Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has called on the Queensland Government to abandon its bid for a stake in Virgin Australia, warning the “election stunt” will put the state on a path to economic disaster.
Treasurer Cameron Dick announced on Wednesday that the government-owned Queensland Investment Corporation had been given the task of forming a bid for the troubled airline.
The government’s investment could take the form of a direct equity stake, a loan, guarantee or other financial incentives.
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The move would ensure Virgin Australia retains its Brisbane headquarters, keeping thousands of jobs in the State.
But the decision has come in for heavy criticism with Mr Dutton accusing the State Government of making a “phoney” bid to look patriotic ahead of the October election.
“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,” Mr Dutton said.
Mr Dutton says the move to pour millions of dollars of taxpayers money into an airline during the COVID-19 crisis is “dangerous.”
“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 spent 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.”
The State’s Treasurer has defended the move, saying it’s about securing Queensland jobs.
“We can’t stand idly by and let an airline collapse and expect regional Queenslanders to suffer,” Mr Dick told the ABC.
“The only way we can do that is to engage with the administrator and get in the game.
“Top of my mind as Treasurer is getting Queensland back to work and ensuring up to 5,000 Virgin Australia jobs in Queensland are based here.”
But Mr Dutton says the Government should abandon its bid now.
“I think Premier Palaszczuk should come out and say that she’s mad a massive mistake and it really shows that at a time when she should be thinking about getting Queenslanders back to work, getting Queensland businesses
reopened, she’s off on this crazy frolic of wanting to buy an airline and it shows that Labor just can’t manage the economy.”
LNP Deputy Leader Tim Mander says the bid is a distraction from Labor’s integrity issues.
“How can Queenslanders have confidence in a Labor government running an airline when they cant run the local train network,” Mr Mander said.
“Cameron Dick has proven he’s got the same economic credibility as Jackie Trad. He promised $200 million to Virgin two days before it went into administration, taxpayers money that would have simply gone straight down the drain.”