Qantas 'pressured on carbon tax'

Qantas felt it was urged to complain more loudly about the carbon tax to rebuild its damaged relationship with the Abbott government, according to a Qantas source.

That feeling appears to have prompted a Qantas media release on Wednesday revealing for the first time a half-year carbon tax bill of $59 million. It came soon after a telephone conversation between Treasurer Joe Hockey and airline chief executive Alan Joyce.

Confirming the talks on Thursday, just minutes before legislation was introduced to repeal the foreign ownership restrictions in the Qantas Sale Act, Mr Hockey denied he had applied pressure on the airline to clarify the tax's impact on its balance sheet.

''No, not at all, we haven't leaned on the carrier,'' Mr Hockey said.

Yet Fairfax Media has learnt senior management at the Flying Kangaroo felt, through general public statements and private communications, that the government wanted it to make more of the carbon tax's part in its $252 million half-year loss announced last week.

Strained relations between the national carrier and the Abbott government had turned sharply south on Monday when, as cabinet was discussing a request for a debt guarantee, the airline issued a statement seen as contradicting the Treasurer.

The Qantas statement, which came after Mr Hockey had said that Mr Joyce had blamed the carbon tax for a significant part of the company's loss, said: ''The major issues faces [sic] Qantas are not related to the carbon tax.''

The government viewed the statement as deliberately unhelpful, and as evidence Qantas was not as financially stressed as claimed.

Mr Hockey said on Thursday that Mr Joyce had since dismissed Monday's statement as an ''entirely incorrect'' interpretation of the tax's impact and one wrongly issued by a ''low-level person''.

The opposition, however, dismisses the suggestion that a multibillion-dollar listed company had made unscripted public comments, with one insider describing the claim as ''complete bullshit''.

The suggestion of government pressure comes as the Senate prepares to launch two separate inquiries into the airline looking at the impact on jobs arising from the repeal of foreign ownership limits.

A bill lifting the 49 per cent foreign ownership restriction in the Qantas Sale Act cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday with 83 votes to 53 after a rancorous debate in which Labor leader Bill Shorten branded Coalition MPs ''the cheese-eating surrender monkeys of Australian jobs''.

In question time Labor continued its attack, insinuating that Qantas' safety record would be compromised if a foreign takeover meant more of the airline's maintenance was done overseas.

That brought an angry response from Prime Minister Tony Abbott who said instead of taking part in a debate the opposition should take part in a rescue.

''The Leader of the Opposition is trying to suggest that without the restrictions that exist under the Qantas Sale Act an airline can't be safe,'' Mr Abbott said.

The bill faces certain defeat in the Senate by a Labor-Greens alliance, although Labor has signalled it is prepared to discuss limits on individual airline holdings and a cap on individual equity.

The bill coincides with the first murmurs of disquiet within Labor. A senior Labor figure expressed dismay that the party that had shown the vision and courage to sell the once government-owned airline was now standing in the way of its profitability and capacity to compete internationally for foreign investment.

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