The Abbott government has introduced to parliament legislation repealing foreign ownership limits in Qantas.
If the Qantas Sale Amendment Bill 2014 clears parliament it could allow the airline to split its domestic and international operations.
The domestic business could then be majority-foreign owned, instead of the 49 per cent cap in place now.
The bill is about helping the Australian aviation industry to grow in an environment that was safe fair, competitive and productive, Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss told parliament on Thursday.
“This bill means Qantas will no longer compete at a comparative disadvantage,” he said.
The best possible way to assist Qantas was to free the airline from “previous century” regulations that were holding it back, Truss said.
The government proposes to repeal part three of the Qantas Sale Act which, in part, limits a single investor to a 25 per cent holding and foreign airlines to a combined total holding of 35 per cent.
Qantas ownership would be overseen by the Air Navigation Act which limits 49 per cent foreign ownership of Australia’s international airlines, but with no restrictions on the ownership of domestic airlines.
The Qantas chairperson would have to be an Australian citizen, as must two-thirds of the board, and the airline’s head office and operational base must remain in Australia.
“This legislation means Qantas will no longer operate at a competitive disadvantage and that government regulation will no longer stand in the way of Qantas efforts to return to profitability,” Truss said.
The opposition succeeded in bringing on an immediate debate of the bill.
“The debate should happen now, there should not be a delay,” manager of opposition business Tony Burke said.
Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said debate was necessary because the government had previously indicated Qantas would get a commonwealth-backed debt guarantee.
Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said the government would allow debate to proceed, predicting the legislation could be in the Senate by Thursday afternoon.
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