Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has rejected calls for the federal government to buy a stake in Virgin Australia, which is expected to go into voluntary administration.
Up to 15,000 jobs are at risk, with the federal government resisting the company’s plea for a $1.4 billion bailout loan.
Senator Cormann says the government wants to see two airlines remain in Australia.
He believes administration can find a sustainable private-sector solution to the company’s future.
“The government is not in the business of owning an airline,” the finance minister told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday.
“But we do want to see two airlines continue and we believe that the opportunities (are) there out of the administration process for that to happen.”
Administrators will look at ways to save the business including restructuring debt, as private equity firms circle, sparking hopes of a sale.
Labor wants Prime Minister Scott Morrison to save Virgin through extending or guaranteeing lines of credit and taking an equity stake.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said not only was the government leaving 15,000 workers in the lurch, it was also posing a long term threat to the national economy by putting Australia’s two airline system at risk.
“This isn’t a market failure,” he told ABC radio.
“This is as a result of a government decision, the right decision, to shut down sections of the economy to deal with the health crisis.”
Mr Albanese said it was fanciful for the government to believe another airline would emerge on the market if Virgin went belly-up.
Senator Cormann said administration would offer a chance to restructure underperforming parts of the business.
“It offers the opportunity for private sector interest to come forward and buy the business or assist with the recapitalisation of the business,” he said.
“There’s a lot of opportunity from here on in to ensure that there is a viable second airline in Australia moving forward.”
He said the first responsibility to step up was with major shareholders, including Singapore Airlines, Etihad and Chinese investors.
Nationals MP David Gillespie said the government made a mistake in refusing to provide the airline with a $1.4bn loan.
“I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to support their request for help,” he told The Australian.
“We had two major airlines going into the coronavirus epidemic but it looks like we’ll have just one coming out the other side.”