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The stink didn't abate with the early departure of Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. Like the lingering smell of a loose-bowelled Labrador long after it's left the lounge room, it's still hanging in the air.
Former ACCC boss Professor Allan Fels fanned it last week with his union-commissioned report into price gouging. He accused the airline of contributing to inflation by limiting capacity while upping fares. He said the Albanese government's opaque decision to block Qatar's request for extra flights saw Qantas charging 30 per cent more for fares.
Optus is wallowing in its own farts too. First, the data hack, which exposed millions of customers to fraud and identity theft. Then the dreadfully handled outage, which saw CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin skulk out of the room. The stench returned when it was revealed that thousands of Triple-Zero calls failed during the outage despite assurances they wouldn't.
Opening the windows won't be enough to clear the air. Both corporations know they need expert turd polishing to repair their malodorous reputations, which explains them tripping over each other to call on the services of Danielle Keighery, a veteran of the clean-up business.
Keighery was on her way to Optus when she was poached by Qantas. Prior to that she'd been the brand officer for casino giant Crown Resorts, a gig that must have required nerves of steel, a big peg over the nose and a strong stomach. Not even former owner Jamie Packer could handle the stench after all the inquiries and adverse money laundering scandals. He sold out in 2022. Before Crown, Keighery worked briefly at the Bank Of Queensland, itself in turmoil, and earlier did a long stint at Virgin.
The Qantas gig will be hard. It will take more than soppy TV commercials and puff pieces about new winglets in its fleet to restore trust. Convincing customers who've endured inflated prices, lost baggage, cancelled flights, soggy sandwiches and an impenetrable refund and flight credit obstacle course is one thing. Changing the culture within the company is another challenge altogether.
Keighery will also face the publication this year of a book by finance writer and ardent critic Joe Aston which promises to rip the scab off the Qantas wound, retelling in gruesome detail the corporate misbehaviour that led the airline to where it is today.
As more revelations about pandemic era profit taking come to light, it won't just be airlines needing help with damaged reputations. Professor Fels also put the supermarket duopoly, the big banks and energy retailers in the spotlight.
Convincing a sceptical public crushed by a 6.9 per cent increase in the cost of living - way over the inflation rate - that ever-growing corporate profit is somehow fair and reasonable is pushing shit uphill.
Arguing that paying $4 a kilo for lamb and selling it for $30 is the cost of doing business is insulting.
Telling customers you care about their financial hardship while extracting every cent possible whenever there's an interest rate hike is about as authentic as picking up flowers and a box of Cadbury Favourites at the servo when you suddenly remember it's Valentine's Day.
Really, the best way to fix a battered reputation and lure customers back is to do better by them. That means owning your mistakes and fixing them quickly. It means foregoing some of those fat profits to which you've become addicted to provide a better, more affordable product.
Will Keighery have the fortitude to tell her bosses this? Or will she devise some Look!-A-squirrel! strategy to deflect attention?
I suspect it will be the latter because, as Professor Fels said, there's not enough competition in this country, meaning customers can't vote with their feet. And Qantas is adept at keeping things that way.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you agree with Allan Fels that corporate greed has fuelled inflation? Will greater competition put an an end to price gouging? What will it take to repair the reputations of Qantas and Optus? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- A senior NSW planning official will be referred to the state's corruption watchdog over allegations they used insider information to profit from a major overhaul of the state's zoning rules. The bureaucrat allegedly took advantage of confidential state plans to buy a home in an area on Sydney's north shore that was slated for re-zoning and set up a "property syndicate" with neighbours in order to sell their homes to developers for a profit.
- Reserve Bank governor Michele Bullock has warned that the country is "not yet where we need to be" in bringing down inflation. In remarks that pour cold water on speculation that interest rates could begin to come down before the middle of the year, Bullock said the central bank would want to be very sure that inflation would slow to within its target band before easing monetary policy.
- Two of the world's biggest iron ore producers and Australia's biggest steelmaker are joining forces to slash the carbon footprint of steel with a new type of furnace. BHP, Rio Tinto and BlueScope pledged on Friday to work together on the country's first iron-making electric smelting furnace (ESF) pilot plant.
THEY SAID IT: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." - Warren Buffett
YOU SAID IT: Garry's beautifully written piece about his mother's descent into frailty moved many of you, some to tears.
"My heart is with you and your family on your mother's declining health," writes Regan. "Bravo to the doctor. As I often share, Daddy was so generous to we four kids. He moved to a retirement village (with Mum who was not so keen) that had all stages of care including the departure lounge. He made lovely friends there. As it was in Dallas, it became my home as I generally reside on Wadjuck country. And what an amazing country to live in that gave me four (plus) weeks annual leave to spend with them. My American siblings couldn't enjoy that much time with them! My advice: make it easy on your kids and those who think they need to look after you and look at all options for yourself before somebody else has to! And if you are thinking of a retirement village, beware - financials vary from state to state."
Tony writes: "I'm sitting at home wired up to a portable EEG/ECG/video monitor. My licence has been suspended, for six months at the moment. An MRI showed possible signs of Alzheimer's disease and I'm frightened. Even though I'm 72 I've only been married for three years and I don't want my wife to go through the horror you describe in today's column. I'm so sorry for your loss because it is a loss. I wish there were an option for a loved one to move in with the patient or that full-time care at home was available to all, not just the wealthy."
"People who have worked throughout their lives, made themselves a home with all their interests reflected throughout and long term friends in the neighbourhood, are being moved because other people think it is socially convenient," writes Sue. "It has been shown that providing in home care is a more positive and cheaper alternative. Let's use it more, and leave care situations until absolutely necessary. Mind you, I would be happier with aged care facilities that weren't a minor disguise for big money making schemes."
Another Sue writes: " Most people in my age group have close experience with friends and family who are suffering from dementia. It is the thing we fear most as we age. I live in a retirement village in the ACT. We, as a group (average age 79 years), have decided to raise some funds towards research into dementia. To this end, on March 21, over 12 hours, we will try to walk 50,000 steps around the circumference of the village to encourage support and donations to Dementia Australia. A web page has been set up for us at: https://fundraising.dementia.org.au/fundraisers/suebrudenall"
Jo-Anne, whose father had dementia, writes: "In September 2022 my parents went into aged care. Dad died within five weeks, he was so unwell. Mum is still going and absolutely loves it. Her health has improved now that she has 24-hour care. The staff, food and everything is amazing. We have made her room as much like home as we can with her furniture. She is social and really loves being there. I thank my mum every day for the attitude she has and that this allows me to live my life with no guilt. I visit her often and at 85 she has made a new life."