Features Australia

No pie in the sky

1 July 2017

9:00 AM

1 July 2017

9:00 AM

The authoritarian attitude of Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has been challenged by Robin Speed, the President of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia and Dr Stuart Ballantyne, CEO of the international Sea Transport Corp (Australia, China, Hong Kong, US).

On May 9, Joyce received a lemon meringue pie in the face at a business function in Perth, where he was the keynote speaker, from Tony Overheu (67), a retired farmer, aggrieved at the CEO’s high profile campaign in favour of redefining marriage (Joyce is homosexual).

Initial sympathy was, of course with Joyce, who came back to a standing ovation after cleaning himself up from the pie attack. Overheu subsequently unreservedly apologised for his actions but has since been charged, as Joyce indicated at the time, and may face a jail term.

That should have been the end of the matter but the apparent vindictiveness of Joyce and/or Qantas has been revealed by Overheu having a worldwide lifetime ban imposed on him by Australia’s leading airline.

Qantas (and subsidiary Jetstar) account for 60 per cent of all domestic flights in Australia, including WA, so it is clearly a dominant market force in aviation, with over 50 million passengers per year using the Flying Kangaroo.

As Speed notes, ‘to prevent anyone from flying is a serious matter with serious consequences,’ (News Weekly 17/6/17). Indeed, and as he further asks, would the CEO of a hospital, thus treated, have the right to ban the alleged perpetrator from receiving hospital treatment? Hardly.

As it was not an airport incident, nor had anything to do with endangering plane safety, then clearly it is not in the same realm as a suicide bomber acting for Daesh, or any other murderous criminal Islamist organisation.

Speed says the ban is unlawful and that Qantas has an obligation under sections 20 and 21 of Australian Consumer Law to allow such travel, and that Qantas has no reason for initiating such a ban on the grounds of changing the definition of marriage. Speed notes that if it were otherwise, the airline could demand each passenger declare their support for the change in the law and if they did not they could be banned from flying.

Ballantyne’s letter to the Qantas board informs them that as a frequent flyer, with 40 years of patronage with Qantas, he was ‘ disappointed with Alan Joyce’s brazen support of SSM’ and that he was interested in ‘safety, service and scheduling,’ and not the CEO’s opinion on social issues.

Ballantyne goes on to say Qantas ‘have peddled their internal policies with gay dating in their in-flight magazine for some time,’ including promoting Same Sex Marriage messages on boarding passes and black open rings for staff (in support of the proposal).

Ballantyne in his letter to the Board argues that as Qantas is the only airline in the world that gives such overt support to SSM, that this may place Qantas customers at risk of terrorist reprisal and, further, Ballantyne asked what happens to Qantas staff who do not support this SSM promotional activity?

Ballantyne also invites the Board to look at Joyce’s performance as CEO since his appointment in late 2008 (his salary last year was almost $13 million per annum).

Ballantyne notes that Qantas has slipped from second to ninth in global rankings of airlines and describes how his own recent flight to the US was in an old, shabby plane; that average EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) have been 1.5 per cent while Air NZ has been 5.9 per cent; that return on equity is a ‘staggeringly low’ average of 0.5 per cent, whilst Air NZ is 10.6 per cent; and dividend payout ratio 28 per cent, compared to 100 per cent for Air NZ.

Ballantyne writes that ‘recent improvement has only been achieved as the result of massive asset write downs, huge redundancies, and a very significant favourable shift in fuel prices.’ The ban on the pie man was both ‘petulant and hissy’, Ballantyne writes, and concludes by telling Qantas that bans go both ways. His staff have now been banned from business travel with Qantas due to poor service, lack of value for money and the selective presentation of SSM ‘which we consider dangerous and unnecessary.’

This is not the first time that controversy has arisen on Joyce’s watch. Four years ago there was uproar over the airline’s decision to ban pork meals on flights to Dubai.

A veritable firestorm on social media ensured over this 2013 decision, with Qantas being dubbed, Al-Qantas, The Flying Mosque-a-roo and being asked questions as to ‘who owns Qantas?’.

Given that homosexuals are thrashed or murdered in many Islamic countries (being thrown from high rise buildings is one punishment) one might have thought the national carrier would represent Australian cuisine rather than pander to Muslim peccadilloes.

Increasingly, the Qantas CEO risks appearing to be seen as a nasty, vindictive man, determined to have his way on what he deems the correct approach to social issues.

Sympathies that many conservatives felt for with him over the pie affair have now dissipated owing to his venal approach to Overheu. It takes a particular ‘quality’ to make someone like Overheu appear to be the victim, but Joyce and his company have achieved that by the ridiculous ban they imposed on the former farmer.

Just as noone denies Joyce the right to press charges against Overheu there will be little sympathy for Qantas if Overheu takes similar legal action against the airline company should he be rejected as a customer, as even hardened criminals are not subjected to such bans, after serving their time.

Messrs Speed and Ballantyne are right to raise this perceived arrogance of the Qantas chief as Joyce has clearly overplayed his hand and needs to be reminded that he does not control who uses the skies.

Neither does Joyce have the right to, pardon the expression, push gay marriage down our collective throats, because he thinks it is appropriate that Qantas promotes redefining marriage in his image.

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