Qantas faces shareholder backlash over deportation of asylum seekers

As the "Spirit of Australia" celebrates its 99th year serving the nation, on the floor of the Qantas annual general meeting in Adelaide, human rights questions were being asked of the national carrier.

Qantas’ role in the deportation of asylum seekers and refugees was in the spotlight as the company’s board faced questions about their policies at their annual general meeting. 

Shareholder activists tried unsuccessfully to move that Qantas review their policies on carrying asylum seekers on flights against their will. 

The activists, representing about 100 shareholders, put a motion forward calling on Qantas to review its policies regarding the deportation of asylum seekers. 

Qantas chairman Richard Goyder and CEO Alan Joyce during the annual general meeting.
Source: AAP

Any company that’s operating in Australia, especially in the case of transporting individuals consensually or non-consensually, ultimately that’s something that any company should be very clear about its disclosure to its shareholders,” human rights advocate Jacob Thomas told SBS News. 

The campaign to pressure Qantas mirrors similar campaigns in the United States and the United Kingdom, where some major airlines have refused to fly deportees. 

In Australia, Virgin and the unlisted private company Skytraders also fly asylum seekers at the request of the Department of Home Affairs. 

Last month Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce told the National Press Club the company was right to take a stand on social issues, such as same-sex marriage. 

But today the chairman of the Qantas board Richard Goyder called on shareholders to vote against the proposed review. 

The 2019 Qantas annual general meeting in Adelaide faced questions over the airline’s role in transporting deportees.
Source: AAP

“We need to be clear on this matter, the federal government is best placed to make decisions on the legal status of people seeking asylum, not airlines,” he said. 

Michael O’Faraday, who was representing his shareholder wife, said the debate was an important one.  

“The issues that were raised today were very important, I think they go beyond corporation issues, they are government issues,” he said. 

Another shareholder, Andrew, who only wanted to give his first name, said he was largely unaware of the debate. 

“I’m interested in the airlines and what part they play in the whole issue in Australia, but I wasn’t aware there was so much contention,” he said.

Despite the motion receiving the support of less than 24 per cent of shareholders, activists say they will continue their campaign.

Published 25 October 2019 at 4:18pm
By Jarni Blakkarly