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Furious shareholders reject Qantas’s exec pay plan

Qantas warns passengers to prepare for fare rises

Qantas has faced a shareholder revolt, with an overwhelming vote against the company’s remuneration report at its annual meeting.

The airline suffered a hard-hitting first strike against its remuneration report on Friday, with almost 83 per cent of shareholders voting against its structure of executive pay.

Just 16.95 per cent of votes at the Melbourne meeting backed the report, a feature of which was the $21.4 million payout for departing chief executive Alan Joyce.

Applause and cheers broke out from the floor as the numbers were read out.

Friday’s no vote is considered a “first strike”, meaning a spill resolution will be added to the agenda for Qantas’s 2024 annual meeting. It would be triggered if there is a similar vote against next year’s remuneration report.

Qantas chairman Richard Goyder said the vote was “obviously a very clear message from shareholders”.

“It’s matched by our determination to restore confidence and trust,” he said.

Elsewhere, in a charged meeting, director Todd Sampson survived a push to oust him, with 34 per cent of votes against his re-election. Despite the numbers, Sampson told the AGM that his marketing experience was needed.

“I’ve spent a career helping other clients in similar brand situations that we now find ourselves,” he said.

“Of all times in Qantas history, especially with a new CEO, this is when my experience will be most valuable.”

Goyder did not disguise the fact that the national carrier was in severe trouble, stating “there has been a substantial loss of trust” in the airline, while the vote against the remuneration report was almost a complete reversal of the 90-plus per cent support in recent years.

“But please know this: We hear the message this strong vote sends, particularly in response to broader frustration with past events, and it galvanises our efforts to restore your confidence,” he said.

“There are things we got wrong, things we should have handled better, things we should have fixed faster and for all of those, we apologise.”

Issues included the loss of a High Court case against the Transport Workers Union over the sacking of workers during COVID and a consumer watchdog court action over 8000 ghost flights and credits for cancelled flights during the pandemic.

Shareholders re-elected Sampson and fellow director Belinda Hutchinson, the only two board members who were facing re-election. New chief executive Hudson was also appointed to the board.

Goyder said he was looking ahead for the company.

“We have some big challenges in front of us but we’re in a strong position to meet them,” he said.

Earlier, Hudson said she acknowledged “the relationship with our people has been strained”.

Hudson said she had reached out to unions and wanted to re-set that relationship, and there had been positive response. There had also been commercial changes made to make it easier for people to deal with the airline.

She said as the airline’s new chief executive she was determined to ensure Qantas regained its position as one of the nation’s most trusted brands.

“[We are] determined to be the company that you, as owners, are proud of – that delivers value for all stakeholders and gets the balance right,” she said.

“Doing this won’t be easy and will take time, but I am confident we will succeed because of the incredible passion our people have for Qantas and what it has long represented.

Qantas still holds $520 million in credits from flights cancelled during COVID.

“We are not going to rest until that is zero,” Hudson said.

It has so far paid back $1.25 billion in credits.

Goyder also said the company decided to support the Yes case for the Indigenous Voice to parliament because it had supported Aboriginal recognition in the constitution since 2014 and believed that it was important to support what had previously been done to back reconciliation.

He faced a short round of boos after shutting down questions over ethics and Joyce’s sale of shares. Goyder said the share sales were done with legal compliance.

Goyder asked for shareholder Chris Maxworthy’s microphone to be cut off when he tried to continue with questions about ethics, sparking cries of “shame on you” from the meeting.

This story is based on a version that first appeared in InQueensland. It is republished here with permission

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