Former Qantas director James Packer has told breakfast radio the airline’s shareholders “would have been better off” accepting a controversial takeover bid eight years ago.
Convinced into speaking by Eddie McGuire on Triple M breakfast radio program, billionaire casino mogul Packer said the airline was in a “sad” state.
Geoff Dixon was chief executive, Margaret Jackson chairperson and Packer director of the company when it fielded an $11 billion offer from a private equity consortium including Macquarie Bank and Texas Pacific Group in 2006. At the time it was said to be a “blessing” it was avoided, as it would have deepened the company’s debt.
Ms Jackson was criticised for her support of the bid. She was pressured out of her job when the deal fell through after strong opposition from a number of quarters.
“History is going to show that from a purely economic perspective, for the shareholders at the time, Margaret was 100 per cent right,” Packer said. “With the benefit of hindsight, and hindsight is easy, I think the bid would have been good for shareholders to take back then.
“Qantas is clearly a company not doing as well as it once was and it’s an important company for Australia.”
Mr Dixon and Ms Jackson have so far refused to comment publicly on the airline’s appeal for the Government to guarantee its debt.
The political slinging match continued on the issue today with Prime Minister Tony Abbott accusing the federal opposition of being indecisive about its stance on Qantas, after Labor said it has always been prepared to amend legislative restrictions on the carrier.
Laws to remove the 49 per cent cap on foreign ownership on Qantas passed parliament’s lower house on Thursday.
The bill now goes to the Senate where Labor and the Australian Greens have the numbers to defeat the government.
Both parties are opposed to the bill over concerns its passage may send more jobs offshore.
However, Labor is reportedly preparing to compromise on the bill.
Fairfax Media reports the opposition will consider amending the bill in the Senate to remove foreign ownership limits on single investors.
Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor says Labor has always been prepared to look at amendments to the Qantas Sale Act and consider the Abbott government’s proposals.
But it will never support removing foreign investment restrictions to ensure Qantas remains in Australian hands.
“We’ve said all along we’ll look at the provisions in the (Qantas) Sale Act, that’s not new, that is something we’ve all from the beginning of this matter,” he told ABC radio on Friday.
Mr Abbott accused Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of being “weak” and indecisive on the issue of what to do with Qantas.
“The problem is that the Labor party just doesn’t know what it stands for,” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
Meanwhile, Qantas chief Alan Joyce and chairman Leigh Clifford are expected to give evidence in a Senate inquiry launched by Labor and the Greens and due to report in late March.
Mr Packer said Ms Jackson “got a tough time” because of her outspoken support for the bid. “History is going to show that from a purely economic perspective, for the shareholders at the time, Margaret was 100 per cent right,” he said. “With the benefit of hindsight, and hindsight is easy, I think the bid would have been good for shareholders to take back then.”