any single airline investor to 25 per cent.
“If voters say no … we think it should remain Australian owned and controlled and have a national carrier, then we must accept we have to pay a price for that,’’ he said.
“I don’t have a magic bullet here, but what I do know, that coming down the pipeline… Australia needs to decide whether it’s going to pay a taxpayer price for owning a national carrier.’’
And on Wednesday at a business lunch the treasurer went so far as to suggest the federal government re-investing funds into Qantas: “The days of sitting back and letting the regulation do the heavy lifting are over. We may have to put our hand in our pockets or [give] private guarantees,” he said, according to an Australian Financial Review report.
The federal opposition says it would block any moves to lift foreign ownership limits on Qantas.
“Ownership matters for air services agreements,” opposition Transport spokesman Anthony Albanese told the ABC.
But as the Treasurer said today: “The question for Australia is do we want to keep a national carrier and if we do, are we prepared to pay the price that is going to come for that.”