The chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has publicly lent his support to Virgin Australia, which is seeking a bailout to survive the coronavirus downturn.
Appearing on RN Breakfast, Rod Sims said, “We desperately need two full-service airlines when this is over. Whatever the government does is fine by me.”
The ACCC is also currently considering a complaint from Virgin chief executive Paul Scurrah against Qantas.
Sims added on the radio show that he believed airlines working together was the best answer “in times of war or pandemic”, citing multiple occasions where normal competition rules have been suspended.
This is the second time the ACCC has appeared to back Virgin. Two weeks ago, Sims said Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce’s “survival of the fittest” comments – relating to denying Virgin a bailout during the coronavirus crisis – weren’t appropriate.
Sims said, “Separate from the investigation – it’s obviously linked a bit – comments about the survival of the fittest aren’t helpful at a time when we do have a crisis and we need a more co-operative spirit to get through this.
“You would have seen today we’ve authorised the supermarkets to co-operate, last week we authorised the banks to co-operate, we’ve got a real crisis here and we need to be working together, not making statements like ‘survival of the fittest’.”
On 24 March, it was revealed that Virgin Australia’s chief executive wrote to the ACCC to formally complain about Qantas’ apparent attacks on his airline.
In the letter, obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald, Scurrah said Qantas’ actions “could cause immediate and irreparable damage to a competitive Australian air passenger transport industry”.
Scurrah continued, “Virgin Australia has seen widespread reporting of public comments from Qantas and its executive team questioning directly or indirectly Virgin Australia’s financial viability and encouraging [the] government to refrain from extending any government support for the aviation industry to Virgin Australia.”
He also accused Qantas of falsely briefing journalists that Virgin Australia’s cash reserves were running low.
Scurrah was thought to be referring to numerous statements by Joyce urging the government not to bailout Virgin.
For instance, speaking to Sky News, Joyce said, “It would be completely unfair to our sector. We’d be competing against the Australian government. Qantas couldn’t do that, it would be an unbalanced, uncompetitive environment.
“The government can’t pick winners and losers, the government has to be fair to every company. Whatever aid it’s giving to one company it must give to everyone in the sector.”
On Tuesday, it emerged that the Virgin Australia Group has asked the government for a $1.4 billion loan, according to later-confirmed reports that sparked a pause in trading on the ASX.