Xenophon re-emerges as the voice of underdog Huawei

Will Glasgow, Christine Lacy

December 2, 2019

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Xenophon re-emerges as the voice of ‘underdog’ Huawei

Nick Xenophon has taken his long-running beef with Qantas boss Alan Joyce out of Canberra and into the skies.

Margin Call can reveal Xenophon has been enlisted by Qantas’s pilots to advise them on their ongoing battle with Joyce’s executive team over their pay and conditions for working on “Project Sunrise”. That’s the circa 19 hour flights Qantas plans to soon operate regularly and directly from Australia to London and, in a separate ultra-long-haul route, to New York.

Xenophon — a human billboard during his idiosyncratic political career — has been uncharacteristically discreet about the new assignment. The former Senate dealmaker offered a polite “no comment” when we asked about it. Until our discovery, we gather the national carrier was in the dark on the new development. They won’t be happy about it.

Xenophon — who has recently set up a US-style advocacy legal shop with former journalist Mark Davis, who we gather is his fellow partner on the Qantas case — has more baggage with the airline than an airport carousel at Heathrow on Christmas Eve.

The South Australian senator was a rare federal politician to decline an invitation to one of Canberra’s most coveted perks, the Chairman’s Lounge. Unburdened by any corporate favours, Xenophon was a longtime critic of decisions taken by Joyce’s management team and firmly opposed the listed national carrier’s lobbying efforts for federal government support.

“It appears that CEO Mr Alan Joyce, the Chairman Mr Leigh Clifford and the Board have lurched from one failed strategy to another,” Xenophon wrote in a senate report back in the Abbott era. The trained lawyer was still banging on about Qantas during his brief return to state politics where he ran on an unsuccessful platform that included a pitch to get the airline to train pilots in regional South Australia.

Many of Qantas’s pilots believe they are now in a rare moment of leverage as they negotiate for terms of Joyce’s commercially important new flights. With one of the wiliest deal-makers Canberra has ever seen now onboard, Joyce and the team should brace for turbulence.

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