Monday, March 3, 2014

Qantas future goes to Federal Cabinet

By Business editor Peter Ryan

The future of Qantas will be high on the agenda when federal Cabinet meets later today.

Today's deliberations will be the first of many after last week's announcement that five thousand Qantas staff will be sacked as the airline seeks to save two billion dollars over three years.

Qantas has been lobbying the federal government for months to provide a standby debt guarantee or to change the Qantas Sale Act which restricts foreign ownership to 49 percent.

However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week dashed the airline's hope of a debt guarantee last week saying that if the commonwealth made it available to one company it would have to offer it to everyone.

Instead, Mr Abbott is expected to focus on the Qantas Sale Act which he has described as "a ball and chain" which restricts the airline’s ability to attract foreign investors.

Coalition hardliners, such as the Nationals leader Warren Truss, are sceptical of the Qantas claims and are reluctant to immediately support moves to overhaul the current foreign ownership restrictions.

Any move to change to Qantas Sale Act will be blocked by the Senate and last week Mr Abbott called on Labor to provide bipartisan support.

Qantas maintains the current limits put it at a disadvantage to its chief rival Virgin Australia which has been able to able to raise capital from three state own airlines, Air New Zealand, Ethihad and Singapore Airlines.

Qantas has rejected a compromise proposal to maintain the 49 percent foreign limit while easing single ownership limits within the cap to manage fears that Qantas could fall out of majority Australian ownership.

A spokesman told the ABC this morning: "you either level the playing field or not. Just tilting it doesn't fix anything".

Meanwhile, The Greens and independent senator Nick Xenophon will ask for any inquiry into the future of Qantas when parliament resumes today.

However, without Labor support the move is likely to fail.

Qantas has also refused to rule out the option of taking Virgin Australia to court over claims its has manipulated foreign ownership rules.

Last week, Qantas and Virgin revealed after tax profit losses of $235 million and $84 million as a discounting war on domestic routes damages both airlines.