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Radical plan for the Australian government to buy back Qantas three decades after it was privatised

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A powerful trade union wants the government to buy back Qantas for $9billion so passengers aren’t ripped off, accusing bosses of ‘pocketing billions’ in taxpayer subsidies. 

The Transport Workers Union is circulating a petition calling on the federal government to nationalise the carrier in the interests of protecting jobs.

‘Qantas is one of our best known and loved national icons,’ it said.

‘It needs protection from a dictatorship-style management that is pocketing billions in public subsidies and hurting our economy by sacking and stealing from workers.’ 

With Qantas now having a 74 per cent market share, the union’s national secretary Michael Kaine said the travellers faced paying higher airfares, especially on regional routes previously serviced by just REX Airlines.

‘What the Australian public is facing is its own funding being used against it as Qantas strives for a near monopoly situation,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘This will result in higher air fares and less choice, as a monopoly would allow Qantas to kill off regional routes which are less lucrative.’

Qantas hit back at the union, pointing out it was on track to lose $16billion by June 30 since the start of the Covid pandemic, adding the two-year pay freeze had also applied to management. 

A powerful trade union in the Labor Party wants the government to buy back Qantas so passengers aren't ripped off. Pictured is chief executive Alan Joyce

A powerful trade union in the Labor Party wants the government to buy back Qantas so passengers aren’t ripped off. Pictured is chief executive Alan Joyce

‘Qantas has a dedicated myth busting page on our website to deal with the litany of false and misleading claims from the TWU,’ a spokesman told Daily Mail Australia.

The airline last year also retrenched 8,500 staff and has received $2billion in support from taxpayers, mainly through the JobKeeper wage subsidies.

‘The majority of government support we’ve received has been through JobKeeper, which has been a lifeline for our employees who were stood down,’ a Qantas spokesman said.

With Australia closed to international tourists until at least 2022, the government has propped up the aviation sector with a $1.2billion package to provide, until July 31, half-price flights to 13 destinations.

Qantas is the main beneficiary of the taxpayer-funded program providing discount flights to the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays, the Sunshine Coast, Alice Springs, Kangaroo Island, Geelong and Merimbula on the New South Wales South Coast.

Despite the pandemic, the flying kangaroo airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce was last year paid a base salary with benefits of $1.744million, down significantly from $9.997million in 2019 when he received a series of long-term incentive bonuses.

As the owner of 2.892 million shares, he also has a stake in the company worth $13.652million with the Qantas share price at $4.71 on Monday.

The Transport Workers Union is circulating a petition calling on the federal government to nationalise the national carrier in the interests of protecting jobs

The Transport Workers Union is circulating a petition calling on the federal government to nationalise the national carrier in the interests of protecting jobs

The flying kangaroo airline last year boasted to shareholders of having a 74 per cent market share, with its key rival Virgin Australia now owned by American private equity group Bain Capital.

Former prime minister Paul Keating’s Labor government privatised the national airline in 1992 with the Qantas Sale Act stipulating it had to have its headquarters in Australia.

In 2001, Helen Clark’s Labour government in New Zealand bought an 83 per cent stake in Air New Zealand, just 13 years after David Lange’s Labour government had privatised it.

Her National Party successor John Key in 2014 sold down the government’s stake in the airline but it still retains a 52 per cent ownership in the Kiwi carrier. 

Former prime minister Paul Keating's Labor government privatised the national airline in 1992 with the Qantas Sale Act stipulating it had to have its headquarters in Australia. Pictured is the Transport Workers Union petition

Former prime minister Paul Keating’s Labor government privatised the national airline in 1992 with the Qantas Sale Act stipulating it had to have its headquarters in Australia. Pictured is the Transport Workers Union petition

Despite New Zealand’s history of buying back an airline, the TWU petition had only amassed 250 signatures calling on Australia to do the same thing.

But the TWU is powerful within Labor’s Right faction, with senator Tony Sheldon a former national secretary of the union.

In April last year, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese called for the government to either extend a line of credit to Virgin or buy an equity stake as it went into voluntary administration, leaving 16,000 jobs in jeopardy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison that rejected call, before Bain Capital bought it.

Labor’s transport frontbencher Catherine King has, for now, stopped short of explicitly endorsing the TWU’s call to nationalise Qantas. 

‘With the pandemic continuing and the government’s vaccine and quarantine failures leading to domestic border closures making a return, it is more essential than ever that the Morrison Government comes up with plan for Australian aviation and the industries that rely on it,’ she told Daily Mail Australia. 

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