PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 3 DECEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Qantas cutting 2,000 further jobs; industrial relations; aviation sector; Australia’s relationship with China; trade; Veterans’ suicide prevention and calls for a Royal Commission; economy; jobs.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon. I am very pleased today to be here on one level. But on another level, I don't want to be here, with workers who have lost their job. This year has been a tough year. 2020 has been one like none other. But one of the things we have seen is that Australians have looked after each other. We have banded together, made sacrifices in the interests of our families, our neighbours, our broader community and, indeed, the nation. At the same time that's happened, though, to many Australians have been left behind. We know that Australians were left behind on JobKeeper payments, we know that Australians were left behind when it came to industry packages, and we know that these Australians are being left behind. They have done nothing wrong, just worked hard for their families to put food on the table, they have worked hard for Qantas for that great Australian business as well. They have been loyal and throughout the country they have made a difference. But what we are seeing at the moment is too many people being left behind. As much as Josh Frydenberg will get out there and was all cheery and self-congratulatory yesterday, at the same time this week we learn about 2,000 Qantas workers losing their jobs. And these aren't tasks that are disappearing, these are just tasks that have been contracted out. Permanent jobs are disappearing. One of the other lessons of this pandemic is that we need more secure work. We need more permanent work. Casualisation, contracting out, privatisation has all had an impact on the pandemic, on the health of workers, and, indeed, the health of others as well. So, I want to pay tribute to these men and women who are joining us here today to say that Labor stands with them. We will always stand up for jobs and we will continue to stand up for secure work. We don't want to return to what was there, we want to learn the lessons of this pandemic, that too many Australians are being forced into insecure work, that they were the first people to lose their jobs. And now, as we go through a period in which companies have received substantial support from taxpayers, we are seeing workers being left behind. I want to ask Michael Kaine from the Transport Workers’ Union, who stood up with these workers, to make some comments now and then we will hear from some workers.
MICHAEL KAINE, NATIONAL SECRETARY OF THE TRANSPORT WORKERS’ UNION: Thanks, Anthony. There are 2,000 Australian families who are absolutely devastated as a result of a decision, which we now know was a premeditated decision, by Qantas management earlier this week to outsource their jobs. Jobs that are still required to be done by Qantas. Jobs that are now going to go to substandard companies, many of whom have been found to be in breach of our laws, our labour laws, our workplace health and safety laws. A spear has been put through these families’ hearts. These are families who have worked for Qantas for up to 30 years. These are families that have literally built the Spirit of Australia. On one hand on that spear, of course, is Qantas management. Qantas management who have no excuse for this action. They've received JobKeeper and are still receiving JobKeeper payments right up until the 31st of March. JobKeeper, of course, the social contract that Scott Morrison put in place designed to keep workers connected with their employer until the virus passed, financial support to ensure that occurred. Neither is there a financial reason. Qantas has just announced that it is on the cusp again, of breaking even. And we know that this contracting out is a sham now because these workers have just gone through eight weeks of the most humiliating process of having to bid for their own jobs. And at the end of that bid, with the assistance of Ernst and Young, they put together the most competitive bid, on average, the cheapest bid, which obviously came with the most expertise and the most experience. So, this decision is mystifying. And it is definitely a decision that the Australian community should not accept. We'll be calling on Scott Morrison today, in a meeting with Michael McCormack this afternoon with these workers, to attach conditions to JobKeeper now to prevent this contracting out. These workers are the spirit of Australia. They have built this company. They do not deserve this treatment. The other hand on that spear through their hearts is the hand of this Government. Government inaction. Government failure to attach conditions to JobKeeper, which has permitted Qantas to essentially profiteer and use COVID as cover for breaking the hearts of the workers that made this company great. And one of those workers is Sean.
SEAN TOOHEY, QANTAS WORKER: Hello, everyone. On Monday, I got a text message from the company saying to please log in to see an announcement. A pre-recorded message just basically said, ‘Sorry, Sean, you have lost your job. You are going. But we can’t let you go yet because we need to use you.’ So, I can’t leave. I can’t look for another job. And in that time, even the jobs I look for, I have applied for several and it is impossible to get an interview. It is a tough world out there and we are in the middle of it. But the main thing is my family, the stress that it is causing them. How do I explain to my three girls that it is not whether you do a good job or not, it is just that they can bring someone else in and do it for cheaper than you? How do you teach your kids that? They are seeing the stress that is put on me and my wife. She is now worried if they can do this to us and they are an Australian company, what is going to happen with her job? She is a full-time employee. Will they find someone else cheaper? We're just all in an awkward situation just in limbo that we've worked hard. Some of these guys have been in this company for 20 or 30 years who are at that age where they're going to struggle to find second employment, they’ve have just been left out in the dirt. And it's hard on us all. And we're just hoping the Australian public get behind us, the Government gets behind us to say that this isn't right. So, I can tell my girls that we do the right thing, we look after each other. Alan Joyce said that we were a family. But he quickly threw us out the kerb. And we're supposed to be looking after each other. I know us local guys in Canberra are doing a great job together. But it's harsh when management just want to throw us away. So, thank you.
MICHELE O’NEIL, PRESIDENT OF THE ACTU: Thanks, Sean. The Australian trade union movement is standing with these workers. Sean and the other workers who work for Qantas are not really being made redundant. They've been replaced. Simply replaced on the basis of a company trying to cut costs. And this is not true that this is a response to the pandemic. This is something that Qantas contemplated back in 2011. And they're using the cover of COVID-19 to get rid of hardworking, loyal employees. Ones that have actually stuck with them through this really tough time, and through a time where Qantas has seen $800 million of taxpayers’ money go towards supporting that company. So, this exposes a couple of real flaws. It exposes a flaw that we've got Government money going to companies without strings attached. The public support, JobKeeper, the idea that Government is going to support workers staying connected to their jobs. But the notion that at the very same time that that money is being paid to a company like Qantas, that they have treated these workers in a cruel way, asking them to bid for their own jobs, and then after not even a week of considering that bid, announcing, via a recorded message, that they're not wanted anymore. So, the Government needs to act here, put conditions on JobKeeper that stop companies contracting out, under-cutting existing workers jobs and conditions, but also not just about Qantas. Because as has been said, this is a problem with insecure work in the Australian labour market. This is a problem that affects these workers and thousands of others, that we don't have a system that recognises it is in all of our interests, workers, their families, the community and the economy, to have secure employment. Employment that workers can rely on. That's going to get us through what is needed for a genuine recovery, not just one that sees profits increase like we're expecting Qantas to have next year, but that sees workers’ jobs secure and new jobs created. Thanks very much.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Michele, and Michael, but particular thanks to Sean and his co-workers. It is a difficult thing to front up to something like this. But I think that his words cut through some of the rhetoric that takes place in this building. It is having a real impact on real people. And what the trade union movement has always stood for is looking after working people. And this is another example of why I'm proud to be a trade unionist. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, in addition to receiving JobKeeper, Qantas is also having quite a lot of domestic flights subsidised by the Federal Government. Should the Federal Government remove that funding on the back of these job losses?
ALBANESE: Well, the Government should have an aviation sector plan. It hasn't had one. We've been calling for one. The union's been calling for one. Catherine King, as our Shadow Minister, has been calling for one. Tony Burke, as our Shadow Industrial Relations Minister, has been calling for one. People who are very familiar with the sector, including Tony Sheldon and Glenn Sterle, who are here today, have been calling for one. The Government has had ad hoc approaches to this. It hasn't had a comprehensive plan for aviation, for tourism. And it's been inadequate. And the Government has provided these subsidies without getting any guarantees or confirmation that the social contract is that companies would look after their workforce. That's why wage subsidies are there, to keep businesses going and to keep workers connected with those businesses. What we've seen here is that the support will continue while workers are thrown on the scrap heap for others replacing them because they're cheaper.
JOURNALIST: Could I ask Anthony or Tony, yesterday, Christian Porter was making the case in Question Time that part-time workers should be able to be offered extra hours without penalty rates. And could I confirm that Labor would oppose any industrial relations bill that contained a proposal like that? And do you have a message for the Government ahead of the release of this bill?
TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Ahead of the release, and there'll be different pieces of information that will go back and forth as we lead up to the release, and I'm not going to comment on the specifics until we see them. Because a whole lot of this, depending on how it's worded, I've seen the Government float ideas before and then you see how it's actually worded and the impact is quite different. Our test is whether or not the changes they put forward deliver secure work. Whether or not they deliver secure jobs with decent pay. That's what workers need coming out of the pandemic. That's what the economy needs coming out of the pandemic. And that'll be the test that we apply to everything.
ALBANESE: Just a couple more.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). Does that mean the unity was not as great on Wednesday?
ALBANESE: Not at all. My arguments have been very consistent. All Australians stand in repudiating the disgusting, provocative tweet done by the representative of the China Foreign Affairs Department. We are at one with the Government. We, however, have been pointing out that the relationship with China isn't something that's deteriorated this week. It's been there for a period of time, the deterioration. The Government, we have said, needs to have a strategy to deal with that. Part of the strategy is diversification of our trading partners. One of the things we've seen under this Government is a concentration towards China, up to the point whereby 48 per cent of our exports go to one country. At the same time, that obviously needs to be dealt with.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any differences on the substance of the Government's policies that affect the China relationship? Or do you stand with them on that range of policies? If I could also ask Michele O'Neil what she thinks of the Government's management of the relationship with China?
ALBANESE: We stand with the Government on Australian values. Our values of being a democratic nation that respects human rights, that values transparency. There is a big difference. China didn't become a communist nation this week. There's a big difference between our values and their values. And Australia should always stand up for our values. The Government needs to have a strategy of dealing with this relationship. That is all that I've said.
JOURNALIST: What policy should it walk back?
ALBANESE: I haven't suggested that it should.
JOURNALIST: Well, you are suggesting it.
ALBANESE: I haven't suggested that. No, I'm not. No, I'm not. And I won't be verballed during a press conference where I'm actually here. I haven't suggested that at all. The Government needs to explain what its strategy is of dealing with this in order to protect Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: How would you fix it?
ALBANESE: Well, I'm not the Government. But quite clearly, this has been an issue for some period of time. And the Government needs to have a strategy of dealing with this. One in which we stand up for Australian values, for all the things that define us as a democratic nation. We should never compromise on any of that. But that was the case when John Howard was the Prime Minister. That was the case when Liberal and Labor governments have been in place before. And those governments were able to have economic relationships with China. It was this Government, this Government, that had Xi attend the Parliament, that had the China Free Trade Agreement. It was this Government. The Government needs to explain what its strategy is going forward. Because Australia's economic interest and jobs, obviously, have a relationship with the relationship with China.
JOURNALIST: Don't you have to explain your strategy? (Inaudible). Look at iron ore for example.
ALBANESE: It's been more concentrated now than ever before. And in terms of our economic relationship, the Government itself says that's a problem. What is their strategy? They are the Government. What is their strategy for dealing with this? Our strategy is to get into Government. That's our strategy.
JOURNALIST: That is not the point of the question.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, based on (inaudible) it is likely to fail in the Senate. What can you offer veterans today given you are not Government, you can't call a Royal Commission? What do veterans have in the next 12 to 18 months to support them investigate this high rate of suicide in that community given that Labor are not supporting the one option on the table?
ALBANESE: We will continue to support the option that veterans and their families have asked us to, which is a Royal Commission.
ALBANESE: We'll continue to campaign for it. We will argue for it. If it doesn't occur, we will introduce one when we are in Government. That our task. And you were present at the press conference in this courtyard just a couple of days ago. I stand with Julie-Ann and others who've made very strong representation. I thought that was one of the most powerful media conferences, from Julie-Ann, that I have seen in my time in this Parliament.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). They all support this bill. There are a small number of people that don't but there are a lot that do.
ALBANESE: With respect, the veterans and their families that I've spoken to have all called upon us to take this action, to continue to support a Royal Commission. I take a view that I will listen to people who are on the ground just like today we're here standing with the workers who've lost their jobs. I make no apologies for that. And when the Prime Minister rang Julie-Ann to inform her of the Government's proposition, quite frankly, when we look at the substance of what is being put forward, in terms of someone allocated within the Attorney General's department to look at what will effectively be coronial inquiries after they occur, we think that simply doesn't stack up. One of the things that I want is to make sure that in place is recommendations from a Royal Commissioner about how we reduce this toll, this dreadful toll, that we're seeing on our veterans that has had such an impact on their families. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: You said that your strategy on China was to win Government, but what would be the strategies that you take (inaudible) compared to what the present Government is doing?
ALBANESE: When you ask the same question, you should expect the same answer. We have no differences with the Government when it comes to standing up for Australian values and human rights. One of the things that we say very clearly, in terms of our relationship with China, though, is that under this Government, under this Government, we have seen an increased concentration on the trading relationship with China. That was something that this Government was proud of. It's a free trade agreement with China. What we are seeing is certainly not free trade with China. That is having an impact. That is having an impact. And the Australian Government needs to explain. They are the Government now. This is an issue now. This is costing the Australian economy now and costing Australian jobs now. They have to explain what their strategy is going forward. Thanks very much.