As the government prepares to introduce laws to allow Qantas to take on greater foreign ownership, the Senate wants to hear from the airline’s management.
Qantas managers are expected to appear before a Senate inquiry into the airline, as debate continues over what the government should do to support the company.
Labor and the Australian Greens expect the Senate on Thursday to support an inquiry into measures that would ensure Qantas remains a strong national carrier, including a government debt guarantee, equity stake and other forms of support.
The inquiry will also look at the benefits of Qantas remaining in majority Australian hands, in terms of national security, tourism marketing and emergency assistance.
The Greens say when the inquiry begins they will immediately move to have Qantas chief Alan Joyce called to give evidence, and for Qantas’ books to be opened up to examination.
Qantas last week announced it would cut 5000 jobs, ditch purchases of new aircraft and make other changes to try to save $2 billion over three years and return to profit.
The airline has succeeded in lobbying the government to change legislation allowing it to take on greater than 49 per cent foreign ownership, but had a bid for a debt guarantee or $3 billion loan facility knocked back.
Treasurer Joe Hockey on Wednesday confirmed the government had conducted due diligence at the company’s request, but concluded the best way forward was to change the Qantas Sale Act.
Mr Joyce told a business function in Sydney the airline’s management would be happy to assist any parliamentary inquiries.
He was not surprised by the government’s decision to refuse a debt guarantee.
The future of Qantas dominated question time in parliament on Wednesday, a day ahead of the government introducing its legislation.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott challenged Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to stand by Labor’s 2009 commitment to amend the Qantas Sale Act to allow foreign airlines to hold more than a 35 per cent stake in Qantas or a greater than 25 per cent stake for any single foreign shareholder.
Mr Shorten said both Mr Hockey and Transport Minister Warren Truss five years ago had said that it was in the national interest and would protect Australian jobs if the act remained unchanged.
Labor transport spokesman Anthony Albanese called on the government to release its due diligence on Qantas.
Mr Hockey said the report was commercially confidential and the government would not be revisiting the issue of either the debt guarantee or loan.
Mr Hockey said Qantas should also step up its lobbying of Labor and crossbench senators to pass the repeal laws.