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Abbott targets Qantas Sales Act

Tony Abbott wants to repeal the Qantas Sales Act, saying Qantas would still remain majority Australian-owned. Labor disagrees.

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An attempt to force Qantas chief Alan Joyce to open his airline's books to the scrutiny of senators seems likely to fail, with the opposition preferring to keep the heat on the government over Prime Minister Tony Abbott's reluctance to provide a debt guarantee for the airline.

The Greens and independent senator Nick Xenophon will move to establish an urgent inquiry into the future of Qantas when Parliament resumes on Monday and want to question Mr Joyce directly.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese respond to the Qantas announcement at Parliament House in Canberra.

Saving airline jobs the priority: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese respond to the Qantas announcement at Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares

But the Labor Party is unlikely to support the move, and without ALP numbers, the attempt to establish a Senate inquiry will fail.

Instead, the opposition will keep up direct political pressure on the government.

''Labor's immediate priority is for the government to stop talking and to start defending jobs in the aviation industry,'' opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said.

Senator Nick Xenophon

Said a wide-ranging inquiry was crucial: Senator Nick Xenophon. Photo: Penny Bradfield

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said in a statement on Monday that cabinet was ''hopelessly divided on Qantas''.

''The Prime Minister has spent months lecturing Qantas to get its house in order. It's time Mr Abbott took his own advice – it's time he got his own house in order,'' he said.   

''This policy paralysis from the Prime Minister and his Treasurer has to end.

''Labor is prepared to work with the government on Qantas – the issue is too important for political games.''

But Mr Abbott toughened his stance against a debt guarantee, saying it would result in a flood of demands for similar treatment.

''If you offer it to Qantas you've got to offer it to Virgin, you've got to offer it to Rex, and indeed to any other airlines that put their hand up,'' the Prime Minister told Channel Ten's Bolt Report.

''It is the job of government to ensure that, as far as is humanly possible, essential services are delivered, but it is not the job of government to play favourites between particular businesses.''

Mr Abbott wants Parliament to alter the Qantas Sales Act to allow greater foreign investment in the airline, but Labor and the Greens say it would allow more jobs to be shifted overseas.

The cabinet will discuss Qantas's plight on Monday morning. The ACTU said Mr Abbott and his cabinet had a clear choice: save Qantas workers, or open the way to sack even more of them.

''Tony Abbott can be the Prime Minister he said he would be and stick up for jobs by providing Qantas with a debt guarantee,'' ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said.

''The alternative is that Tony Abbott can deny Qantas a debt guarantee, throw the national airline into further turmoil and uncertainty and open the gates for Alan Joyce to sack even more workers.''

Reacting to Transport Workers Union threats of industrial action at Qantas, Mr Abbott said Qantas needed a partnership between staff and management.

''I want to see the staff and the management of Qantas working together to save a great airline, and plainly the last thing that would help Qantas right now is industrial disruption,'' Mr Abbott said.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said a Senate inquiry would offer an opportunity ''to bring forward a solution that will protect the thousands of workers and their families who will pay the price if Abbott and Joyce get away with their brutal plans for Qantas''.

Senator Xenophon said a wide-ranging inquiry was crucial because ''one of the world's greatest airlines has been brought to its knees by a management and board that's clueless''.

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