Liberal and Nationals MPs have backed a government decision to repeal foreign ownership restrictions on Qantas.

Federal coalition MPs have endorsed a government move to allow Qantas to take on majority foreign ownership.

A bill to repeal part three of the Qantas Sale Act was presented to a joint party meeting on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the meeting the bill had been announced on Monday night, before it went to the party room, because of market sensitivity.

Mr Abbott said there would be many economic difficulties in coming years, but the coalition had a guiding principle to get it through.

A principle was like a compass or a light on a hill, he said.

“Our light is freedom – we are the freedom party,” he said, adding that the best thing the government could do was “liberate” people to have a go.

Transport Minister Warren Truss told the meeting that Middle Eastern and Asian airlines were making it difficult for Australian airlines to compete internationally, and the battle over domestic routes had left Qantas and Virgin “bleeding”.

Qantas would still be subject to other laws such as those covering foreign investment and air navigation.

Mr Truss said there was no guarantee the government would get its legislation through the Senate.

Four MPs spoke on the bill, all of whom were in favour.