Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicted the government will approve changes to the Qantas Sale Act which would encourage greater levels of foreign investment.
Speaking to media on March 3, Mr Abbott said he would introduce legislation so that the QSA which restricts the levels of foreign ownership and other terms of the airline’s trade can be repealed. He added that the government was not looking to provide a debt guarantee or a line of credit to Qantas, seemingly contradicting earlier comments by Treasurer Joe Hockey.
“We will seek to repeal part three of the Qantas Sale Act in its entirety and I will be writing to Qantas as soon as this press conference is over in those terms,” Mr Abbott said. “The best way to maximise Australian jobs is to maximise Qantas’s ability to compete.”
“Removing the shackles on Qantas and allowing it to compete on a level playing field is the best guarantee for the workers [and] it is the best guarantee for the sustainability of Qantas as both a domestic and an international airline,” added Mr Hockey.
But the government’s changes are unlikely to proceed, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten saying Labor will block the legislation in the Senate, a sentiment that was echoed by the Greens. “Tonight, Tony Abbott has created a new export industry: Australian jobs,” Mr Shorten claimed. “Tonight, Tony Abbott has decided to sell the flying kangaroo overseas.”
Greens deputy leader, Adam Bandt added, “The Greens do not support changing the Qantas Sale Act so that the jobs in our national carrier go offshore. That’s the only plan that this Government has at the moment, is to flog everything off to the highest bidder.”
In a late evening statement, Qantas seemed accepting that the repeal of the QSA had little chance of passing the Senate, and again appealed for “immediate action” in its efforts to Match rival Virgin Australia’s “unlimited ability to access foreign capital from government-owned airlines to fund a loss-making strategy against Qantas,” adding that “If this proposal by the government to change the Qantas Sale Act is not passed, we would expect the Government and the Parliament to consider alternative measures to balance the un-level playing field in Australian aviation.”
In perhaps the biggest indication that Qantas hasn’t got everything it wanted, Virgin itself welcomed the government’s proposal, saying it “has no issue with the amendment or repeal of the Qantas Sale Act.”