The Abbott government should stop sitting on its hands, waiting for Qantas to collapse, the federal opposition says.
Labor’s transport spokesman Anthony Albanese says there’s a strong case for government support of the national carrier, but that does not necessarily mean a cash handout.
Calls for assistance for the airline have grown louder with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce asking the government for some form of help, such as a debt guarantee.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott supports changing the law to allow Qantas to be majority overseas-owned, but has ruled out a “free ride on the taxpayer”.
Mr Albanese says a decision to support the carrier should be made soon.
“Would a government sit on its hands … if Qantas collapsed? My argument is that that would lead pretty soon to an intervention, whomever was in office,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
Mr Albanese accused the Abbott government of prevaricating since Qantas first had its rating downgraded late last year.
“We don’t believe the government would just sit idly by and watch Qantas disappear.
“There is no reason why it should stall making the decision.”
[polldaddy poll=7803202]He said Australia risked compromising its national security and the national interest should Qantas collapse.
Labor does not support repealing the Qantas Sale Act, which would unshackle the airline from foreign ownership restrictions.
“When people see the red kangaroo on the back of a plane, that’s an ad for Australia, not just an ad for Qantas, which is why there’s a national interest question,” Mr Albanese said.
Sir Richard Branson, who owns a stake in Virgin Australia, has taken out full-page ads in Sunday newspapers warning the government against providing taxpayer assistance to Qantas.
In a letter addressed to the Australian public, the businessman said such a move would deter investors from doing business in Australia.
“Qantas has gone cap in hand to the government. If the government fill their hat, it will severely damage competition in Australia, encourage others to ask for handouts and companies worldwide will think twice before investing in Australia.”
Virgin Australia does not oppose allowing foreign ownership in Qantas but it wants any taxpayer funds to be extended to all domestic carriers, including itself.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten extended a bipartisan hand on finding a solution for Qantas but said people shouldn’t be forced to take out newspaper ads to talk to the government.
“The issue isn’t so much about shouting at each other in newspaper ads,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
“What we need is for the Abbott government … on this very important matter is to work with Labor.”