Queensland taxpayers should know within two months if they're the proud part-owners of Australia's debt-laden second airline amid a global aviation crisis.
The state government is looking to join a consortium of investors to rescue Virgin Australia and it's willing to tip in at least $200 million to keep the airline flying.
The government isn't seeking outright ownership of the carrier, which went into voluntary administration last month.
But it does want skin in the game in the form of a strategic stake to ensure the restructured airline keeps workers in their jobs, its headquarters in Queensland, and planes on regional routes.
Treasurer Cameron Dick says the Queensland Investment Corporation will engage with the airline's administrator as it hunts for buyers.
Part of the process will involve assessing the consortiums that are in the running and hopefully hooking up with one that shares the government's vision.
Taxpayers could end up owning part of Virgin Australia, or funding a loan or guarantee or other financial tool.
Mr Dick has downplayed the risk to taxpayers of buying into a company that owes almost $7 billion to about 12,000 creditors.
"We need to strike a hard bargain. I want those foreign banks and those foreign bondholders to take a hair cut," he told ABC radio.
"How can we afford not to save 5000 jobs?"
Mr Dick said the size and form of any taxpayer investment should be known within two months and indicated it could be dramatically more than $200 million if the deal is right.
"We want regional airline routes, we want the jobs in our state and we want Virgin to remain headquartered in Queensland. They are non-negotiable for the government."
Administrators Deloitte want to conclude the sale process by June.
"The first indicative bids come out tomorrow," Mr Dick said.
"That's going to be a significant decision point for the administrator that will give us a much better idea of who is actually serious. We don't want tyre-kickers."
Mr Dick said Queensland decided to "get in the fight" because other states, which he did not name, were intent on luring a new look Virgin Australia away from Queensland.
At this stage, NSW has ruled out making a bid, echoing the federal government's view that the carrier's fate should rest with the private sector, not taxpayers.
The federal government has ridiculed Queensland's plan, with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, a Queenslander, describing it as laughable.
He said it was either dangerous and crazy amid the global aviation shutdown sparked by the coronavirus, or a fanciful pre-election stunt designed to make state Labor look good.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was right to refuse Virgin Australia's $1.4 billion coronavirus bailout request before the foreign-owned airline went into administration.
He said that "good judgment" meant there were now many private sector bids coming through.
"We want to see these two airlines flying and competing. We believe that will be the outcome."
Australian Associated Press