Qantas calls in consultants to probe scandals that could kill former CEO Alan Joyce’s $16m in bonuses

Daniel Newell
The Nightly
Alan Joyce is still waiting on payment of $16 in bonuses.
Alan Joyce is still waiting on payment of $16 in bonuses. Credit: methode/methode

Qantas has called in outside consultants to quiz senior executives over a litany of scandals that plagued the airline and trashed its public image under the watch of former chief executive Alan Joyce.

The appointment of former Boston Consulting Group strategy chief Colin Carter by the Flying Kangaroo’s board, according to The Australian, could put payment of the controversial high-flyer’s $16 million of withheld bonuses in jeopardy.

Mr Joyce beat an early retreat from Qantas in September last year — two months ahead of his planned departure — as the airline suffered a series of public relations disasters.

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The most damning was court action launched by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over so-called “ghost” flights, with the watchdog claiming it sold tickets on more than 8000 services between May and June in 2022 that had already been cancelled.

Qantas was also found to have illegally sacked 1700 ground workers at the height of the COVID pandemic and copped a public backlash over sky-high airfares, poor customer service, lost luggage and delayed or cancelled flight in the months after coronavirus travel borders were lifted.

It was also embroiled in the Federal Government’s shock decision to block a push for 28 additional flights a week into Australia by rival Qatar Airways, with suggestions the call was made to protect its profits amid heightened demand for international travel.

Passenger also railed against the carrier over a botched credit and refund scheme for flights cancelled at the outset of the pandemic.

“An independent review into these matters and a broader review of governance was commissioned by the board,” Qantas told The Australian on Wednesday.

(L-R) Outgoing Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, newly appointed Qantas Group CEO, and current CFO, Vanessa Hudson, and Chairperson of Qantas Airways Richard Goyder, apose for a photograph following a press conference at Qantas Head Office in Sydney, Tuesday, May 2, 2023. an Joyce is stepping down after his long run as head of Qantas, to be replaced by the airline's chief financial officer Vanessa Hudson. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi) NO ARCHIVING
Former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, successor Vanessa Hudson, and chair Richard Goyder. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAPIMAGE

“These will be considered in the coming months and any outcome in relation to executive remuneration will then be shared.”

It is believed Mr Joyce and members of his executive team, along with several board members, are currently being interviewed, with the outcome to be measured against any performance or profit-related bonus conditions.

Qantas’ last annual report revealed Mr Joyce’s short-term bonuses were put on ice, while other entitlements which made up his huge $21.4m salary for 2022-23 could be clawed back by the airline.

The Australian said a total of $16m was at risk, which included long-term bonuses of $13.97m plus a short-term bonus of $2.19m.

Qantas last month agreed to pay up to $450 each to tens of thousands of customers stung by the ghost flights scandal, plus a $100m fine for what the ACCC branded “egregious and unacceptable” conduct. In some instances, it was claimed tickets on the flights were still being sold for up to 47 days after they were cancelled, while some passengers were only notified of the cancellation two days before the flight.

The airline is also still locked in compensation talks over pay-outs for the 1700 sacked ground workers.

Board chair, and prominent WA business leader, Richard Goyder also faced the wrath of passengers, shareholders and unions anger over the scandals.

His staunch defence of Mr Joyce’s final tumultuous year at the helm raised eyebrows and ultimately led to his decision in October to step down, conceding the board needed to be held accountable for the issues plaguing Qantas.

“We acknowledge the significant reputational and customer service issues facing the group and recognise that accountability is required to restore trust,” Mr Goyder said at the time.

“Qantas has gone through an incredibly difficult period since our operation was grounded during the pandemic. The recovery has not been easy, and mistakes were made. We again apologise for those times where we got it wrong.”

Mr Goyder is set to depart sometime ahead of Qantas’ annual general meeting later this year, but no fixed date has been set.

He will be replaced by former Telstra chair Joh Mullen, who last week took a thinly veiled swipe at both Mr Goyder and Mr Joyce’s support for the Voice to Parliament’s ‘Yes’ campaign and the same-sex marriage vote with shareholder funds

Mr Mullen said company leaders should find the right balance between investor returns and “greater stakeholder involvement”.

Depending on when Mr Goyder leaves, Mr Mullen could be in the top job when Mr Carter presents the findings of his review.

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