For the past month, Henry has been circumnavigating the globe on a well-earned holiday. With so much time spent idle in airplanes, he has had more than enough time to ponder the much-hyped Qantas takeover. As he said at the beginning of the trip, while the takeover plans were first being hatched, Henry imagined a boardroom conversation between the new directors:

“What we need is a world class safety record,” one imagines a new director saying. “Clearly the previous board was obsessive about keeping accidents below world’s best practice, a serious indulgence.”

Like Henry, Prime Minister John Howard took a summer break this month, which has allowed Mark Vaile to step up to the plate and lay out some potential Governmental requirements that will need to be satisfied for the Macquarie Bank and US private equity firm Texas Pacific Group-led takeover to take place.

Steve Lewis in today’s Oz says the requirements are likely to be similar to those imposed on Air New Zealand when it took complete control of Ansett – that it is “based in Australia, that it maintain regional routes and not significantly reduce skilled employment.”

Vaile goes on: “Obviously we can’t be too interventionist, but this business, particularly post-Ansett, is in a very unique position in the Australian economy [read: monopolistic, adds Henry] and therefore we need to move forward with great care in the process,”

This is an opportunity for the Howard Government to show its true colours – are they “market fundamentalists” as Rudd has charged, or are they likely to intervene under the guise of “national interest”?

Henry’s main concern of late, however, is safety. Australia has shown tremendous excellence in aircraft maintenance and through-life support, so it makes very good sense for the gummint to take steps to ensure that these jobs stay here. “National interest” is a notion close to JWH’s heart, so he will be equally unlikely to want to allow important national iconic jobs to go overseas.

The Government will also do anything it can to avoid a Texan recommending that his grandmother not buy shares in Qantas.

Henry believes the Government, in this election year, will run a “small target strategy”, so that Rudd gets nothing to throw at the Coalition. This will force the ALP to make ever more bold and grandiose statements which can then be attacked as folly and paint the Coalition as the only ones you can trust going into the election, just like with Latham (Troops home by Christmas, L plates campaign etc.) and Gillard (Medicare Gold) in the past.

Read more at Henry Thornton.

Peter Fray

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