Oct 31, 2011

Question without notice – Qantas

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (Braddon) (15:17): My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Would the minister update the House on the impacts of the proposed Qantas lockout on the travelling public?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (15:17): I thank the member for Braddon for his question. He knows that we on this side of the House believe there is a need for a balanced approach in industrial relations between employers and employees. There is one thing that is very clear though, which is that we are on the side of the travelling public. That is why we intervened in this dispute on Saturday.

Mr Hockey interjecting—

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for North Sydney is warned.

Mr ALBANESE: There were 68,000 Qantas passengers affected by this unilateral and extreme decision by Qantas management on Saturday. Those opposite, in their questions and interjections, imply that people somehow should have known that Qantas was about to ground every single plane domestically and internationally. Did they say that that was a prospect at any time? Is there a single commentator, aviation writer, opinion writer, journalist or businessperson in the nation who thought that Qantas would take the step of grounding every single plane in their fleet in Australia and internationally, with the consequences for their brand?

When unions stepped out of line—like when the secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association said ‘Don’t fly Qantas’—I was critical of them, and the Minister for Tourism was critical of them.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE: Something you will never hear from those on the other side of the House is a balanced approach. So when the employers, through a lockout of the workforce, grounded the airline, we were also critical of them, as you would expect. For those who suggest that somehow the government should have known that this was going to occur, I refer you to the comments of the Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, himself. In his press conference at 5 pm he described this decision as unbelievable. He stated, ‘We’re making the unbelievable decision to ground our airline.’ Indeed, it was quite an extraordinary decision, of which no-one received fair notice—not its customers, not its employees, not the government. The government was first informed of a statement by the CEO of Qantas at 2 pm on Saturday afternoon. The government acted. I was on my feet with a comprehensive government response 15 minutes after Alan Joyce finished his press conference. Indeed, the CEO of Qantas indicated to the Minister for Workplace Relations, Senator Evans, that were this information to become public he would bring it forward and ground the airline immediately, as Senator Evans indicated at the press conference earlier today. The fact is that this is a vital industry, and that is why the government took action. Those opposite say the government should have prevented this, but Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas, does not argue that that is the case.