Oct 31, 2011

Question without notice – Qantas

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (14:26): My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Would the minister update the House on what steps the government is taking to get Qantas planes back in the air?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (14:26): I thank the member for Kingston for her question. The government’s priority has absolutely been to get Qantas back in the air, and overnight we have achieved just that. Upon receiving notification from Qantas after 2pm on Saturday, this government acted. Firstly, we engaged with CASA. Given the safety issues that had been raised by Qantas, we confirmed with CASA that there were no grounds as far as they were concerned for the grounding of the airline at five o’clock that afternoon. There were no grounds whatsoever from the air safety regulator for the action that Qantas unilaterally took at their board meeting on Saturday morning. Unlike the Patrick dispute—where you had a collaboration and a conspiracy with the government, with people being trained in Dubai—this was a unilateral action by an employer to lock out its workforce on Monday at 8pm, in spite of the fact that the only industrial action which was pending was pilots wearing red ties and making announcements to passengers on aircraft. We confirmed that that was the case. We applied for an urgent hearing before Fair Work Australia. I had a discussion with the Prime Minister and we had discussions between ministers.

After 5pm, after the announcement by Mr Joyce, I spoke with the CEO of Virgin Australia, John Borghetti, who indicated he would assist. Indeed, Virgin Australia provided 3,000 extra passenger seats between the announcement by Qantas and the close of business on Saturday, an extra 3,500 seats yesterday and an additional 3,000 seats today. I thank Virgin Australia for coming to the party in aid of stranded Australians. We also established a task force in my department to work with the industry and other government departments to facilitate the movement of stranded passengers and to work through the safety and regulatory issues that were required. Following the decision by Fair Work Australia, the parties must now get on with making a deal, and Qantas planes need to get into the air. I can inform the House that CASA received the Qantas safety paperwork at 10.23 this morning. A CASA safety team is currently reviewing this material, assessing serviceability and sequencing of returning aircraft. CASA have allowed Qantas to conduct positioning flights—that is, flights without passengers moving to their points of departure—once RPTs can be resumed.

Qantas has today publicly advised that maintenance staff have worked well to clear the backlog of work and to ensure that the Qantas fleet is ready for operation as soon as possible. CASA have advised my department that at this stage it appears that flights could be up as early as 3 pm this afternoon. Given the large numbers affected, Sydney to Melbourne is the priority. International flights are expected to resume from London this evening, and my department and CASA estimate that Qantas will be at full operation on Wednesday. Safety will remain the priority for the government in getting Qantas back into the air.