ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
5AA WITH LEON BYNER
TUESDAY, 21 APRIL 2020
SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Virgin Australia; support for Australian aviation industry during COVID-19.
LEON BYNER, HOST: We are now joined by Anthony Albanese. Anthony, the Government’s argument is, ‘Well, Virgin was in trouble before this, we are not going to help them, and we will run with the belief that maybe voluntary administration is the best thing for them’. What do you say to that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I say that is an error of judgement. That it has complacency at its core. And that the reason why the airline has gone into voluntary administration is a direct result of the very sensible government policy to essentially shut down aviation activity. But that is a Government decision in order to protect the health of Australians. Government therefore, in my view, has the strong obligation to do what it can to protect the 15,000 jobs of families directly employed by Virgin, the hundreds of thousands of Australians who depend upon the tourism sector and other activities related to aviation for their jobs and the millions of Australians who rely upon aviation to get around this country, whether for work or for recreational activity.
BYNER: What about the fact that its shareholders, Virgin’s shareholders, for example, major shareholders are Singapore Airlines, Etihad, a couple of Chinese airlines, I think 10 per cent to Richard Branson. They’re basically saying, ‘Well, why should we prop-up another government’s assets?’ What do you say to that?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s precisely the point. The other investors in Virgin are government-owned or controlled entities in the case of Singapore Airlines, Etihad, with the UAE, or the Chinese airline, that are controlled by the state. Other countries recognise that aviation is critical for their national interest. And that’s why most airlines around the world, whether you look at Europe, whether you look at the Middle East, in our region, airlines like Singapore and Malaysia, are either government-owned totally, or at least government controlled. And that’s why we in Australia can’t afford to have this attitude that seems to be, ‘Oh, we will leave it all up to the market’. The market is not operating. The market has been shut down by the Government as a direct result of policy. And what we’re talking about here is people, Leon. People who need to put food on the table for their families.
ALBANESE: People who need looking after. And we’re also talking about a viable Australian national interest. We know that economies like South Australia, with its beautiful assets which are there, the beaches, Kangaroo Island, the Adelaide Hills, Port Pirie, all around, rely upon aviation for job creation and to connect South Australians with their fellow Australians and indeed with the world. And the idea that during this period the Government just throws its hands up in the air and says that it is all too hard, the Government has intervened and provided cash support for Rex, which is owned primarily from Singapore but won’t provide any assistance to Virgin. And there’s another myth out there that I really want to knock on the head too, Leon. And that is that there is talk of, ‘Oh, the Government has given a billion dollars to Qantas and Virgin with the announcement they made early on’. That is a nonsense. What they did was they said that they would waive the fees for landing charges, for Air Services Australia, for air traffic control, all of those government taxes and charges they would waive. Guess what, Leon? They are not waiving anything now because no airlines are flying. So, the only cost of that effectively has been in the order of $150 million, not a billion, that was backdated in terms of the waiving of those fees and charges. Of the other money, $400 million has been given to Air Services Australia, which is a government entity. So, it’s one arm of the government giving it to another of the government, which had previously been paying dividends back to government revenue, because it was operating its services at a profit paid for by airlines like Qantas and Virgin.
BYNER: Can I clarify one matter? So, if you were running the country now, Anthony, as PM, are you saying that Labor would actually buy shares in Virgin? Or take a stake in it?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. We would have an equity injection into Virgin. And that way when the airline got back on its feet, when we got through this, as we will as a nation, Leon, we are all working to get through this. We are all in this together is more than a slogan. It’s a way in which we’re acting. And then you could down-sell, I must say, most likely achieving a surplus, a return for that investment. What we have here is a particular hump that Virgin has to get over. And just as the Government stubbornly opposed Labor, unions and businesses plan for wage subsidies, because they said, ‘Oh, the market will look after this’. And what we saw as a direct result of that was the hundreds of thousands of people in the Centrelink queues on that Monday morning before they recognised that the market wasn’t looking after them and they needed to intervene with JobKeeper. We supported that, Leon. But they need to have the same approach to getting rid of the ideological baggage to this company, because it’s not about, I’m not particularly interested in shareholder profits or what have you. I’m interested in jobs. And I’m interested in the national interest. And the national interest requires two airlines. If Virgin disappears, they won’t be replaced.
BYNER: Anthony Albanese, thanks for joining us.