This morning I joined Fairfax Media host Chris Hammer and Liberal MP Andrew Laming for a wide-ranging discussion including the importance of keeping Qantas in Australian hands, protecting the Great Barrier Reef and concerns about the potential harm of winding back racial vilification laws.
BREAKING POLITICS – FAIRFAX MEDIA
MONDAY, 3 MARCH 2014
SUBJECT/S: Qantas Sales Act and jobs; ‘Green Army’ and jobs; Great Barrier Reef and tourism jobs; Offshore processing of asylum seekers; Repeal of hate speech laws.
CHRIS HAMMER: Well, the big political story of the day is undoubtedly Qantas with Cabinet meeting to decide on what assistance if any the Government can give it. Joining me to discuss this issue and others in Andrew Laming, the Liberal Member for Bowman in Queensland and Andrew Leigh, Assistant Shadow Treasurer and Labor Member for Fraser in the ACT. Gentlemen, there seems to be a standoff here. You’ve got the Government saying it doesn’t want to give a debt guarantee for Qantas. You’ve got Labor saying it doesn’t want to relax the Qantas Sales Act at least as far as foreign ownership’s concerned. Andrew Laming, can you see any way through this impasse?
ANDREW LAMING: Well, these are options that are being considered today by Cabinet. I must admit that I sense that Qantas must be feeling positively manhandled by political commentators at the moment. We’ve had every imaginable recipe for their survival. But in the end the affairs rest in the hands of the company itself. They’ve got to find that balance to look after shareholders, staff and customers and I’m just hoping that can be done as seamlessly and painlessly as possible and those options are in the hands of Cabinet effectively.
HAMMER: Is there any qualitative difference between Qantas and the carmakers? With the car markers most Australians weren’t buying Fords and Holdens, they were buying imported Hyundais. It’s the same with holidays and going overseas. They’re just buying tickets on price. Should the Government be intervening to help Qantas?
LAMING: Well, certainly airlines are a more internationalised sector, so that means if we wish to retain some of sense of Australian identity, then we’re going to have to look at every competitive advantage for Qantas in an open market, not unfair support. But in the end these are decisions for the company. They have to look after their own affairs and the more we interfere, even if we think it’s benign, may just prolong the inevitable. We need the company making long term decisions for their survival.
HAMMER: What’s the inevitable?
LAMING: Well, the inevitable is increasing competition. The inevitable is getting rid of the carbon tax here in Australia which costs Qantas $106 million last year. These are things that we can do to improve things immediately for the immediate survival of Qantas as John Borghetti at Virgin pointed out just recently.
HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, Labor has suggested giving Qantas a debt guarantee but that seems to be off the table. Tony Abbott’s ruled that out. On the Qantas Sales Act is there room to move there from Labor’s point of view?
ANDREW LEIGH: Chris, we’re in this strange situation at the moment where Qantas has asked for a debt guarantee and the Government has now said no after having given very clear indications that it would provide such a guarantee with the four-part test laid out with Joe Hockey in December. Qantas hasn’t asked for a change to the Qantas Sale Act and yet the Government is pushing that as its number one solution. So, it really does seem to me that when it comes to saving the Flying Kangaroo the Government is flying chicken. It’s not doing what the company is asking for and is instead pursuing a route which, if it were successful, would see us lose our national carrier. We would effectively see Qantas become a foreign owned airline.