By Stephen Mayne, humble Qantas Club member who has never been upgraded

It looks like we’re onto something big with our examination of
Qantas, the Chairman’s Lounge and the allocation of perks and upgrades
more generally by the national airline.

First, to the facts. There is no government payment for the
Chairman’s Lounge memberships offered to all Federal MPs as this is
something which Qantas believes should be paid for by its shareholders
voluntarily. It is worth noting
that when Ministers travel, whatever
entourage they have with them is also ushered into the Chairman’s
Lounge – something which Ministers exploit to the full as a
source of glad-handing and patronage.

And the lurk extends down into the bureaucracy because Qantas
influences not just Ministers but senior public servants in the
same way through Chairman’s Lounge memberships, free upgrades and
frequent flyer points – which the public servants and politicians take
with them as a generous free gift when they
retire.

This also means that politicians and senior public servants have an
incentive to
travel more frequently – especially when it is always business class.
The market value of all these benefits would run to many millions of
dollars a year and the cost to Qantas shareholders would exceed $1
million.

This huge rort is not a hangover
from when Qantas was government owned – in fact, the lobbying of
Ministers was not something that the previously government-owned Qantas
did to anything like the extent that the privately-owned Qantas does.

The standard entitlements for our political and senior public service
class are business class travel within Australia
but the best summary of all the benefits is not on any
official departmental website because the highly secretive Finance
Department provides none of these details online. However, our good
friends at the Parliamentary Library did produce this fascinating guide.

Arrangements for ministerial travel in Australia are handled in the
same way as those for MPs and Senators. However, overseas travel comes under
prime ministerial control as you can see towards the end of the official
Ministerial Guidelines.

In terms of the huge Qantas frequent flyer rort, some Ministers have
accumulated millions of points over the years and there are in effect no
restrictions on them using these for their own
purposes after they leave the Parliament. There is a very weak
guideline encouraging them to use up the points but it is almost
universally
ignored as The Age reported last year.

So what does Qantas get in return for its investment? Government
favours of course. No ACCC chairman has had a
concerted go at Quantas’s regular abuse of market power which has helped send
half a dozen airlines out of business over the past 15 years.

And when Ansett collapsed, it was quite outrageous how the PM’s Ansett
Taskforce tolerated Qantas making a successful grab for those vital
extra landing slots and gates at Sydney Airport, giving it a huge
advantage over its rivals. Crikey has been told that policy
deliberations inside the taskforce
at the time were influence by the common perception that “the Prime
Minister likes Qantas”. He likes chairman Margaret Jackson so much that
she was even offered the keys to Yarralumla.

And why wouldn’t the Howards like our national airline when you
consider the duchessing that our first lady receives. The PM usually
travels in the
government jet, but his family members are treated better than royalty – every whim
catered to, nothing too good for Janette who, if she travels, tends to
have a charming Qantas PR person assigned to look after her.

One isolated upgrade for the Costello kids sounds like it could just be
the tip of the iceberg. Has the PM ever disclosed family benefits from
Qantas and who paid for what when Richard Howard headed to the US in 2004
to work on George W Bush’s re-election campaign? Hmmm, we might just be onto something here.

All of this barely scratches the surface of what poured in yesterday
so keep the tips and feedback coming to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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