Nov 1, 2011

Question without notice – Qantas

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (14:10):  My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. What has been the impact of Qantas’s decision to lock out its workforce and shut down the airline on the travelling public? What has been the public response to this decision?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (14:11):  I certainly thank the member for Chifley for his question. As a result of the shutdown, at least 68,000 Qantas passengers were affected—48,000 domestic passengers and 20,000 international passengers. As a result of that, people could not get to businesses; people could not get home to their families. We had people turning up at London Heathrow Airport and other airports not knowing how they could get home. Indeed, last night I spoke to a gentleman who had booked on Qantas, had flown from the United States and was stranded in a Sydney hotel with his 34-week pregnant wife. I intervened because he was unable to get a seat on a plane. My office rang Qantas and they were able to get him and his wife seats to Cairns this morning.

They are the sorts of personal issues that were raised as a result of this issue. That is why the government was so determined to get this airline up and running. Those opposite ask why we did not do something. The Leader of the Opposition was asked a very clear question on ABC 24 on 14 October: what would be your specific intervention? He was given the opportunity to call for government intervention and he did not do so.

Mr Hockey interjecting–

Mr ALBANESE:  That is right, and what changed between 14 October and Friday? What changed before Qantas made this decision? One thing changed: the unions—

The SPEAKER:  The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport will resume his seat. The member for Herbert, having been warned, has continued to interject. He was warned and he has continued to interject. The action I am about to take will give a quarter on my right who say that I play favourites more ammunition. I will not name the member; I will invite him to leave the chamber for one hour under standing order 94(a). A warning is a precursor to a naming.

The member for Herbert then left the chamber.

Mr ALBANESE:  One thing changed in terms of the industrial action. As of Saturday, the only industrial action that was taking place was pilots wearing red ties—that was the only action that was taking place—and making announcements over the PA; yet between 14 October when the Leader of the Opposition made that statement and Friday—the same day we had the front page Daily Telegraph article and the same day we had the letters from the premiers of Victoria and New South Wales—the Leader of the Opposition changed his position.

We know that earlier on he could not answer the question when journalists asked him, ‘When were you told?’

The Manager of Opposition Business interjected about ‘industrial terrorism’. We heard questions yesterday about ‘extreme union action’—when it was a lockout by the employer. On this side of the House, it makes no difference whether you have a suit on or a blue collar—

Mr Pyne interjecting—

The SPEAKER:  The member for Sturt is warned.

Mr ALBANESE:  Any action not in the national interest will be condemned by this side of the House. Indeed, I said about Mr Purvinas’s comments—for example, in the Australian—I was ‘very concerned’. I joined criticism of the secretary Steve Purvinas. I said that Mr Purvinas’s comments were ‘extraordinary’ because ‘you need a strong company in order to employ people in order to have union members’. I took action. I condemned the extraordinary action. Those on that side of the House did not. The shadow Treasurer, to be fair, did call for intervention earlier, and I would be interested to know what the shadow Treasurer knew and when, and who he was informed by.

(Time expired)