‘QantasKeeper’ tourism package another big business hand-out

Photo: John_Flickr_CC_BY_SA_2.0

The Aviation Tourism package, a replacement for the JobKeeper wage subsidy for the aviation industry, comes with no obligations to protect jobs, warned the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). It was announced by the federal government on March 11. 

About 9000 Qantas employees and 1000 Virgin employees remain stood down from work due to depressed travel demand, with most international pilots and crew not expected to have any meaningful work until at least October.

Qantas sacked 8500 ground staff last November, despite claiming $726 million in JobKeeper payments and collected “$1.2 billion in direct payments, waived charges and underwritten flights over 2020”, Matt Elmas reported in the March 13 New Daily.

The ACTU and aviation unions have called on the federal government to introduce its own “AviationKeeper” package, which would ensure jobs are secured, implement strict salary caps on executives, ban bonuses and dividends and ban the outsourcing of jobs overseas.

“The Morrison government has returned to trickle-down economics, where there are no protections or guarantees for jobs — just hope employers will do the right thing,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus said.

“This package will just line the pockets of employers, who’ve proven that they can’t be trusted to use taxpayers’ money to support their employees,” she added.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is understandably pleased as punch about the government’s aviation tourism deal.

About 800,000 Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin tickets to selected tourist destinations will be subsidised so they can be sold at half price. This $1.2 billion federal subsidy will run from April to July.

Small tourist operators have also criticised the government’s plans, warning that another 300,000 jobs could be lost from the sector — on top of the 500,000 full-time positions already gone due to COVID-19 — if JobKeeper is not extended beyond March.

The Australian Tourism Industry Council, which represents smaller tourism and accommodation providers, said the package does nothing to support jobs in the capital city gateways, which are crucial to the sector.

Moreover, in a repeat of the infamous Sports Rorts affair of 2019, the aviation tourism package blatantly targets its handouts to marginal Coalition and Labor seats.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government “always looks at the electoral map” when allocating grants and economic support. He noted the two marginal seats in northern Tasmania would be supported, but not southern Tasmania.

“In the Northern Territory, Darwin gets nothing, but of course Alice Springs and Uluru in the seat of Lingiari, gets support,” he said.

“If you are in Cairns, the marginal seat Leichhardt is included in the package, but if you are in Gladstone or some other areas of Queensland that also rely on tourism, then you get excluded as well.”

He described the package as a “selective aviation package” that does nothing for tourism operators.

In fact, the package is just another generous subsidy to big business. In particular, it is a massive handout to rapacious corporate giants so it would be better called “QantasKeeper”.

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