The Australian parliament’s lower house has partially cleared the way for Qantas to raise much-needed capital by voting to repeal legislative caps on foreign ownership of the airline.
But the Senate looks certain to stymie the government’s Qantas Sale Amendment Bill 2014, rushed through the House of Representatives on Thursday.
MPs voted 83-53 votes to support the bill nearly four hours after it was introduced.
The bill allows a majority foreign shareholding in a stand-alone domestic arm of Qantas.
To do that, the airline would need to split its business and maintain majority-Australian ownership of its international arm.
As it stands now, the Qantas Sale Act limits a single investor to a 25 per cent holding and foreign airlines to a combined total holding of 35 per cent.
Total foreign ownership is capped at 49 per cent.
Transport Minister Warren Truss said the laws would help Qantas and other airlines transition to a new era.
“Qantas will no longer operate at a competitive disadvantage,” he told parliament.
Labor attempted to delay the bill’s passage with 10 divisions, mainly on procedural matters.
“It’s taken 94 years to build Qantas, it’s taken the Abbott government 94 minutes to tear Qantas down. Shame,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told parliament after the vote.
Earlier, he described the government as a bunch of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”, saying the bill was a waste of time and precursor to further job losses.
Even if the bill passed the Senate, it would take years for Qantas to overcome new regulatory processes that would allow it to raise sufficient foreign capital.
Mr Shorten cited the treasurer’s rejection of a US bid for Graincorp last year to suggest the same would happen to Qantas.
“They can’t trust Uncle Sam to buy Graincorp, what are they going to do when Chinese companies or Middle Eastern companies buy Qantas.”
The bill now goes to the Senate where Labor and the Greens have the numbers to defeat the government.
The Senate pre-empted the bill’s arrival by initiating two separate inquiries.
The government will push it straight to the economics legislation committee for a speedy inquiry into its key provisions and report back by March 24.
The Senate’s rural and regional affairs and transport references committee will conduct a slightly longer inquiry and report back by March 27.
The second inquiry, backed by Labor and the Australian Greens, will examine what initiatives the government should take to support Qantas.