It’s ended in heartbreak but the campaign to keep Ansett flying should really be remembered for the courage, determination and decency of the airline’s devoted staff writes Noel Hester.

When John Anderson coldly called Ansett a carcass, they were there saying ‘We are the heartbeat.’

In the first few weeks of the election campaign, with John Howard shrilly declaring ‘It’s about refugees’, they were there shouting ‘It’s about jobs and security’.

While the corporate heavies were doing the deals in the smoke filled back rooms they kept the airline flying with a warmth and efficiency it was a privilege to be on the end of.

When the commentators with axes to grind and agendas to push penned ‘let it die’, they came back with 16,000 reasons why it should live.

In the end the forces were too great. Wily and ‘Wise’ blinked and it was all over, no doubt to the delight of the masters of cynicism who now lord over our degraded political landscape.

It can sound corny and cliched for labour activists to champion a group of workers who put up a fight as heroes, but these Ansett workers are the real McCoy.

In the surreal and reactionary place and time that present day Australia has become, they have stood out as a beacon of decency and commitment, as they gave it a go to save not only their jobs but an institution of social as well as economic value.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow says she has total admiration for the Ansett staff after sharing their experiences of the past months.

‘They did not take Ansett’s misfortune lying down. They turned up en masse at both creditors meetings determined to be a player in the company’s destiny. They rallied far and wide standing up for their rights and garnering support. They went to the suburbs and the regions, stood on soapboxes and knocked on doors, never left an opportunity slip to push their case. They stood toe to toe with Abbott, Anderson and Howard and with flair and forceful argument demolished their hypocritical positions. They’ve been loyal to the very end, they’ve been wonderful, and they deserve better than this,’ she says.

Machiavellian and Malevolent

The role of the Howard Government in the Ansett endgame is still to be revealed. In the murky and deceitful world of contemporary Australian politics, only time will tell. What is clear is the evidence that the Howard Government did not act in the interests of the Ansett staff or the airline industry:

  • The Howard Government was warned months before the collapse in September by Ansett management of the company’s problems They had refused to support for a rescue bid by Singapore Airlines several months before without any explanation. This bid could have saved the original Ansett and thousands of jobs.
  • John Anderson’s heartless description of Ansett as a carcass was an insight into the Government’s preference for immediate liquidation after Ansett’s collapse in September.
  • Government documents released by the Federal Court in October which revealed Government attempts to tie the administrators hands over employee entitlements and drive the company towards liquidation
  • The tardiness of the Government-owned Sydney Airport Corporation to sign over leases to the Ansett terminals exacerbated the fragility of Ansett in the dying days of the attempted sale
  • The value of the terminals to the Government in the soon-to-be realised privatisation if Ansett died
  • After the collapse of the Tesna bid and the obligatory shedding of crocodile tears for the Ansett staff, Howard shows his real preference for Ansett’s destiny to lie in the hands of anti-union champ Chris Corrigan.


Fox and Lew, too, have more than a few questions to answer in the Ansett fallout as ACTU Secretary Greg Combet was quick to point out.

‘They owe Ansett staff an explanation as to why they have reneged on their commitment and walked away,’ he said.