Labor MPs urge shareholders to vote against Qantas boss pay

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Labor caucus members are urging Qantas shareholders to vote against chief executive Alan Joyce’s final pay-packet amid new signs of frustration within the party over the government’s decision to block rival airline Qatar from adding flights that could have boosted competition.

The strident criticism comes as acting Queensland premier Steven Miles backs travel company Flight Centre in calling on the federal government to reverse its decision to block additional flights by Qatar Airways, deepening the dispute about foreign airlines taking business from Australia’s biggest carrier.

Qantas shareholders are being urged to vote against the company’s executive remuneration package over the ACCC’s allegations. Credit: Peter Rae

Federal transport minister Catherine King is preparing to defend her stance by citing new figures showing airlines will add 1100 new flights per month to Australian routes by the end of September due to increased competition and entry of newcomers to the market.

The government is facing growing criticism of King’s decision in June to reject an application from Qatar Airways to double its flights from Doha to Australia’s east coast despite overwhelming support from Australia’s tourism and aviation industry. The controversy deepened on Friday when the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launched legal action against Qantas for allegedly misleading its customers by continuing to sell already cancelled flights.

Qantas, which controls 60 per cent of the domestic market and flies to Europe daily, was the only aviation body which submitted its opposition against Qatar’s extra flights.

Miles said the state government would have approved the application.

“The Queensland government would like to see as many flights as possible because those arriving passengers deliver economic activity here, and that creates jobs and prosperity.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton criticised Qantas for its “arrogance” on Sunday and said the government’s decision on Qatar meant consumers had to pay more for travel.

“It means that people – travellers, Australians – who want to go and see family or go for a holiday overseas are literally paying thousands of dollars more for their airline ticket and I think that’s unconscionable,” Dutton said.

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors and investor advisory group Ownership Matters expressed concern about Joyce’s expected $24 million pay packet in light of the ACCC allegations last week.

Qantas issued Joyce $10.8 million in shares on Friday after the airline business met its profitability targets set at the beginning of the pandemic. The outgoing chief executive is also expected to receive a short-term bonus of up to $4.3 million and about $8 million in shares as part of his long-term bonus for 2023 after he steps down at November’s annual general meeting.

The exact amount, in addition to Joyce’s base salary, will be known later this month, when Qantas releases its annual report with a detailed breakdown of executive remuneration ahead of a shareholder vote.

Labor MPs have also criticised the payment to Joyce, and some of them expressed concern about the Qatar decision.

“At a time when most Australians are having to tighten their belts as they deal with the rising cost of living, Alan Joyce should not be seeking to stop up his very generous Qantas remuneration,” said Tony Zappia, the member for Makin in South Australia.

Zappia also said he had written to King to convey concerns from his constituents about the Qatar decision, saying it would be appropriate to review the decision if the circumstances required but making no criticism of the minister.

“There’s a concern that it means airline prices are not as low as they would otherwise be if there was more competition,” he said.

Labor MP Meryl Swanson, who represents Paterson in NSW, said she would like airlines like Qatar allowed to operate international flights to Newcastle and was “extremely disappointed” with recent decisions by Qantas.

“I do not think these outcomes are what people expect of our national carrier and surely they should not be rewarded with bonus payments or incentives,” she said.

Labor colleague Jerome Laxale, who represents Bennelong in Sydney, said the remuneration package was up to shareholders but cited the action against Qantas by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as a reason for rethinking the bonus.

“If I were [a shareholder] I’d certainly be exploring ways of withholding and/or recalling it until the ACCC case is finalised,” he said.

Labor NSW senator Tony Sheldon, a regular critic of Joyce and a former secretary of the Transport Workers Union, said shareholders should “absolutely” vote against the remuneration package.

“If the Qantas board and shareholders want to continue to kick the Australian public, they’ll vote for Joyce’s pay packet,” he said.

Western Sydney MP Mike Freelander, who holds the seat of Macarthur for Labor, also cited the ACCC action as a reason for halting bonus payments to the chief executive.

“Given the circumstances with consumers effectively being swindled, it’s totally inappropriate that Joyce receives a huge bonus – but then the corporate world is totally out of step with the real world,” he said.

While the government has defended the decision on Qatar as being in the national interest, it has pointed to increased activity by other airlines to assure Australians that competition will increase.

International flights are projected to return this month to around 91 per cent of the capacity seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is welcome and a strong sign that there is competition underway in the market for international travel,” King said.

“Increased capacity and new entrants to the Australian market will help lower prices.”

Singapore Airlines will add 4700 seats a week next year, including a fifth daily flight to Melbourne, while Cathay Pacific is preparing to increase its flights to Brisbane from December. The return of the Chinese carriers is also putting downward pressure on fares, with eight airlines boasting 90 services to and from Australia’s biggest trade partner each week.

T’Way Air from South Korea and VietJet Air from Vietnam have begun flying to Australia, while Chilean airline LATAM is resuming flights to Melbourne and Vietnam Airlines is expected to add flights to Perth later this year.

King’s critics are quick to point out that while extra capacity to Asia is welcome, fares on the Europe route remain well above pre-pandemic levels and will remain so until major carriers, including Qatar, are able to meaningfully increase services.

“Who’s flying to London through Guangzhou?” one senior airline executive who was not authorised to speak publicly commented.

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