Treasurer Jim Chalmers has hosed down suggestions Qantas should pay back money it received from the government after the airline posted record profits.
Qantas on Thursday reported an underlying profit of $2.47 billion for the past financial year, compared with an almost $2 billion loss the year before.
But the Flying Kangaroo is under pressure in the wake of the results to pay back money it received from the federal government at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
It received $2.7 billion from taxpayers during the pandemic, including $900 million from the JobKeeper program.
The airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce said it was just 11 weeks away from bankruptcy at the time.
But Dr Chalmers said the profits from Qantas showed the tourism industry was making a strong recovery post-COVID.
“When those funds were provided by the previous government, there wasn’t an understanding or an agreement that they would be repaid in some form,” he told ABC Radio on Friday.
“What (the profits) reflect is the fact the Australian tourism industry is making a big contribution to our economy and that’s a good thing.
“It’s a big employer in our economy.”
Mr Joyce said the JobKeeper funds from the government went to its employees.
“Should our people who got the money for JobKeeper pay that back?” he told the ABC’s 7.30 program.
“I’d say no because that’s asking them to pay it back in a difficult period of time, so what money do we pay back exactly?”
Mr Joyce, who has been summoned to appear before the Senate’s cost-of-living inquiry next week, said economy fares had dropped 12 per cent since peaking last December.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Mr Joyce had led the airline well during a difficult period, which included the pandemic.
“It was a tough period for those airlines,” Mr Dutton told Nine’s Today program.
“To be able to keep the company afloat during that period with the support of a lot of taxpayers’ money, I think that will be one thing that (Mr Joyce) chalks up.”
ACTU president Michele O’Neil said the airline had driven down terms and conditions for its workers in a bid to maximise its profits.
“On some Qantas domestic flights, you see the cabin crew on five different rates of pay on the same plane, all for doing the same job,” she said.
“Two workers, working alongside each other doing the same job with the same skills should be paid the same rate, and with these sorts of profits we know they can afford it.”