The Guardian June 20, 2001


Editorial:
And the answer is: public ownership

The scramble among airlines to eliminate competition and to put up fares 
again has only one solution that will benefit the Australian travelling 
public and the overall interests of Australia's economic future.

QANTAS should be returned to public ownership immediately. It should be 
built up as a strong national and international carrier and its management 
directed to provide a safe and efficient service with controlled fare 
prices. It should be charged with providing a service to main country 
centres and provided with a fleet of aircraft that serve the airline's 
various needs. The network of airports should also be returned to public 
ownership and equipped with up-to-date aircraft handling technology.

QANTAS (and before that, Australian National Airlines) was efficient, it 
was economic, it was safe. It was highly regarded by the Australian people 
who had pride in this national asset. Successive governments have sold all 
this out and the former pride of the Australian people is being squandered. 
The possibility of the complete foreign take-over now looms over 
Australia's national air services.

The privatisation policies of Labor and Liberal governments and the 
introduction of so-called "competition policy" is a travesty and will lead 
to the present competitors being eliminated and the re-establishment of 
monopoly conditions in private hands.

"Competition policy" is not confined to the airline industry. The aim of 
its proponents is to break up publicly-owned enterprises and services such 
as telecommunications, public transport, railways, energy generation and 
supply, not to forget the present attempts to destroy public education, and 
hand them over to the private sector. Because of the part privatisation of 
Telstra, a private enterprise jungle has been created in which a 
bewildering number of private companies have been set up  the so-called 
"telcos"  some marketing products, others installing, others again 
providing maintenance or insurance. The object of each is to make maximum 
profits. The collapse of One.Tel is only the most prominent of such 
companies to collapse and impose economic losses on those unfortunate to 
have fallen for their sales pitch.

Competition, to the extent that it exists, leads back to monopoly 
eventually and there is no better proof of that than the rapid elimination 
of Impulse by QANTAS after only a few short months of operation.

Impulse and the threat coming from Virgin Blue lowered prices for a time 
but now, the bigger players are manoeuvring to take-over the competitors so 
as to restore their monopoly. QANTAS and ANSETT were able to come out on 
top in the brief price-cutting war because they have more resources. They 
lowered their prices, not to benefit the travelling public, but to drive 
out competition so that they can again charge whatever they like.

In the jungle of take-overs, QANTAS has taken over Impulse and wants to buy 
a significant stake in Air NZ. Air NZ in turn is already 25 percent owned 
by Singapore Airlines. Air NZ owns 100 per cent of Ansett Holdings that in 
turn owns 100 per cent of Ansett Australia and 49 per cent of Ansett 
International. Singapore Airlines already has a 49 per cent stake in Virgin 
Blue.

If QANTAS were to take over Air NZ it would also effectively own Ansett 
Holdings. At the same time QANTAS is negotiating with Singapore Airlines 
who may gain a monopoly of Australia's airlines. In this way Australia's 
airlines would in effect become a monopoly as well as foreign owned.

The victims of these high level negotiations conducted in secret by company 
managements are the travelling public who will be charged higher fare 
prices and airline workers who are already facing more and more staff 
cutbacks.

In anticipation of the expected backlash from airline QANTAS management are 
reported to be training senior staff in the Philippines to take over the 
jobs of airline workers in the event of a strike. In plain language, scabs 
are being prepared to take over the jobs of workers who are doing no more 
than attempting to protect their jobs and maintain or improve their working 
conditions.

All these are the direct consequence of government policies and their 
misguided belief that capitalist ownership is the only way to go. But 
public is better! This has been demonstrated time and again in the past in 
air services, water supply, electricity, transport, education, 
telecommunications and by other publicly-owned enterprises and services.
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