The Morrison government is holding firm against Labor’s and union demands to rescue Virgin Australia after the troubled airline entered voluntary administration.
Former Macquarie Bank chief executive Nicholas Moore has been appointed as the federal government’s representative to work with administrators.
But the company’s hopes of a government bailout appear to be minimal, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confident Virgin will survive.
“This is not liquidation. This is not Ansett. This is not the end of the airline,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
“This is an opportunity for the airline to recapitalise and for Virgin to come out stronger on the other side of the coronavirus crisis.”
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Deloitte administrator Vaughan Strawbridge is hopeful of a sale, describing investor interest as extraordinary.
Mr Frydenberg said the government wanted a market-led solution to maintain a second airline.
“We’re not in the business of owning airlines. We are though in the business of supporting jobs,” he said.
Labor wants Prime Minister Scott Morrison to save the foreign-owned company through extending or guaranteeing lines of credit and taking an equity stake.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese appeared alongside Virgin workers appealing for government action.
“Talk of market-based solutions at the moment is a triumph of ideology over common sense,” he said.
“It’s about time that Scott Morrison put aside the ideological blinkers and gave the support that is required.”
The treasurer pointed to Channel Ten and Darrell Lea as companies that had successfully emerged from voluntary administration.
“The government’s objective is to see two commercially viable airlines operating domestically in Australia,” Mr Frydenberg said.
Senior ministers have pressured Virgin’s major shareholders Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Chinese conglomerates HNA and Nanshan and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group to step in.
“The government was not going to bail out five large foreign shareholders with deep pockets who together own 90 per cent of this airline,” Mr Frydenberg said.
ACTU President Michele O’Neil told reporters the federal government had chosen to sit by and do nothing “as 16,000 jobs were pushed closer and closer to the brink”.
“This could have been avoided. For weeks now we’ve been saying the federal government needed to step up,” she said, and any state government effort would have to be led by Canberra.
Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine said Mr Morrison and his government would be on the wrong side of history if they didn’t take an equity stake in the carrier.
Nationals MP David Gillespie said the government made a mistake in refusing to provide the airline with a $1.4 billion 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.”