On Wednesday, Queensland’s government stunned the aviation industry by confirming it was bidding for Virgin Australia. State Development Minister Cameron Dick even bullishly declared the state was a “serious contender”. It leads to the extraordinary situation that the nation’s flag carrier – originally known as Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services – could have a nationalised rival in Queensland itself. But how much did a vicious public spat with NSW and Victoria play in the state’s decision to bid? Here, Australian Aviation charts the war of words between politicians and executives over the future of Virgin Australia.
Saturday, 18 April
The Palaszczuk government announced it would offer $200 million towards a national package to support Virgin Australia, but the deal would be contingent on other states and territories also chipping in. It would also require the business, then not in administration, to undertake debt restructuring as well as maintaining its base in Brisbane. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who is also the federal Transport Minister, welcomed the offer, saying, “If we’re going to have two national airlines at the other side of this pandemic, all governments need to come together to ensure that is the case; we need a national response.”
Sunday, 19 April
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said his state had conducted “significant discussions” to provide financial assistance to Virgin. However, he hinted any deal would be contingent on the airline moving its base from Brisbane to NSW. “If Virgin were to consider being a tenant in the Aerotropolis in western Sydney as that second airport comes online, that would be a very positive thing,” Perrottet said. “I raised that with Virgin over time. It’s obviously part of the discussions that we’re having at the moment.”
Monday, 20 April
Queensland angrily hit back at NSW, with Minister Dick insisting the move would force 1,200 staff to move states to remain in a job. Minister Dick dramatically told NSW to “back right off” and said, “There is nothing more dangerous than Queenslanders with their backs to the wall.
“It’s a nonsense to think the Prime Minister would even consider a NSW plan to move the airline there.”
Tuesday, 21 April
Virgin Australia finally confirmed to the ASX that it had entered voluntary administration. Its board appointed Deloitte to handle the process but added that it would continue to operate its scheduled flights, including those underwritten by the government in order to help Australians return home after spending time in hotel quarantine.
Wednesday, 22 April
Victoria joined Queensland and NSW by seemingly throwing its hat into the ring, claiming it had considered making a bid and hinting an offer could still happen. But, like NSW, there were conditions attached.
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said, “We would expect to see more jobs come to Victoria. We are almost exactly identical in size to Sydney and in practical terms, we don’t have a major domestic carrier based here and that strikes us as a little unreasonable.”
Thursday, 23 April
Melbourne Airport’s chief executive joined in, saying that a reborn Virgin Australia should make the Victorian capital the cornerstone of its new network. Lyell Strambi said, “That doesn’t necessarily have to mean corporate HQ, though it certainly could.”
Strambi added there was an “ongoing conversation” about how to make a Melbourne move happen and claimed the city is underutilised in terms of its value as a strategic hub. “If a lean, fitter, stronger Virgin wants to rebuild, Melbourne has to be at the heart of the plan,” he said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk responded, branding the pitch as “absolutely ridiculous”. She said, “Virgin’s headquarters are here, they should stay here and we will fight to keep them here because we need it for our regional communities.”
Brisbane Airport CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff also mounted a defence for the state, claiming his city has room to grow “in spades” compared with rivals Melbourne and Sydney.
“With a new runway opening in July, Brisbane Airport will be the only non-capacity constrained, curfew free capital city airport in the country,” de Graaff said.
Friday, 29 April
Minister Dick urged Virgin Australia staff to show their support for a reborn airline remaining in Brisbane. “Virgin staff are big players in the process as creditors with upwards of $400 million worth of entitlements,” he said. “The workers have made it clear through representatives, the Transport Workers Union, they would not support moving headquarters out of Queensland. At this time, the last thing Virgin staff need is the disruption and dislocation of an interstate move.
Wednesday, 13 May
The Queensland government announced it is bidding for Virgin Australia. “This is a competitive space, but Queensland is a serious contender and our discussions with the administrators have been making progress,” Minister Dick said. “We have been very clear. Two sustainable national airlines are critical to Australia’s economy. We have an opportunity to retain not only head office and crew staff in Queensland, but also to grow jobs in the repairs, maintenance and overhaul sector and support both direct and indirect jobs in our tourism sector. We saw the punishing increase to the cost of flights after the Ansett collapse, and this government will not stand by and let that happen again.”