Revelations Australia’s national airline does not intend to repay a whopping $2.7 billion in taxpayer-funded payments have sparked demands the government consider taking back control of the company.
Calls from the Greens to ‘renationalise’ Qantas follow Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ comments on ABC Radio National on Friday morning when he knocked back suggestions the airline should repay COVID-19 bailouts it received after its record profit result.
“There wasn't an understanding or an agreement that they would be repaid in some form,” Dr Chalmers said.
“I think what it reflects is the fact that the Australian tourism industry is making a big contribution to our economy and that's a good thing.”
Greens transport spokesperson Elizabeth Watson-Brown slammed the Treasurer, arguing that a plan to nationalise Australia’s national carrier should be considered.
“It’s galling to hear the Treasurer on radio this morning running defence for Qantas’s profits instead of holding them to account.”
“Now that Qantas is posting record profits, it’s only right that they should pay back the $2.7 billion in public money. If they refuse, the Labor government should consider taking Qantas back into public ownership to keep prices down and protect workers.”
Qantas was privatised in 1992 as part of a wider sell off of major government assets by the Hawke-Keating governments in a bid to enhance Australia’s economic efficiency. Other assets privatised included the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra.
On Thursday, Qantas Group announced a record full-year statutory profit of $1.74bn after it incurred more than $7bn of statutory loss during the pandemic.
The announcement has subsequently renewed calls by the Greens and the Transport Workers’ Union for Qantas to repay the $2.7bn in pandemic-era bailouts it received, which have been rejected by the airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce.
“Should we refund that? No, we provided a service,” Mr Joyce told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
Companies including Harvey Norman, Cochlear, Mirvac, SEEK and Blackmores have returned hundreds of millions of dollars in JobKeeper subsidies to the tax office after posting healthy profits during and after the pandemic.
But not Qantas.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that Qantas Group was the largest recipient of the JobKeeper scheme, claiming $160.5m in FY2020 and a further $695.5m in FY2021.
The airline also received a share of funding under the $1bn International Freight Assistance Mechanism and a $715m regional assistance package.
According to Qantas, a substantial portion of the JobKeeper payments it received was directed towards their employees despite the lay-offs of some staff, with the remainder earmarked for free-for-service freight and repeated flight operations.
The exclusion of a clawback mechanism to return JobKeeper funding to the tax office under the scheme later became the object of strong criticism.
The 2022-23 profit result was the last full-year reporting period with Mr Joyce at the helm, having led the airline for 15 years. His replacement, Qantas chief financial officer Vanessa Hudson, will assume the chief executive role from October.