A major union is threatening strike action after Qantas announced it is axing 5000 jobs over three years.
Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon has called on the federal government to meet with the airline to find ways of avoiding the job cuts.
"But if (Treasurer) Joe Hockey's not prepared to do that, then it's industrial action that the workforce should be considering," Mr Sheldon told reporters in Sydney.
"In this country, if the government won't stand up for jobs and for the Australian icon, then we will."
The Abbott government insists it is up to Qantas management to determine the future of the ailing airline in the wake of its $252 million first-half loss.
But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the government deeply regretted the company's plan to axe 5000 jobs in a bid to dramatically cut costs.
She used the decision to push the case for repeal of the carbon tax, which costs Qantas more than $100 million a year.
"The role of government is to ensure it is easier to do business in Australia, not harder," Ms Bishop told reporters in Canberra.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accused the government of coming up with thought bubbles instead of serious action.
"This is the worst day for aviation people since the collapse of Ansett," he told reporters.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon, a vocal critic of Qantas management, has called for a judicial inquiry taking aim at CEO Alan Joyce.
"The jobs that should have been lost are Alan Joyce and his board," he said.
Mr Shorten says debate about the Qantas Sale Act, which limits foreign ownership in the airline, is not the immediate issue.
Instead it should be offering Qantas a government-guaranteed stand-by line of credit.
Mr Shorten said governments around the world invested in their airlines.
"We'd be the bunnies if we waved goodbye to an Australian icon," he said.
The opposition leader predicted the government would blame the airline's woes on the carbon tax, workers and the previous Labor government.
"They'll be like pets returning to their dinner," he said.
Opposition Labor transport spokesman Anthony Albanese noted foreign ownership of Qantas had not reached the 49 per cent cap.
Most Qantas jobs go outside Victoria: premier
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine says he understands most of the Qantas job losses will be in other states.
Dr Napthine also said he believes the 5000 positions being axed include those at Avalon, which have already been announced.
He is still seeking information about the geographic breakdown of the job losses to assess the impact on Victoria, where about 5700 people are employed by Qantas and Jetstar.
"We are working with Qantas to work out the impact on Victoria," Dr Napthine told reporters.
Three hundred workers will lose their jobs when Qantas closes its heavy maintenance base at Avalon near Geelong at the end of March.
A review found there was not enough work to keep the base viable for the company's soon-to-be-retired fleet of Boeing 747s.
Australian Services Union state secretary Ingrid Stitt said she was very concerned about anyone losing their job in Victoria given the current climate.
"There are thousands of people employed in Victoria by Qantas and Jetstar and across the Qantas group," she told reporters at Melbourne Airport.
"It is going to be really important that we fight for every one of those jobs in the current economic climate."
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the Victorian government should have lobbied harder to save the jobs.
"This is a tragedy," he told reporters at Melbourne Airport.
"We as a state used to lead the way. Now I think we have slipped so far behind and Victorians deserve better than a premier that is a bystander, a premier that refuses to lay down a plan for jobs."
Mr Andrews said government cuts to TAFE would make it harder for sacked Qantas workers to find a new job.