China has accused Australia of “dancing to the tune” of the United States, as Beijing pushed back at calls for an independent inquiry into the origins and handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, had stressed the need for transparency as she suggested a review to examine how Covid-19 developed into a pandemic.
When asked on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday whether her trust in China had been eroded, Payne said her “concern about these issues … is at a very high point”.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Geng Shuang, said Payne’s remarks were “not based on facts”.
“China is seriously concerned about and firmly opposed to this,” he said when asked by the ABC to respond at his regular press conference yesterday.
According to the official transcript – which has now been posted online – Geng argued China had acted openly, transparently and responsibly and had not lost any time in reporting the outbreak to the World Health Organisation.
And he said the origin of the novel coronavirus was “a serious question of science that should be studied by scientists and medical experts”.
“We hope that the Australian side can treat this issue in an objective, scientific and scrupulous manner,” Geng said. He said China hoped Australia would “do more things to deepen China-Australia relations, enhance mutual trust and help epidemic prevention and control in both countries, rather than dancing to the tune of a certain country to hype up the situation” – an apparent reference to the US.
In the interview with Insiders, Payne had said she shared some of the concerns the US had raised about the WHO. She had said an independent review should look into details “about the genesis of the virus, about the approaches to dealing with it, and addressing it, about the openness with which information was shared, about interaction with the World Health Organisation, interaction with other international leaders”.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released some very sobering jobs and wages statistics measuring the Covid-19 downturn.
The ABS found that from 14 March to 4 April, jobs were down 6% and pay down 6.7%. Accommodation and food services (-25.6%), arts and recreation (-18.7%) and mining (-8.4%) lead the way on job losses in that period.
Accommodation and food services (-25.6%), arts and recreation (-18.7%) and mining (-8.4%) lead the way on job losses, according to ABS stats for 14 March to 4 April pic.twitter.com/kHq3ArvYss
April 21, 2020
Unsurprisingly, accommodation and food services, and arts and recreation services also lead the way on pay cuts – down 30.1% and 15.7% respectively. The very young and very old were both hit on job numbers: employment of over 70s was down 9.7% and those under 20 down 9.9%.
The young were hit even harder when it comes to pay, with wages down a whopping 12.7% for those under 20, and 9.1% for those aged 20-29.
By age: those over 70 had the biggest job cuts, but those under 20 hammered on wage cuts. pic.twitter.com/PKfE4K401q
April 21, 2020
Women have also been hit disproportionately by pay cuts. Payments to females decreased by 7.0% while payments to males decreased by 6.4%.
at 2.59am BST
And that’s that. So, just to quickly recap that whirlwind 15 minutes.
The federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg seems to have ruled out a bailout for Virgin Australia, at least for now. But the government has appointed former Macquarie chief executive Nicholas Moore to act as a kind of emissary for the government to deal with the administrator. Frydenberg said the wants two airlines operating in Australia, but that he wants a “market-led solution”.
At virtually the same time, Virgin Australia chief executive Paul Scurrah said the aviation industry is going through an “unprecedented” challenge and that “the oxygen supply of our business was cut off” by Covid-19.
He said he takes comfort in the government’s comments, and is confident the company will come out of administration “leaner, stronger and fitter”. The new administrator, Vaughn Strawbridge, said there was no plan to force workers to take redundancies at this point and that Virgin would continue to operate at its current reduced scale.
Strawbridge is asked how long Virgin can keep operating at its current reduced capacity before the money it has runs out.
We’re working through that. We’re comfortable and confident we have sufficient funding in order to continue to trade during this period to restructure the business and a host of parties have reached out to provide financial support during this.
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Scurrah says Richard Branson “cares deeply” about Virgin.
I talk to Richard on a regular basis. It must be remembered that Richard takes a lot of pride in this company and it’s one of the airlines he pays a lot of attention to. Richard’s portfolio has hotels, cruise lines and airlines, so you can understand that Richard is hurting. But he’s doing everything he possibly can to help us get through this and maintains a strong interest in participating going forward.
More than 10 expressions of interest in Virgin Airlines takeover
Strawbridge says “in excess of 10 parties” have expressed interest in Virgin.
There were a number of parties that are reached out prior to our interim funding proposal or package and another few have come in overnight. We won’t go into specifics on who those parties are. Obviously, we have to keep those parties confidential, but they are in excess of 10 parties and I’ll say in excess of 10 parties who are known to us who have got a keen interest in being part of the restructure of Virgin.
It’s quite a wide cross section of parties and, yes, there are international parties that have expressed an interest, but it is wide and it crosses the whole spectrum of potential parties. We can’t go in to give you any details at this stage
at 2.53am BST
The Virgin Australia administrator Vaughan Strawbridge is speaking now. He says Deloitte is “not planning any changes to the operation of the business”. There are “no plans to make any redundancies” of Virgin’s remaining staff and “wages will continue to be paid”.
He says there has been an “extraordinary amount of interest in the business and in the restructuring of VirginAustralia”.
And so we are confident that this will result in a restructuring being achieved in a short period of time. As I said, we have not changed anything in respect to the operations or the employees. They’re continuing to be employed. There is no plans to make any redundancies. Wages will continue to be paid and those who have been stood down and are accessing jobkeeper, the intention is to continue to make those payments available to those staff.
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Scurrah says Virgin is “very focused on making sure we preserve as many jobs as we can to provide as many jobs for the existing Virgin Australia Group workforce”.
Scurrah says he’s comforted by the government’s insistence that it wants two airlines operating in Australia. Virgin will come out of administration “leaner, stronger and fitter”:
We take comfort from the comments from the government that this country needs a robust and healthy two-airline market. And because of this procession we’re going through, because of the early decision of our board, that airline will be Virgin Australia. We’ll come back leaner, stronger and fitter, and play our role in making sure that the economy of Australia – which is currently devastated by the impact of Covid-19 – recovers as quickly as it possibly can for all Australians.
at 2.52am BST
OK, we’re leaving the treasurer to go to the Virgin Australia chief executive, Paul Scurrah.
He says the airline is facing “the worst aviation crisis we’ve ever seen in our history”:
We’re not immune to that. Our board made a very courageous decision last night to put the company into voluntary administration and do so quickly, with the intent of working with our administrator, Deloitte, to come through and be as strong as we possibly can on the other side of this crisis.
at 2.51am BST
Frydenberg is asked whether the government will intervene if a “market-led solution” can’t be found. He says he’s “not going to speculate on what happens in the weeks and months ahead”:
Michael [McCormack] and I have both referred to the company’s statement itself as saying that they are hopeful of working through [the] restructuring of their business and refinancing of their business with a view to coming out stronger on the other side.
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Government wants ‘market-led’ solution to Virgin, Josh Frydenberg says
Josh Frydenberg is asked what Nicholas Moore’s job will actually be, and whether that indicates that the government may intervene at some point.
He says the airline business “is important to the economy”:
And these matters of voluntary administration are complex. But it’s also a well-known path for companies to restructure and to recapitalise and to come out stronger on the other side, and cases in point – at Channel Ten, Darrell Lea and other companies that have gone through the voluntary administration process. So we have engaged Nicholas Moore in that process to talk to the parties and, in particular, to talk to the administrator, Deloittes, with a view to ensuring that we continue to maintain two airlines on those domestic routes here in Australia, but also a market-led solution is our preference.
at 2.50am BST
Frydenberg has announced that Nicholas Moore, a former chief executive of Macquarie, will “engage with the administrator on behalf of the government” as well as the Department of Treasury and Finance. He reiterates though that that government wants a “market-led solution”:
Our objective is two commercially viable, major domestic airlines operating in Australia. And we will work constructively with Deloittes through Nicholas Moore and our Treasury and Finance teams from here.
at 2.49am BST
The treasurer Josh Frydenberg is speaking now. He says Virgin is “not Ansett”, and is ruling out a bailout for the company.
This is not liquidation. This is not Ansett. This is not the end of the airline. Rather as the company itself has said in its statement, this is an opportunity for the company to recapitalise and come out stronger on the other side of the coronavirus crisis.
Virgin Australia is a very good airline performing a very important role and this is a difficult day for its staff, for its suppliers, and for the aviation sector more broadly. But theGovernment was not going to bail out five large foreign shareholders with deep pockets who, together, own 90% of this airline.
Michael McCormack is speaking now.
He says he feels for Virgin employees.
As a government we understand the complexity of this situation. We also understand that as Virgin has said, this is a way out, to recapitalise. There is a path forward under voluntary administration to recapitalise and restructure their business and this is important.
He says the government has already assisted the airline through measures such as waiving the fuel excise, funding to continue regional Australian routes and freight assistance.
That press conference with Josh Frydenberg and Michael McCormack is due to start very soon, as is a press conference by the Virgin chief executive, Paul Scurrah. Which is great news for me, the person trying to liveblog them both.
at 2.28am BST
Virgin Australia administrator Vaughan Strawbridge said more than 10 parties were interested in taking part in recapitalising the airline.
He said expressions of interest would be sought in the next three weeks and then he would run a sale process lasting about a month.
The airline’s chief executive, Paul Scurrah, said it initially sought a $1.4bn loan from the federal government, convertible into shares – which would have wiped out the company’s existing shareholders.
After long negotiations, mainly to deal with the government’s unwillingness to nationalise the airline, Virgin Australia yesterday made a final request for $200m. This was also rebuffed and in the evening the company’s board put it into administration.
But Strawbridge said the government still had an important role in getting the airline back on track, although he did not explain what that was.
at 2.28am BST