Hockey wants national debate on whether to sell Qantas

TREASURER Joe Hockey has labelled the laws preventing the sale of Qantas to majority foreign ownership "regulatory handcuffs", as he sparks a debate on whether the Australian airline should be sold off.

Mr Hockey was responding to recent calls by Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce for more government support to help fund its ailing international operations.

The airline has argued the entrance into Australia's market of Virgin, and its foreign government backing, has removed the level playing field.

Mr Joyce has been lobbying for Federal Government support to ensure the domestic travel sales can offset losses in the international market.

But Mr Hockey said he wanted a national debate on whether to sell the 1% Australian-owned airline, and whether taxpayers were willing to keep funding the business.

He said the choice for the future of Qantas was between majority foreign ownership and taxpayer-funded subsidies, but wouldn't be drawn on which he personally preferred.

Instead, he said the Qantas Sale Act, which prevents the airline being bought out by overseas interests, was the equivalent of "regulatory handcuffs" on the airline.

"The status quo is not going to work for Qantas. I think they have made that very clear," he said.

Mr Hockey said the government did not "want to have to come back and deal with this in 12 months or 18 months".

"I think this is something that we need to think about as a nation and identify that there are significant benefits in having a dedicated national carrier, but at the same time there is a cost associated with it."

On Thursday, the airline took matters public, launching a campaign for people to petition the government for extra support.

The online campaign included a form letter for Australians to fill out, urging MPs and the government to ":use your influence" to secure a "fair go for Australia's Qantas".QANTAS:

Launched an online campaign to "secure a fair go' for the airline

Wants government support to ensure it can continue to operate

HOCKEY:

Wants a "national debate" on a potential sale of the airline

But says the protection of Qantas from majority foreign ownership is "regulatory handcuffs"

A SALE:

Would need changes to the law to allow 51% sale to foreign interests

Could help fund the airlines ailing international flights

SUBSIDIES:

Would need Mr Hockey's approval

Could help ensure the airline keeps providing domestic flights


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