Virgin Australia: ‘Market-led solution’ better than Qld bid, Michael McCormack says

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has doubled down on his criticism of the Queensland government and its announcement it will bid for Virgin.

The Queensland-based airline went into administration last month, partly blaming coronavirus for its business woes.

Mr Dutton called the bid “laughable” on Twitter last night and labelled it a “political stunt” today.

Speaking today, he did not hold back in his criticism of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

“This is the latest example of Premier Palaszczuk being completely out of her depth,” he said.

“She’s putting Queensland on a path of economic disaster and every credit card that Annastacia Palaszczuk has as the Queensland premier is maxed out.

“She doesn’t have a dollar left, yet she’s talking about spending billions of dollars she doesn’t have on an airline.

“There is one of two things happening here. Labor is either in the midst of an election stunt and they are putting at risk millions of dollars in some phoney bid that they know is not going to be successful, just because they want to be patriotic,” Mr Dutton told reporters.

He said it was just a stunt, because the Queensland government “can’t run train”.

“They have named it Operation Maroon, just a silly way the spin doctors have come up with a glib line for them to be running in Queensland media. That’s the first alternative.

“The second one is even more dangerous. That is that they’ve decided as a state government to buy an airline in the midst of a pandemic. One of the biggest and most difficult downturns in the economy in a century.

“The Labor Party in Queensland has no money, they have close to $100 billion of debt. Every dollar they spend is borrowed. They are talking about buying an airline that doesn’t have any revenue at the moment and has billions of dollars worth of debt.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has backed Mr Dutton.

Appearing on ABC television this morning, Mr McCormack said he’d prefer a “market-led solution” to keeping the airline afloat, rather than a government bid.

“They should stick to trying to run Queensland and Queensland’s economy,” Mr McCormack said.

“I think this should be left to companies, should be left to potential bidders and investors who aren’t necessarily government.”

Mr McCormack, who said 19 bidders were in the mix to take on Virgin Australia, said more could come forward in the next 24 hours before preliminary bids close.

“I know Paul Scurrah, the CEO and the board of Virgin, want to see their airline up and running again,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack says the Queensland government should stick to running the state, not an airline. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAPSource:AAP

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the Queensland government was ‘corrupt and chaotic’. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAPSource:AAP

“We all want to see two commercially viable airlines coming out of the back of COVID-19.

We want to see Virgin back in the sky.”

On Wednesday, Mr Dutton lashed out at Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, saying the state’s bid for the airline was “laughable”.

“Premier (Annastacia) Palaszczuk has almost bankrupted Queensland, and now in the middle of a crisis they want to buy an airline,” Mr Dutton tweeted, who holds the Brisbane seat of Dixon.

“It is laughable. She ‘leads’ a government which is corrupt and chaotic.”

His comments followed Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick announcement of “Project Maroon”, with the appointment of state-owned funds management group Queensland Investment Corporation to oversee the bid for a stake in the collapsed airline.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick announced ‘Project Maroon’, confirming the state’s intention to make a play for stricken Virgin Australia. Picture: Dan Peled/AAPSource:AAP

Mr Dick said the government’s investment could take the form of a direct equity stake, a loan, guarantee or other financial incentives.

“My number one focus as Treasurer is to retain and create jobs for Queenslanders, particularly as we move beyond the COVID-19 crisis,” Mr Dick said in a statement.

“We have been very clear. Two sustainable, national airlines are critical to Australia’s economy. We have an opportunity to retain not only head office and crew staff in Queensland, but also to grow jobs in the repairs, maintenance and overhaul sector and support both direct and indirect jobs in our tourism sector.”

“The appointment of QIC, led by CEO Damien Frawley, has enabled work to progress quickly on a comprehensive strategy, to ensure Queensland is best positioned for a successful bid,” he said.

Virgin Australia’s administrators Deloitte say there’s 19 bidders in the mix to take over the airline, which carries debts of $7 billion. Picture: Patrick Hamilton/AFPSource:AFP

“QIC will advise government on all aspects of the bid, including the optimal partner group, the quantum and structure of the state’s contribution, as well as probity and governance.”

Virgin Australia was placed into administration last month with debts of $7 billion after the coronavirus restrictions all but wiped out domestic and international travel. The announcement has left almost 15000 jobs in limbo.

Prior to the administration, the Queensland government had already indicated it was willing to chip in $200 million towards a support package for Virgin – one of the state’s largest employers – if the federal government would offer a bailout.

Administrators Deloitte said Tuesday there were 19 potential buyers going over the books as of May 11. Non-binding indicative offers are due on May 15 and Deloitte hopes to finalise a deal by the end of June.

with Frank Chung

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