"A bill lifting the 49 per cent foreign ownership restriction in Qantas Sale Act, cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday". Photo: Bloomberg
Qantas felt it was urged to complain more loudly about the carbon tax in order to rebuild its damaged relationship with the Abbott government, according to a source from the airline.
That feeling appears to have prompted a Qantas media release on Wednesday revealing for the first time a half-year carbon tax bill of $59 million.
It came shortly after a telephone conversation between Treasurer Joe Hockey and the airline's chief executive, Alan Joyce.
"We haven't leaned on the carrier": Joe Hockey.
Confirming the talks on Thursday, just minutes before legislation was introduced to repeal the foreign ownership restrictions in the Qantas Sale Act, Mr Hockey denied he had applied pressure on the airline to clarify the tax's negative impact on its battered balance sheet.
''No, not at all, we haven't leaned on the carrier,'' Mr Hockey said.
Yet Fairfax Media has learned senior management felt, through general public statements and private communications, that the government wanted it to make more of the carbon tax's part in its $252 million half-year loss announced last week.
Relations between the national carrier and the Abbott government had turned sharply south on Monday when, as cabinet was discussing a request for a debt guarantee, the airline issued a statement seen as contradicting the Treasurer.
The statement, which was released after Mr Hockey had said Mr Joyce had blamed the carbon tax for a significant part of the company's loss, said: ''The major issues [facing] Qantas are not related to the carbon tax.''
The government viewed the statement as deliberately unhelpful and evidence Qantas was not as financially stressed as claimed.
Mr Hockey said on Thursday that Mr Joyce had since dismissed the statement as an ''entirely incorrect'' interpretation of the carbon tax impact and one erroneously issued by a ''low-level person'' at Qantas.
The opposition, however, dismissed the suggestion that a multibillion-dollar listed company had made unscripted public comments, with one insider describing the claim as ''complete bullshit''.
The allegation of government pressure comes as the Senate prepares to launch two inquiries into the airline, looking at the impact on jobs arising from the repeal of existing foreign ownership limits.
A bill lifting the 49 per cent foreign ownership restriction in Qantas Sale Act, cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday, 83 votes to 53, after a rancorous debate in which Labor leader Bill Shorten branded Coalition MPs ''the cheese-eating surrender monkeys of Australian jobs''.
In question time Labor continued its attack, insinuating that Qantas' safety record would be compromised if a foreign takeover resulted in more of the airline's maintenance work being done overseas.
That brought an angry response from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who said instead of taking part in a debate, the opposition should take part in a rescue.
The bill faces defeat in the Senate at the hands of a Labor-Greens alliance, although Labor has signalled it is prepared to discuss subsidiary limits on individual airline holdings and a cap on individual equity.