Qantas: Shorten, Labor Should Get Over Themselves

POSTURING by opposition “leader” Bill Shorten and his MPs on the fraught subject of Qantas is aimed squarely at pandering to their mates in the union movement, with a cavalier disregard for the welfare of the airline irrespective of proclamations to the contrary; Shorten and his cohorts might think themselves clever for devising a potential roadblock for the government, but should Qantas fail at any point, the ALP will wear the blame for it.

For a party that likes to accuse the Liberals of acting on “thought bubbles,” the criticism from the ALP that the Abbott government has “spent three months dithering” in relation to what to do about Qantas — and its request for some form of assistance — is a curious one indeed.

Perhaps Labor would have preferred the government to run off, half-cocked, on the first lame-brained tangent it came up with; then again, had Abbott done precisely that, ALP voices would be heard in thunderous unison screaming of recklessness and a dangerous unsuitability to be trusted with the levers of governance in this country.

In other words — if you’re Tony Abbott — you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

It’s a telling point, because stripping away Labor’s response to the solution the Coalition will try to legislate in an attempt to tool Qantas up to sort itself out, the ALP position amounts to nothing more than a blatant attempt to shore up the bailiwick of its union mates.

It has nothing to do with concern for Qantas: in fact, if Labor had its way, Qantas would collapse.

For those not across the detail of what the Coalition is proposing to do on the question of the difficulties Qantas faces, the short version is: no renationalisation (the Liberals are correct to maintain governments shouldn’t own and/or operate airlines), no debt guarantee (the argument that Virgin, Rex, and indeed any other company in trouble could legitimately make similar claims of the taxpayer is a valid one), and no taking the “easy option” of doing nothing.

Rather, the government will attempt to repeal the section of the Qantas Sale Act that places restrictions around the level of foreign ownership it can take on, alongside reforms that will mandate the retention of Qantas International in majority Australian ownership but allow Qantas Domestic to be as foreign-owned as the market will support: subject to regulatory approvals and the approval of the Foreign Investment Review Board.

In other words, removing the barriers to Qantas being able to operate on exactly the same basis as Virgin does, with its 77% foreign-owned domestic operations the conduit for some $350 million in capital raising it undertook last year — money which, by the way, came from the three state-owned airlines that also own Virgin domestic.

I would have thought this was a fair enough outcome, and a middle path through the options that were on the table that should have been broadly acceptable to all of the stakeholders involved.

Not so, of course, if you’re the ALP.

It seems to matter not that until yesterday, Labor had been making conscientious-style noises — replete with furrowed brows and anxious expressions — about “working with” the government to find “a compromise” over revising the allowable foreign ownership levels for Qantas; confronted with a solid option by the government the ALP has simply reverted to type in attacking it.

Let’s have a look at the latest drivel from Labor over Qantas, and get to the bottom of its objections.

“How on earth do you free an airline by selling it off overseas, by sacking people?” Shorten asks rhetorically, as if drawing attention to some deep and underlying stupidity he is bent on exposing.

Well…at the risk of throwing fuel on Labor’s “slashing pay and conditions” bonfire, allowing Qantas to send some maintenance work to internationally-accredited facilities in other countries might allow it to recoup some of the money its union-orchestrated enterprise bargaining agreements have inflicted on it.

“We say that when it comes to Australian jobs and Qantas’ need to engage a majority of its activity right here in Australia (the Qantas Sale Act is) worthy of support. (It’s) there for a reason,” fumed deputy Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

Whatever the rationale of the Keating government for putting the Qantas Sale Act in place back in 1995, it’s fairly clear Labor’s stout defence of it starts and finishes at its concern to keep union members on the sloshing gravy train they have enjoyed — jeopardising Qantas’ very viability — for far too long.

Shorten — in rationalising Labor’s intention to block the changes to the Qantas Sale Act in the Senate — pompously asserts there is “no way” Labor would be a party to finishing off jobs and aviation in Australia. Yet if the ALP persists with its approach, it is likely to facilitate precisely that.

It all boils down to three inescapable truths, none of which serve Qantas, most of its workers, or the national interest.

1. The only jobs Labor is interested in protecting are union jobs.

2. Labor would prefer an extinct Qantas than one with a long-term future involving a higher proportion of foreign ownership and some of its maintenance done offshore to help it compete internationally.

3. Labor is so blinded by trying to stick its thumbs in Tony Abbott’s eyes that it is incapable of engaging in reasoned and intelligent public debate.

Four, I might add, is the elevation of the union movement above — literally — every other consideration of governance, or aspect of Australian society: expect this theme to be a developing one in the Coalition’s assault against Labor as its term in office progresses; the more this lesson is served up to Labor on the platter of electoral oblivion, the more determined it is to ignore it.

At some point, Labor is going to have to accept the fact that its union buddies have priced their members out of the markets in which they are employed. There is a reason SPC is at risk of collapse as cheap fruit, of comparable quality, can be sourced from places like South Africa for a fraction of the cost SPC produces it for. There is a reason why the car makers are leaving Australia, and it has nothing to do with Tony Abbott: at US $3,900 per car dearer for the likes of Holden and Toyota to make cars in Australia instead of somewhere else — incidentally, the labour cost differential — it was inevitable they would decide to do so, no matter how much protectionist subsidy money were to be thrown at them.

And there is a reason airlines like Emirates and China Southern are expanding at an exponential rate while Qantas is shrinking and haemorrhaging money: the foreigners cost less to run, pure and simple. Like it or not, having licensed aircraft engineers running around earning $180,000 per annum each simply isn’t sustainable — and specious arguments built around “oh, but the base rate is a quarter of that” don’t cut it; if the aeroplane mechanic is being paid $3,550 per week, that’s his cost to Qantas. The so-called “base rate” is an irrelevant red herring, although of course it is — it’s meant to be. The unions have to have something to hang their claims of impoverished members on.

This country needs to be operated for the sole benefit of the trade union movement like it needs the proverbial hole in the head. This latest posturing around Qantas is proof of it.

It does need to be reiterated that until the government announced its proposed changes to the Qantas Sale Act, Labor was making noises about supporting changes to allowable foreign ownership thresholds for Qantas; viewed through that prism, the game — hot air and bullshit to mask its real position of subservience to the unions — is laid bare.

And all the while, Labor’s political objective — to render Australia ungovernable under the Coalition — may appear, on the surface, to be progressing better than it did than the last time Labor tried this stuff in the wake of its defeat in 1996.

This time, however, the fallout is far more likely to boomerang on Labor; any double dissolution election fought on the Coalition’s inability to get anything other than a continuation of Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government policies past the Senate is likely to be lost very badly indeed by the ALP.

As for Clive Palmer — with his eponymous party designed more to cause trouble than to present serious, plausible solutions — it is difficult to believe his opposition amounts to anything other than yet another attempt to “stick it to” the Coalition parties, having flounced out of the Queensland LNP unable to extract what he wanted from it in government.

Palmer, whose position on Qantas is indistinguishable from Labor’s, would do well to remember that with the exception of his electorate of Fairfax (where most of his primary vote was drawn from Labor and the Greens) his party is dependent everywhere else on support siphoned away from the Coalition under the guise of presenting a conservative alternative to the major parties.

No reputable opinion poll has found a groundswell of support for a renationalisation of Qantas, a government guarantee of its debt or simply leaving it to its own devices to see whether it…erm…sinks or swims.

It follows, therefore, that the course of action outlined by Abbott is the only option consistent with public opinion on this issue, and Palmer — like Labor — may end up paying a heavy political price for what is little more than a stunt, but a dangerous one indeed when the long-term viability and survival of Qantas is at stake.

Just like his unlikely bedfellows at the ALP, Palmer and his troublemaking party should get over themselves.

 

Surely, Qantas Is Better Alive And Shared Than Extinct?

TIME HAS PROVEN the Qantas Sale Act to be a red herring; rather than a protection for an Australian airline in Australian ownership, headquartered and managed in Australia, this well-intentioned but misguided legislative time bomb now threatens to detonate, wiping out the airline and tens of thousands of jobs with it. The cavalier attitude of those able to help is astonishing. Surely a partly foreign-owned Qantas is preferable to an extinct one?

Once again, Qantas is in the news; not for the right reasons, and not (directly) of its own making.

Before we get started I want to make it clear that the renationalisation of Qantas, government guarantees of its debt, and other silliness publicly indulged in by those who should know better are the last things I would ever advocate: maybe, maybe, if it ever came down to Qantas folding or not, there could be a case for the government taking it over, restructuring the living daylights out of it, then privatising it again. But that time is not now, and there remains a number of other options to try before anything so drastic is even contemplated.

I read an article in The Australian yesterday that had me shaking my head, ruling out as it does the prospect of either relaxing or abolishing altogether the provisions of the Qantas Sale Act that prohibit majority foreign ownership of the airline, and place restrictions on the size of the shareholding individual foreign investors are able to take in it.

At the time the Keating government privatised Qantas in 1995, the Qantas Sale Act was in some respects justifiable, if not a textbook case of hypocrisy. That sale followed the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank, an institution not subjected to the same market-distorting restrictions that Qantas was encumbered with.

But Qantas held (and I contend, still holds) a unique place in the modern Australian psyche, and even those who openly refuse to ever fly on it still confess to feeling some kind of affection when they see Qantas planes on airport tarmacs thousands of miles from home. This is what Keating sought to safeguard: the legend of the flying kangaroo, the spirit of Australia, with its fearsome reputation for safety, reliability, and service. And so dreaded foreigners were prohibited by law from owning more than 49% of it, foreign airlines investing in Qantas no more than 35% in total, and no single foreign investor or entity more than 25%.

Admirable, but utterly misguided.

An early warning of the pointlessness of the Qantas Sale Act came in late 2006, when a quaintly named consortium known as Airline Partners Australia — cleverly structured to comply with the Qantas Sale Act despite a significant shareholding by US private equity funds — narrowly failed to win the required 50% acceptance rate needed for its takeover attempt to succeed, despite carrying the endorsement of the Qantas board of the day. It was widely speculated  at the time that the primary objective of the takeover, had it been successful, was to siphon out about $3 billion in cash Qantas continues to hold on its books even now before disposing of the airline in a fire sale.

(The bulk of the money held as cash by Qantas is to fund accrued workers’ entitlements, just in case anyone thinks it’s crying poor whilst sitting on a war chest).

It showed that compliance with the Qantas Sale Act did not equate to the longevity or prosperity of the airline itself. It would almost certainly have been fatal to Qantas’ business had it proceeded, just 18 months out from a savage global downturn that hit aviation businesses disproportionately hard, and robbing Qantas as it would have of the very liquidity that had made it an attractive target to begin with.

It is instructive to revisit the episode given the supposedly competitive environment Qantas now finds itself operating in. But first, I want — very openly — to kick the anti-union can around a bit, for reasons that will become obvious a little later.

Longstanding readers will recall that back in 2011 when Qantas CEO Alan Joyce grounded the airline in response to militant union bastardry and rampant industrial action over a series of ambit pay demands, I came down in this column very firmly on the side of the airline and its management and against the unions. Most will find such a judgement to be of no surprise. The management, however, happened to be right.

More recently, I shared this little gem, which provides a salutary insight into just how mad, bad and dangerous the unions in this country really are to business and to jobs (and jobs at Qantas especially), despite their grandiose but empty rhetoric about the rights and conditions of the worker: the end destination of this madness is to drive the companies to the wall, and the people they employ onto the scrap heap. So much for constructive workplace relations, union-style.

There are two reasons I bring this up.

Firstly, Qantas — like the car manufacturing companies and a number of other Australian “legacy” brands — has reached a tipping point with its labour costs; simply stated, that point lies where the continuing perpetuation of enterprise bargaining agreements that secure rolling wage rises year in, year out and usually well above the rate of inflation has become unsustainable. It is no secret that in spite of the billions of dollars in taxpayer monies thrown at car makers for years, labour costs lie at the heart of the decisions of Nissan, and Mitsubishi, and Ford, and now Holden to stop making vehicles in this country. And for that, the unions must take their share of the blame.

Qantas, along with Victorian food processing firm SPC Ardmona, seem to be the next cabs off the rank when it comes to this insidious cancer of union-inflicted insolvency and the mortal threat it poses to the viability of those businesses.

But the case of Qantas is different when it comes to the consideration of factors arising from its unionised labour costs; this is the second reason for belting the unions, culpable as they are on this point as well.

The same unions that tried to cripple Qantas in 2011 with ridiculous claims on pay and conditions (but have already done more than enough damage, thanks to the legacy of historical EBAs) strike deals for the same work to be done by an equivalent workforce at Virgin at rates of pay 16% less than they received at Qantas prior to that year’s round of wage claims. As readers will see, this is even more pertinent when it comes to cabin crew, one of whom on a “legacy” agreement at Qantas can earn roughly double what the union-struck deal at Virgin would allow them to.

It not only smells of hypocrisy — nay, stinks of it — but it also points to an agenda within the unions affected of preferment, of trying to set one company up to fail and another as an industry “winner,” which has not only contributed to the unsustainable and unrealistic levels of wages Qantas is forced to shell out, but is an object lesson in why, even with coverage of just 16% of the Australian workforce, the union movement still has far too much influence and clout in this country.

My point is that even before we get to the other factors that have put Qantas in the situation it finds itself struggling to survive in, the odds were already stacked against it by those sections of its workforce represented by trade unions. As I said, this will become important later on.

Now, it seems the pleas from Qantas for the Abbott government to do something to help it will go unheeded, with the article from yesterday’s issue of The Australian showing that deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss has effectively conceded there is nothing it can do on account of the numbers in the Senate — even after the new Senate, friendlier to the government than its present incarnation, is constituted in July.

I don’t think nationalising Qantas is in anyone’s interests: airlines are businesses governments have no place in running, and before anyone starts talking about the likes of Emirates, Qatar, or even Singapore Airlines, it should be noted that these and others like them are mostly countries ruled by one-party states and/or dictatorships, and far from primarily serving a commercial purpose, their airlines also fulfil political functions that can also become military functions under certain circumstances as well.

Either way — and certainly when it comes to the likes of the Middle Eastern carriers, and perhaps some of the Chinese airlines now expanding rapidly — their airlines seek to eke out market share to the destruction of other airlines, not to co-exist with them.

I think the Rudd government made the gravest mistake back in 2009, when it made what was basically a politically motivated decision to block a proposed merger of Qantas with British Airways. The resulting entity would have been majority-owned by Australian interests, controlled by Qantas, based in Sydney, and run by a management populated with a majority of Australian personnel. Qantas and British Airways would have continued to operate as separate brands within a common ownership structure.

But it would also have been a truly global business: and in the modern world of aviation, scalable businesses are the ultimate objective for an industry beset by rising costs and in an environment where travellers want service and standards of safety, certainly — but on a cost-effective basis, which also means lower fares overall.

This is the reason the larger state-run carriers are almost predatory in their expansion plans. It is also why, for example, airlines in the US that are already huge in their own right, such as United and Continental, are merging to form mega-airlines. It is all about scale.

In the aftermath of the Rudd government decision, BA merged instead with Iberia, and later divested itself of its stake in Qantas. And now, the chickens come home to roost.

Qantas competitor Virgin has got around the requirements for 51% of its international operations to be Australian-owned very easily: excluding its piecemeal business to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, Virgin operates just five (5) truly long-haul aircraft, the 777-300ERs I still contend Qantas should have bought, and flies them to Fiji and the USA. For everything else it has built a so-called “virtual airline” based on codeshares with other airlines (Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and Etihad chief among them) to provide its customers with access to a route network of international destinations.

Virgin’s domestic airline business — operated by a separate legal entity to its 777s — faces no restrictions on foreign ownership; it just happens to be 77% owned by — you guessed it — Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, and Etihad.

Like Qantas, Virgin also lost several hundred million dollars last year, but unlike Qantas, it was able to undertake a capital raising exercise, reaping some $350 million in cash, from its foreign owners.

In other words (and given the bottomless pockets at SIA and Etihad), Virgin has one huge competitive advantage over Qantas in terms of labour costs. It has a second in terms of ready and limitless access to cash, courtesy of its ownership structure.

And it goes without saying, to put it bluntly, that Virgin is a foreign airline operating in Australia on domestic and international routes.

Unable to compete on the same basis and with one wing effectively hooked behind its famous tail, it doesn’t take an economics professor to see that Qantas is boxed in. Unless someone kicks one of the walls out, the building will collapse, crushing the airline as it does.

I don’t know if repealing the Qantas Sale Act will enable the airline to fight its way back onto a competitive footing or not; I really don’t. But it seems logical that as that Act places Qantas at a severe competitive disadvantage to Virgin that is slowly suffocating it, that disadvantage should be removed.

The alternative — perhaps not now, perhaps not in the next two or three years, but certainly in the foreseeable future — is for Qantas to collapse.

It is locked in a battle for domestic market share with Virgin that it can neither win without access to investor capital, yet cannot cease to fight: Qantas’ domestic business is highly profitable, for now, and built on decades of loyalty from high-yield customers. But Virgin will continue to be unrelenting in adding capacity (extra plane seats in layman’s terms) into the domestic market to push Qantas to breaking point, funded by foreign interests, and when Qantas’ domestic business breaks, that’s it: the international arm of Qantas is already haemorrhaging red ink and has done for years. There is nothing left to prop the edifice up if its strongest turret is destroyed. The whole thing will come crashing down.

Game over.

Those disinclined to repeal the Qantas Sale Act (or to support its abolition) should carefully consider what the collapse of Qantas would mean.

The foreigners who own Virgin will be disinclined to keep air travel for Australians affordable in a monopoly market, and even if such a scenario generated a terrific surge of public anger, it would take months — if not years — for a viable competitor to be planned, established, and then grown to the point it represented any meaningful replacement for Qantas or any realistic sort of threat to Virgin’s market position.

In turn, the economic damage would be incalculable.

Qantas and its subsidiaries operate roughly four times the number of aircraft Virgin does; it services the travel requirements of an exponentially wider number of locations across the country than Virgin, and its importance to Australia’s economy cannot be understated. Travel, tourism, freight, communications and other logistics are heavily reliant on Qantas continuing to operate, irrespective of whatever Virgin does, and once the breach exists it will take many years for any competitor to fill.

I’m loyal to Qantas but I’m no sycophant; it’s done many great things over many years, but it has made its mistakes too. Nobody would deny that.

But the gross errors that were Airline Partners Australia and the Rudd government’s torpedoing of the Qantas-BA merger were, for different reasons, mistakes that could have been terminal for Qantas: the first for breaking it up and selling it for the higher value of its parts, if that had been the end result. The latter might have wrecked the opportunity for Qantas to secure its long-term survival. That could well still be the final result of that incompetent, stupid, ideologically driven Labor Party decision.

Very simply, what is worse: a Qantas owned by offshore investors, subject to some stringently legislated conditions such as being headquartered in Australia, managed by Australians, and mandated by law in areas such as the standard of maintenance its planes receive — wherever that occurs?

To say nothing of the bulk of its workforce remaining employed, and a cherished Australian icon enjoying a stable, secure, long-term future.

Or a Qantas forced to close, when the pressures of an uncompetitive commercial environment and a labour movement hellbent on driving it out of existence finally succeed in doing so?

If you’re still not convinced that abolishing the Qantas Sale Act is the right thing to do, then consider this.

Whether you like or hate Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, and irrespective of what you might think of the merits or otherwise of the management regime he is pursuing at Qantas, his grounding of the Qantas fleet in 2011 was a masterstroke: had he not done so, shutting off the right of the Qantas unions to engage in industrial activity over wages for three years, the higher wage outcomes the unions would probably have extracted from Qantas management at that time — in light of what we now know of the airline’s predicament — could well have already put Qantas out of business by now.

Just remember, the three-year prohibition on the unions taking aim at Qantas, in yet another round of thuggery and bastardry designed to extract yet more extortionate pay rises, expires in October.

If all hell breaks loose at that time, the consequences for Qantas, quite literally, could be anything.

In fact, it could get very ugly indeed.

Qantas Sale Act: Smash The Unions, Save The Airline

THE REACTION from unions to news that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is open to relaxing or abolishing the Qantas Sale Act gives the game away; the unions have sucked Qantas dry with their bargaining agreements and their thuggery, and their existential fear is palpable. There are worthier considerations here than union sensitivities.

It’s an open secret — and not least by its own admission — that there’s a fair bit wrong at Qantas at present; we will in due course get into those issues a little more deeply, but at least one thing has become abundantly clear today.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott — in signalling he is open to putting options on the table to the extent the government can do so to assist Qantas — has elicited a revealing (if predictable) reaction from union figures, who rightly perceive their sinecures and feathered nests will be the price of Qantas’ long-term survival.

Abbott has indicated he is sympathetic to the arguments advanced by Qantas that it operates at a significant competitive disadvantage to its (largely state-owned) foreign competitors, and to local competitor Virgin, which does not face the kind of barriers to capital raising imposed on Qantas by the strictures of the Qantas Sale Act.

The prospect of foreign ownership controls being abolished in relation to Qantas has sent union types into a frenzy, and so it should; such a move would signal the beginning of the end of their once-proud movement in this country.

And this, quite frankly, is as should be.

Opening Qantas to foreign investment to provide it with the liquid capital it needs to overhaul its organisation, retire liabilities and scale back its workforce will inevitably lead — as the unions foretell in their fit of pique — to some sections of its workforce being significantly downsized and/or moved offshore to help the airline improve its balance sheet and to enable it to compete more effectively on an international basis.

If the unions want to blame anyone for this, they ought, collectively, to invest in a mirror.

Opposition “leader” Bill Shorten — himself a former union boss at the AWU — has led the charge, saying the airline’s skilled maintenance workforce of 5,000 was at risk if foreign ownership restrictions were lifted. It is necessary to look only as far as the thuggery and bastardry the unions deployed toward Qantas in 2011, along with the ridiculous ambit pay demands they pursued for months, resulting in the grounding of the airline for three days, to understand why.

For the same reason, Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon hit the nail just as crisply on the head when he suggested that any restructure of Qantas could lead to more jobs being outsourced to Asia.

The problem is that far from achieving its stated objective of maintaining Qantas as a majority owned Australian airline based and headquartered in Australia, the Qantas Sale Act — like the extortionate Enterprise Bargaining Agreements struck with car manufacturers — has been a cloak for the union movement to hide behind, and to drive up real wages for its workers to the point no company employing Australian union labour can compete internationally or sustain the expense beyond the short to medium term.

Qantas is a very different beast to the car makers, who can shut up shop in Australia and “run home to mama” so to speak; if Qantas goes out of business, Qantas goes out of business. Someone might pick up the pieces and breathe new life into them, but they wouldn’t operate it as “Qantas,” and they certainly wouldn’t allow themselves to be bent over in the manner unions like the TWU and the AWU expect.

It’s truly regrettable that Australian companies should be put in this position at the hands of Australian people purporting to act in the best interests of their Australian stakeholders, but that’s what the trade union movement has managed to do.

I read an article in one of the metropolitan news portals that listed out some of the companies in which EBAs have either pushed them close to the wall or are soon enough expected to do so: Holden, Toyota, Qantas, SPC, Simplot, and a raft of others — all iconic Australian brands that nobody wants to see disappear or fail.

The decision by the Federal Court this week to refuse Toyota workers a vote on modifying their EBA in the wake of developments at Holden — on the basis that even such a vote would breach the Fair Work Act — should send a shudder through any organisation that has entered into an EBA with union labour; those agreements will have to run their course, which in some cases will take years, and for some companies there isn’t that much time left on the clock.

Far from achieving lasting and beneficial outcomes for its members in terms of improved conditions at work and real wage increases that outstrip those in the private sector by x%, the union movement in Australia has become a long-term destroyer of companies, jobs, livelihoods and ultimately the living standards of the very Australians it claims to protect.

But cut the pay of its workers to keep them in a job, and perhaps restore their employers’ businesses to profitability? Not on your life.

Not bad for a movement that brags that it improves outcomes for people.

It needn’t have been like this, of course. But the capacity for large employers to continue to foot recurrent, compounding wage increases, above the cost of living and for workforces already remunerated well above the average measures of income in this country, is not infinite.

Qantas — as GM has shown this week — is not the first company to confront this reality and alas, it won’t be the last in the foreseeable future.

The simple fact is that the shrinking coverage of the Australian workforce unions now boast has led to the ultimate rearguard movement: keep the wages pressure ratcheted up as high as possible in the diminishing number of companies they operate in; and keep the sinecures for the union secretaries, and executives, and organisers, and everyone else on the gravy train as comfortable as possible for as long as they can.

Ultimately, today’s union movement is enjoying its comforts off the back of the jobs of tomorrow’s Australian workers: and far from being “Union and Proud” it should be regarded as a national disgrace.

I, too, don’t like the idea of a foreign-owned Qantas and like anyone else, I don’t exactly relish the idea of some of its jobs being relocated to Asia where the labour costs are cheaper.

But at the end of the day, if it’s a choice between the airline surviving in a slightly different form or being driven out of existence altogether as the end result of the unions’ agenda, I’ll choose the survival of the airline — and bugger the unions.

The irony is that the abolition of the Qantas Sale Act would potentially provide opportunities for the unions: for one thing, the legislative changes may be accompanied by legally binding regulations enforcing minimum benchmarks on maintenance standards and compliance that would open obvious avenues for the movement to contribute more constructively.

For another, the most qualified people to work on Australian aircraft are obviously the people who have always worked on them: and a job remunerated at a lower rate in Malaysia or Singapore or Hong Kong could still provide a handy living for aircraft maintenance staff who chose to move — to say nothing of intangible benefits such as travel opportunities, experience of other cultures, and so forth.

But the unions won’t have a bar of this: it’s their way or the highway, and if that means wrecking a company because it runs out of cash to pay their blackmail cheques then that’s a price the union movement will wear with pride.

If changing or abolishing the Qantas Sale Act enables that company to adapt to international conditions in the modern aviation industry, and to survive as a long-term Australian icon, then it should be changed.

And if that means robbing the unions of yet another closed citadel in which the excesses of the few trump the greater good, then the unions must be ignored: even if, in an “ideal” world, it might be different.