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Should Qantas be a kangaroo?

By Everald Compton - posted Tuesday, 6 December 2011


I have been flyling with Qantas for 60 years. Long before my first flight, many school teachers had related to me the saga of its valiant founder, Hudson Fysh, and the wonderful story of how Fysh teamedup with Flynn of the Inland to create the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Then, I cheered the visionary decision that the Australian Government made to finance the expansion of Qantas overseas so that it became the flagship of the nation -The Flying Kangaroo - a symbol that the whole world identified with Australia.

I vividly remember the great day on which a Qantas 707 took-off from Sydney to take passengers on the inaugural flight right around the world. The entire legend made us all proud, but now this great Australian adventure into international aviation has found troubled times.

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Qantas directors and management have been debating whether or not it is still possible to run a viable international airline from an Australian base. Their initial view is that the hub of activity for the nation's airline has to be in south-east Asia, where wages are lower, the tyranny of distance from the rest of the world is much less and there may be many more potential customers for both passengers and freight.

As a proud Australian, my first emotional reaction on hearing this was to label it as a betrayal of the fundamental fabric of our proud national spirit for which the Anzacs fought and died. But, after some quiet reflection, it became glaringly obvious that the world has changed forever since the glory days when Qantas was born. We have to face the sad fact that those good times are never coming back again.

So, Qantas has to change. But, what should those changes be and how can Qantas convince its customers and staff that they will benefit from them. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what the voters of Australia think about the strategy of the Qantas Board.

The real question relates to whether or not Australian travellers will continue to loyally use Qantas as their airline of preference. Is Qantas at risk of losing its power base -the very core of its profit structure?

In assessing this, we have to acknowledge that the first and permanent major problem for Qantas lies with the trade union movement - some of whose leaders are using this dispute to enhance their public profile in their quest to advance their political careers. Others want to practice greed on a grand scale, eg, the pilots, and there are those who give the impression of wanting to destroy the airline by deliberately giving poor service to customers.

However, the issue is much wider than this, reaching far beyond the corporate territory of Qantas.

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The rapidly increasing frequency of industrial disputes all around the world has, as its very core, what ordinary people see as an extraordinary rise in the remuneration levels of chief executives, while many jobs are being lost in cost-cutting at lower levels.

Irrespective of whether or not they think they have been cruelly misjudged, CEOs must voluntarily take a cut in salaries, bonuses and stock options, or strikes will rapidly become far more frequent. They cannot blame inadequate industrial laws, as they are not the cause of current

industrial aggression.

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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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