Australia’s top aviation asset is not airline operators, but one of the busiest and potentially most lucrative markets for domestic air travel in the world. The five international airlines that own Virgin will get no payday from their Australian investment, after fighting a losing capacity war with Qantas earlier in the decade and making a costly failed assault on Qantas’ premium market. But any other airline that can get an Australian operating licence could come in and take up the landing slots, the aircraft, the terminals, the people and skills that are still there and service the Australian market under different colours, in a healthier operation.
Easier to operate
And while Qantas has been happy with the status quo of an enfeebled competitor – one reason why it cynically called for a $4 billion package extended to Qantas too – many fresh entrants could give Qantas and Jetstar a run for their money.
Learning the right lessons is essential if we are to recover well. The way out of this is not to lock taxpayers into losing bets on industries or companies. It is to make it easier for all businesses to operate. Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter says unions have made changes in three weeks that might have taken 30 years. Why would we now want to return to a broken IR system when we are trying to recover? Some of the existing awards would prevent people from working from home, which makes them clearly outdated. The clerical award describes in detail – as Australia’s uniquely prescriptive award system does– what clerical workers can and can’t do.
The best hope for Virgin’s workers now is not Canberra funding a zombie airline but an open aviation market that lets in a viable new employer. The point will be not to saddle them or any company with a shambolic IR legacy and a forest of redundant regulation, such as content quotas for children’s broadcasting on free-to-air TV that kids don’t watch in the iPad age.