Qantas has been complaining of unfair competition from Virgin Australia for weeks, winning Government sympathy without actually revealing exactly what it wants changed.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce contacted state and federal governments last month complaining that a new capital raising round by Virgin Australia could put more than 80% of it in foreign hands, while Australian laws limited Qantas’ foreign ownership to 49%.
Media reports to date have speculated that the Government could buy into Qantas, guarantee its debt, or lift foreign ownership restrictions.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Brisbane radio station 4BC today that Qantas had yet to tell the Government exactly what it wanted, suggesting that he would prefer lifting foreign ownership regulations over taxpayer assistance.
Via 4BC, here’s what he said:
Obviously, as citizens, we’d like to see the flying kangaroo flourish, but our principle role as government is to ensure that we have a strong and competitive aviation sector.
I know that Alan Joyce is unhappy at what he sees as an unlevel playing field. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t settled on a specific proposal to put to the government.
I’d suggest that we need a community debate on this; we need Qantas to, I guess, settle on what it wants. Maybe it wants to see the restrictions on ownership lifted?
I’m not sure that they really want to see a new government shareholding. And the trouble with providing a government loan guarantee is, where does that stop? Once you started giving it to one business, why shouldn’t you give it to other businesses.
Now these are complex issues.
I don’t think Qantas knows yet what it wants. These are very early days for this and all of us were under the impression that Qantas was doing very well – certainly that was the public impression.
I think we’re going to take some time to digest all of this before making a decision.
There’s more in 4BC’s recording.