Qantas won’t be forced to repay pandemic-era subsidies worth billions of dollars, Treasurer Jim Chalmers has said, despite the airline posting sky-high profits.
On Thursday, Australia’s national carrier, Qantas Group, announced a record full-year statutory profit of $1.74bn after it incurred more than $7bn of statutory loss during the pandemic.
But the announcement has subsequently renewed calls by the Transport Workers’ Union for Qantas to repay the $2.7bn in pandemic-era bailouts it received, calls that the airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce has rejected.
“Should we refund that? No, we provided a service,” Mr Joyce told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
Appearing on ABC RN Breakfast on Friday, Dr Chalmers defended Qantas’ record profit result and knocked back calls for the airline to reimburse the tax office.
“There wasn’t an understanding or an agreement that they would be repaid in some form,” Dr Chalmers said.
“I think what it reflects is the fact that the Australian tourism industry is making a big contribution to our economy and that’s a good thing.”
“We’re seeing that in the way that aviation has recovered pretty strongly, and you see that in the numbers released yesterday.”
Companies including Harvey Norman, Cochlear, Mirvac, SEEK and Blackmores have returned hundreds of millions of dollars in JobKeeper subsidies to the tax office after posting healthy profits during and after the pandemic.
But not Qantas.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that Qantas Group was the largest recipient of the JobKeeper scheme, claiming $160.5m in FY2020 and a further $695.5m in FY2021.
The airline also received a share of funding under the $1bn International Freight Assistance Mechanism and a $715m regional assistance package.
According to Qantas, a substantial portion of the JobKeeper payments it received was directed towards their employees despite the unfortunate lay-offs of some staff, with the remainder earmarked for free-for-service freight and repeated flight operations.
The exclusion of a clawback mechanism to return JobKeeper funding to the tax office under the scheme later became the object of strong criticism.
The 2022-23 profit result was the last full-year reporting period with Mr Joyce at the helm, having led the airline for 15 years. His replacement, Qantas chief financial officer Vanessa Hudson, will assume the chief executive role from October.
Originally published as Treasurer Jim Chalmers rules out calls for Qantas to repay pandemic-era subsidies