It’s totally in keeping with the whimsical and secretive nature of Australian airline regulation that the Qantas privateers yesterday caved in to a little political pressure and announced they would submit a Foreign Investment Review Board application.

APA took the hint from Dollar Sweetie, for which he happily claims credit in this morning’s AFR:

Treasurer Peter Costello told the AFR yesterday that he had informed representatives of Airline Partners Australia last Wednesday that it was in their best interests to lodge the bid, despite APA’s consistent argument that it does not have to do so since the bid does not involve a foreign takeover.

He said the process would provide impartial scrutiny of the proposal in line with foreign takeovers law.

Nudge, nudge, “in their best interests”, wink, wink. Go along with the FIRB process you’ll be right.

“Process” is the key word here. FIRB is a rather secretive and completely powerless body whose recommendations live or die at the whim of the Federal Treasurer. And that would be… ah yes, the man who told APA it would be in their best interests to go through the formalities.

On one level, the FIRB move is indeed in APA’s best interests as it gets the government off the hook on pressure for any broader and more public inquiry into the Qantas takeover.

But on another, it just reinforces the political meddling in the airline industry, which is perfectly fine by Virgin Blue. The junior partner in our duopoly has a whinge in the Oz that it’s worried the pollies might forget that it wants its cut of the protectionist pie as well.

So let’s have no loose talk about allowing more competition post-Qantas takeover.

Peter Fray

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