Qantas shareholders have unleashed on the airline at its annual general meeting in Melbourne.
Tensions were high on Friday as those in attendance and online were invited to directly address Chair Richard Goyder and CEO Vanessa Hudson.
Ms Hudson took over as CEO in September when Alan Joyce walked away from the top job two months early so the airline could “move ahead with its renewal” under new management, while Mr Goyder will retire before the airline’s annual general meeting in late-2024.
At one point, Mr Goyder instructed to “close down” a microphone as one shareholder questioned former Mr Joyce’s sale of a “significant proportion” of his Qantas shares before a string of controversies marred the airline and caused its share prices to plummet.
Mr Goyder told Chris Maxworthy he was “implying an illegal act” when “there was nothing illegal”, while Mr Maxworthy stated he had concerns over ethics.
“I’m not going to let that stand in this room,” Mr Goyder said.
Audience members shouted “shame on you” at the chair’s decision to cut Mr Maxworthy off.
Only the question prior to Mr Maxworthy, Mr Goyder had interrupted someone else by saying “I don’t want speeches, I want questions”.
Later on, the audience gave a round applause when the Qantas board was asked how many of them had flown internationally in economy in the last 12 months and encouraged them to do so.
“Don’t get privileges and fast check throughs and all that kind of stuff. We get it, you’re all very important people, put yourself in the shoes of the average Joe and see what kind of experience they’re having,” Greg Harper said.
Qantas spent $370k on Yes campaign
Qantas revealed it spent about $370,000 on supporting the Yes campaign in the lead up to the Voice to Parliament referendum, which failed.
Mr Goyder said Qantas management, led by Mr Joyce, had made a recommendation to support the campaign, which was endorsed by the board.
“The contribution we made was in kind and equal to about $370,000,” he said.
“We knew at the time that there would be a diverse set of views but we felt it was important that we continued to support what we had done for a long period of time in terms of Aboriginal reconciliation.”
Mr Joyce unveiled three planes with the Yes23 campaign logo at Sydney Airport in August alongside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Ms Hudson and Mr Goyder had fronted a marathon three and a half-hour senate committee hearing for an inquiry in September where they were grilled about Qantas’ connection to the Yes campaign.
Senator Bridget McKenzie repeated the Coalition’s inference the decision to back the Yes campaign was some sort of ‘quid pro quo’ in exchange for the government’s rejection of Qatar Airways’ request for more flights into Australia.
Qantas’ legal counsel Andrew Finch denied this. Ms Hudson, when asked later, insisted they were “completely different and unrelated positions”.
Qantas holds $520m in unredeemed Covid credits
It was revealed Qantas now held $520 million in unredeemed Covid travel credits, which was down from $570 million in August.
“We’re not going to stop until that balance is zero,” Ms Hudson said at the AGM.
In August, Qantas announced it would scrap the expiry date on Covid travel credits, following intense questioning of Mr Joyce for a separate senate inquiry and public backlash.
The backlash intensified when it was revealed Qantas had not been fully transparent about the value of unredeemed credits.
Mr Joyce had said there were $370 million worth of unclaimed credits when discussing the Qantas Group’s full year results on August 24, which was later confirmed to not include Qantas-owned budget airline Jetstar or international customers.
At the hearing on August 28, Mr Joyce confirmed the $370 million number he had previously quoted did not include Jetstar and overseas customers, but he could not say how much the total value of credits would be if they were included.
Jetstar CEO Stephanie Tully, who also appeared before the committee, said unclaimed Jetstar travel credits sat at around $100 million.
Refusal to answer questions about Qantas Chairman’s Lounge
Mr Goyder refused to answer a question about Mr Albanese’s son, university student Nathan Albanese, being granted access to Qantas’ invite-only Chairman’s Lounge.
“We’re not going to go into any matters around Chairman’s Lounge membership,” he said.
Mr Joyce had also previously refused to answer questions about the decision.
The Qantas Chairman’s Lounge membership list includes the country’s top CEOs, A-list celebrities, and politicians.
It has been described as “probably the most exclusive club in the country” by Mr Joyce.
As politicians took aim at Qantas over various issues this year, they were forced to reveal their memberships.
Five of the seven commissioners of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission were revealed as members and news.com.au also revealed every current Federal Court judge was a member of the lounge.
Following the revelation, the Federal Court said it would establish a public register for judges to disclose membership of Qantas Chairman’s Club.
Shareholders reject remuneration report
Almost 83 per cent of Qantas shareholders have rejected the company’s remuneration report, which included Mr Joyce’s $21.4 million payout on his early exit.
“This is obviously a very clear message from shareholders,” Mr Goyder said.
A spill resolution will be added to the agenda of next year’s AGM, however the spill would only be triggered by a second strike or vote against the 2024 remuneration report, The Australian reports.
More to come.