Qantas sale act changes stalled

JAMES MASSOLA
Last updated 15:04 26/03/2014

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The Australian government's plan to abolish part three of the Qantas Sale Act and lift foreign ownership restrictions on the airline has stalled in the Senate and could be delayed for months.

The Coalition attempted to fast track debate on the changes today, but the move was blocked by Labor.

The bill is now unlikely to return to the Senate this week and the next opportunity to resume debate is in budget week, which begins on May 13.

But sources on all sides of the political divide admit debate about the federal budget, Senate estimates hearings in June and the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes scheduled for the first sitting of the new Senate in July could push back debate and a final vote until August.

The delay on the vote on the Sale Act adds new uncertainty to Qantas' future and comes as the airline negotiates with unions and its employees about how and where it will cut 5000 full time jobs and cut A$2 billion ($2.1 billion) in costs.

Earlier this month, the federal government ruled out giving the airline the debt guarantee it had sought and instead resolved to lift the 49 per cent ownership cap on Qantas as well as other requirements that Qantas' head office remain in Australia and that its principle operations centre for maintenance, catering, administration at and training remain in Australia.

Part three of the Sale Act also restricts one foreign airline from buying more than 35 per cent of Qantas and more than 25 per cent of the airline being owned by one foreign person.

The Greens oppose the proposed changes to the Sale Act.

Labor transport spokesman Anthony Albanese is understood to be moving towards proposing a compromise position that would see the so-called "35/25" provisions raised to 49 per cent, though that decision has not been finalised as some in the ALP oppose any change at all.

Fully or partially lifting the foreign ownership provisions is designed to allow Qantas to bring in the foreign capital the airline is seeking to bolster it in its fierce battle for domestic market share with competitor Virgin Blue.

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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