Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has cautioned states and territories from launching an ultra-competitive bidding war for Qantas’ head office, which is up for grabs after the airline announced a review of its property footprint, saying it may represent “the worst of federalism”.
“I have to say this act of effectively trying to auction off the location of head office jobs is a pretty blatant attempt to extract taxpayer dollars from the states and territories,” Mr Birmingham told ABC Radio Adelaide’s Breakfast program on Wednesday.
“I’d have urge caution from states. This bidding war won’t create one extra job in Australia; it just shuffles jobs around Australia, and, certainly, our focus federally is how we save jobs across the country.”
Qantas stated it was looking to cut property overheads – the carrier pays $40 million a year in office space leases, chief financial officer Vanessa Hudson said – as part of its COVID-19 recovery efforts on Tuesday.
The airline is one of many doing it tough during the pandemic, which has crushed travel demand and activity. It is looking to cut nearly a third of its workforce via redundancies and outsourcing, 20,000 more remain stood down, and Qantas reported a $2 billion loss for the 2020 financial year.
A move from its Mascot headquarters in Sydney is on the cards as part of the property review. However, the offices of budget offshoot Jetstar in Melbourne and maintenance facilities in Brisbane are also under scrutiny.
Qantas fired off letters to the Queensland, NSW, Victorian and South Australian governments about the review and the potential head office move, with the airline leaning towards a relocating on the east coast if it decided a move from Mascot was in its best interests.
Mr Birmingham, a Liberal Party senator for South Australia, admitted South Australia would struggle to be a logical hub for the airline, yet critiqued Qantas’s methods.
“I understand why state governments, of course, want to get jobs into their states, that’s a core function for them,” he said.
“But this has the potential to represent the worst of federalism and to spark a wave of corporate welfare seeking by big business if we have big companies around the country just auctioning off their head offices to states and territories.”
“In the end, it’s taxpayers picking up the bill,” Mr Birmingham said.
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