Qantas ownership relaxed
The government announces its intention to allow greater foreign investment in Qantas, raising the possibility the airline may split into domestic and international carriers.PT2M16S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-34188 620 349 March 4, 2014
Tony Abbott has arrived at the only outcome he thought acceptable on Qantas, even though he had to roll his Treasurer to do it.
But the word ''outcome'' may be premature.
The implications for Qantas of Monday's political manoeuvre are unknown. Photo: Glenn Hunt
Notwithstanding its apparent reform boldness, this is more a political strategy than an outcome, as such.
Qantas management wanted the debt guarantee. Joe Hockey agreed. Indeed, he argued very persuasively that the airline met four important criteria enabling it to be regarded as a genuinely special case.
Hockey did more than hint strongly that this was where the government would end up. He presented the underlying argument. Markets may have even priced in the Hockey hints.
Qantas, he said, faced competition from an airline competitor - Virgin Australia - that was, in effect, sovereign-backed because of investment by Etihad and Air New Zealand. Qantas carried special responsibilities as the national carrier in terms of security and the national interest. It was busy doing the hard things to repair its balance sheet. And of course, it was in a straight-jacket imposed by the restrictive terms of the Qantas Sale Act.
Now all that has been dumped. And the questions that arise are numerous. Where does it leave Qantas, given that Labor will oppose any change to the act that could be used to either end the national carrier, and or send any jobs overseas?
Management had viewed changes to the act as, first, a political pipe-dream, and, second, not germane to its immediate problem.
Just months ago it lost its investment grade rating and was relegated to junk status. It wanted that credit rating repaired.
Now the government has changed course. But the Parliament remains as it was before; the numbers simply are not there in the Senate. Neither are they likely to be there in the new Senate, after Clive Palmer made it abundantly clear where his party stood.
So what's the point?
The other big question is where does this leave Hockey? The Treasurer's attitude at the Monday press conference was noticeably taciturn.
Was this merely a Clayton's fix designed to defeat Labor on the politics, rather than address Qantas' real problem? No, he said, firmly but without expansion.
The implications for Qantas of Monday's political manoeuvre are unknown.
The implications for the government politically are more easily read. It now has a story to tell to voters and a line to bash Labor over the head with.
But if governing is about results rather than rhetoric, then the ledger of this current approach looks decidedly thinner.
It might be more accurate to say the Qantas problem has been passed on, rather than fixed.