An AFR article today says that Qantas boss Alan Joyce is conducting a charm offensive in Canberra ” . . to head off opposition to his expansion plans in Asia and garner support for an ugly industrial relations battle at home.” Qantas has an ongoing program of charming the political class in Australia that deserves a little scrutiny.
Qantas has different levels of lounges in its terminals. It has the Qantas lounge, the Platinum and Business Lounge and the Chairman’s lounge. The latter being the most exclusive and opulent. The Chairman’s lounge is by invitation only. Qantas uses the lounges to give special treatment to the leaders of its best corporate customers.
It makes perfect commercial sense for Qantas to look after the senior management of Macquarie Bank (for instance) in this way, just as the senior management of Macquarie look after decision makers in their corporate clients with a corporate tent at the Melbourne Cup and a corporate box at football grand finals. There is nothing wrong with that. Corporations can give gifts to their corporate clients and so long as the process is transparent that is ok. But it is not ok for public officials to receive gifts from corporations that the officials regulate and legislate on, even if the process is transparent.
My understanding is that Chairman’s Lounge membership is extended to all elected members of parliaments in Australia other than NSW where only the ministry and shadow ministry receive membership. The membership is free of charge. The benefits to Qantas are obvious. It allows their most influential customers to mingle in a private and comfortable space, just as corporate boxes do. It keeps the politicians from flying on other airlines. But isn’t it the giving of gifts to politicians? Chairman’s lounge members are usually upgraded to the next class if space is available. So politicians travelling on family holidays get automatically upgraded. Is that ok?
Politicians have to decide whether Australia remains closed to transit flights by foreign airlines. They also have to lobby on behalf of Qantas with foreign governments and they have to decide whether the infrastructure that Qantas needs is financed with public money. Is it ok for Qantas to give them the gift of Chairman’s Lounge membership? You might say that politicians must be separated from the public for protective security reasons. Yes, but that means the Government’s involved should pay Qantas for that protection. You might say it is no different to the AFL hosting politicians for free at the Grand Final. Well, I don’t like that either.
Crikey has mentioned this issue previously here.