The actions of Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce 12 years ago were behind the deeply personal grilling he received during his last parliamentary appearance on Monday.
Labor senator Tony Sheldon targeted Mr Joyce with the kind of ferocity not normally associated with the Senate Select Committee on the Cost of Living, drilling him with questions about the airline’s $100million worth of unused flight credits and the CEO’s $2.272million pay packet.
Mr Sheldon, a former Transport Workers Union’s national secretary, has taken an acrimonious stance on Mr Joyce’s leadership of the national carrier since October 2011.
Then, CEO Mr Joyce ordered the grounding of all Qantas planes during an industrial dispute with the TWU, the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association and the Australian and International Pilots Union.
Mr Sheldon appeared to lose his patience more than once with Mr Joyce during the Committee hearing on Monday.
‘Seriously, we are here asking questions about substantial sums of money that is owed to the Australian public overseas and through the Jetstar operations that has not been paid,’ he said during the Melbourne hearing.
Alan Joyce’s last parliamentary grilling as Qantas chief executive was deeply personal because of what happened 12 years ago
‘You have put an arbitrary deadline of December this year when people lose that money and the money stays in the pockets of Qantas and Jetstar and you’re seriously telling the Australian public that you don’t know how many tens of millions of dollars are involved above that $370million?’
Mr Joyce claimed Qantas had paid out $3billion worth of refunds since the pandemic began in March 2020, which saw borders closed.
‘What we are saying, senator, is that since March 2020, $3billion worth of refunds have been granted,’ he said.
Senator Sheldon called Mr Joyce out for repeating the spin instead of answering The Australian Financial Review’s charge that hundreds of millions of dollars of flight credits remained unused.
‘I’ve heard that evidence already,’ he said.
In another part of the committee hearing, Senator Sheldon pointed out the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s misgivings about Qantas airfares, linking that with the CEO’s generous $2.272million pay package.
‘This is one of the most discredited companies as far as the ACCC, on its record of complaints and you’re saying you deserve every dollar you’ve received,’ he said.
Mr Joyce tried to interrupt Senator Sheldon but he continued to attack the CEO, whose 15 years running Qantas ends in November.
‘Thousands of workers have been put off, given substantially lower rates of pay, been replaced by people with substantially lower rates of pay, less training, less skilling,’ he said.
‘All that we’ve lost, all the consequences we’ve seen in the aviation industry, with the rebirth of the aviation industry, losing all that talent, and you say you should be rewarded?’
The TWU, which Mr Sheldon ran from 2006 to 2019, represented baggage handlers who were locked out of their own workplace alongside licensed engineers, ramp staff and Australian and international pilots during the 2011 dispute.
Labor senator Tony Sheldon targeted Mr Joyce with the kind of ferocity not normally associated with the Senate Select Committee on the Cost of Living, drilling him with questions about the airline’s $100million worth of unused flight credits and the CEO’s $2.272million
For Senator Sheldon, the animosity goes back to 2011 when Mr Joyce ordered the grounding of all Qantas planes during an industrial dispute with the Transport Workers Union (pictured), the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association and the Australian and International Pilots Union
As the enterprise dispute dragged on into late November 2011, Mr Sheldon was frustrated at Qantas for refusing to include a job security clause.
‘The company has been extremely frustrating through the last seven months and even more frustrating in the last three weeks,’ he said at the time.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was federal transport minister 12 years ago, intriguingly suggested the unions were at fault, despite the TWU’s affiliation with the Labor Party.
‘It’s not like they’re starting today,’ he told Sky News in November 2011.
‘Part of the problem here is just a lack of good will, lack of respect from both sides to the dispute.’
A dozen years on, Mr Albanese has appeared with Mr Joyce as Qantas planes were adorned with Yes23 signs to promote the PM’s Indigenous Voice to Parliament proposal.
A dozen years on, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (right) has appeared with Alan Joyce as Qantas planes were adorned with Yes23 signs to promote the PM’s Indigenous Voice to Parliament proposal
The Transport Workers Union’s dislike of Alan Joyce (pictured 12 years ago) goes back to October 2011 when he grounded flights