Stick to flying planes

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Stick to flying planes

When it comes to political correctness, Qantas is in danger of outdoing the ABC, writes Nick Cater in The Australian.

One hesitates to criticise the national airline since, unlike Bel­gium, Switzerland and Brazil, we still have one. It so easily might have worked out differently if Qantas had been sold to a private equity consortium in 2007, as the board recommended, on the eve of the global financial crisis.

Alan Joyce’s role in turning ­around the airline is underappreciated at the ABC, where the level of his remuneration — or “renumeration”, as Tony Jones prefers to call it — seems to rankle.

Most of us are content to leave executive pay to directors, who in the private sector answer to shareholders.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Qantas and its chief executive received particular attention in the ABC’s economic correspondent’s notorious report on corporate tax last month. Emma Alberici appears to regard it as a national disgrace that the airline has returned insufficient profits to pay tax in recent years, instead of what happens when a company books a $2.84 billion loss, as Qantas did in 2014. The ABC, incidentally, returns that kind of loss every couple of years.

The national broadcaster could learn a lot from the national airline: attentiveness to customer requirements, product innovation, efficiency and cost saving, and a management that does not fear unpopularity among its staff.

Yet, bizarrely, the reverse is happening. When it comes to political correctness, Qantas is in danger of outdoing the ABC.

An internal booklet that fell into the hands of Ally Foster at Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph last week instructs staff to mind their language in preparation for Spirit of Inclusion month. In case you thought you were dreaming when you read the story for the first time, here it is again.

Qantas staff have been banned from using the words husband and wife along with mum and dad for fear of causing offence to non-heterosexuals and single parents. Staff really have been told to adopt the terms partner, spouse and parents to avoid discriminating against LGBTI families. The words guys, love, honey and darling also should be avoided. Why? ­Because “language can make groups of people invisible”.

Try explaining that to the folk at the back of the bus.

Rote learning for Qantas staff should surely stop at instructions to passengers on the safe stowage of hand luggage and what to do in the “unlikely event” that the plane should touch down on water.

For Lesley Grant, the airline’s people and culture executive (yes, that’s her title), to assume the right to dictate what staff should think is disturbing.

By badging Qantas as the Spirit of Inclusion, if only for a month, the airline is flying blind into the dark and dangerous world of identity and grievance politics.

The Spirit of Australia has served the airline well as a slogan that proclaims its exceptionalism in the international aviation business where everything trends towards the same. Yet one could be forgiven for asking if Qantas understands the exceptional nature of Australia, or the spirit of the Enlightenment that inspired the settlement of the most successful countries on earth.

The most audacious aspect of the Spirit of Inclusion document is not the faux etiquette on avoiding offence — we’ve become immune to that stuff — but its adoption of the guilt-laden, postcolonial narrative of Australian settlement.

Staff are advised to “recognise the reality” that “Australia was not settled peacefully”.

“Describing the arrival of Europeans as a ‘settlement’ is a view of Australian history from the perspective of England rather than Australia,” it says.

“Instead of settlement, try ‘colonisation’, ‘occupation’ or ‘invasion’.”

It was bad enough that our universities have become absorbed with questioning Australia’s national legitimacy.

To push a narrative of blame and shame seems a wholly unnecessary diversion from what Qantas does exceptionally well: flying its passengers safely from A to B.

It should avoid getting involved in defining the terms of Australian settlement, something at which it has shown itself to be utterly useless.

The settlement of Australia was a striking departure from previous patterns of colonisation. The British, unlike the Dutch, did not come to trade, not least because the local hunter-gatherer occupants had little to barter.

The British did not come here to plunder or pillage like the Spanish or Portuguese. They were not here primarily to build a fortress; the expense of settling a remote continent could not have been justified by its strategic value alone.

They were not here to make religious converts; and, while NSW was a penal colony, they were not here to build a prison. This was to be a land of penal reform, where convicts could win freedom by mending their ways. There would be no slavery; every human being was of equal worth.

The British settled NSW to practise the lessons of the Enlightenment, intent on building a new civilisation through reason and science, operating on humane principles.

These are the established facts that should be the starting point for discussing the progress of Australia since 1788, the significance of its liberal and democratic institutions, its periodic failure to live up to its noble ideals, and the steps taken to correct its failings. That Qantas should want to join the dismal chorus of those who feel ashamed of our heritage is confusing for an airline that likes to badge itself as proudly Australian.

To encourage the use of terms such as occupation and invasion as the path to “inclusiveness” — whatever that abstract noun may mean — implies a corporate culture flying badly off course.

It will mean exclusion for anyone who cares for historical facts, those who hold our founding figures in high regard and those who retain a scintilla of pride for their country.

Let us hope the Qantas board and its chief executive have the courage to pulp this divisive document and apologise for the offence it has caused to those who regard themselves as fortunate to call Australia home.



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