Qantas urges level playing field

Alan Joyce tells inquiry airline needs same access to foreign capital as Virgin, won't guarantee no more jobs will go.

Qantas (QAN) chief financial officer Gareth Evans has told a Senate inquiry into its decision to shed 5,000 jobs that the airline is calling for a level playing field, saying every political party has agreed the national carrier is at a disadvantage.

The airline supports the government's plan to amend the Qantas Sale Act, he told the hearing.

The airline faces a record fuel bill of $4.6 billion this year and had a carbon tax bill of $106 million last year, which is a significant cost across the industry, he said.

Qantas gets no preferential treatment from government and the loss of its investment-grade credit rating has also been a blow, he said.

He said the airline could be relied on to "always put Australia first".

"There are those who say that Qantas no longer really matters to Australia. That whether Qantas sinks or swims as a business is immaterial to the future of this country. They are wrong," Mr Evans said.

"No other airline in the world can be relied upon to always put Australia first."

He pointed to the foreign stakeholders in rival Virgin, saying they had poured $300m into capacity increases while Virgin was making losses.

"It would be naive for anyone to think these sovereign airlines don't have an agenda in bankrolling our competitor. They do," Mr Evans said.

"It is a strategy directed at weakening Qantas and promoting the interests of Virgin's foreign owners," he said.

Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce is also fronting the inquiry.

Mr Joyce said the airline announced 5,000 job losses to provide clarity about planned cuts over the next few years, rather than announcing a smaller number now and more in future.

He was asked by the committee if he could guarantee that no more jobs would be cut if changes to foreign ownership caps were approved by parliament.

"I can't rule anything in or out," he said.

But if the restrictions aren't lifted, Qantas will remain under financial pressure because of "market distortion", and that distortion would cause more job losses, Mr Joyce said.

Qantas needs the same access to foreign capital as Virgin in order to compete, Mr Joyce said.

Questioned about safety concerns, Mr Joyce said the airline had reduced the average age of its fleet to be the youngest fleet since privatisation, meaning less maintenance was required.

The chief executive officer noted the increase in capacity in the Australian market over the last five years, at a higher rate than elsewhere in the world.

Labor and the Greens successfully established the inquiry after the airline announced the job cuts, and the government introduced a bill to remove foreign ownership limits in the airline.

The legislation has cleared the House of Representatives, but looks set to fail in the upper house.

Already this morning, Ian Thomas of Capa Consulting and Transport Workers' Union national secretary Tony Sheldon have appeared before the Senate inquiry.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said she hoped Mr Joyce would be forthcoming with the inquiry about the true state of the airline's financial woes.

The minor party will grill the Qantas chief about his plans for the thousands of employees on the chopping block.

"Where did Mr Joyce get that figure from?" Senator Rhiannon told ABC radio on Friday.

"A real concern is that the strategy here is to talk about 5,000 jobs, many of them will go, but then re-hire and it will be on reduced wages and conditions."

The Greens oppose easing foreign ownership restrictions on Qantas and want the government to inject capital into the struggling airline to ensure it remains majority Australian owned.

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