Nov 1, 2011

Question without notice – Qantas

Mr SYMON (Deakin) (13:50):  My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Would the minister update the House on the government’s decisive action to minimise the impacts on the travelling public of Qantas’s decision to lock out its staff and ground its fleet? When was the minister informed of this decision by Qantas?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (13:51):  I thank the member for Deakin for his question, and indeed it is a very good question. I have been very transparent about what the government knew and precisely when. I have indicated very clearly the process whereby my office was contacted by Mr Joyce prior to 2 pm, whereby I made three phone calls attempting to get on to Mr Joyce. Eventually Mr Joyce returned my call after 2 pm, at which point he informed me that he intended to lock out his workforce from 8 pm on Monday evening and that, as a consequence, he would shut down the airline domestically and internationally at 5 pm that day.

I have indicated very clearly that that was the first time that Mr Joyce or anyone else from Qantas had ever raised with me the prospect of a lockout of the workforce and a consequential shutdown of the airline. There are some on the opposite side who have suggested that somehow I should have known that would have occurred. There was not a single person in Australia, in Qantas, an aviation reporter, an opinion writer, a politician—anyone at all in Australia—who had predicted that Qantas would take what in the words of Mr Joyce—

Mr Briggs:  Professor Andrew Stewart

The SPEAKER:  Order! The member for Mayo.

Mr ALBANESE:  at 5pm was ‘an unbelievable decision’—

Mr Briggs interjecting—

The SPEAKER:  The member for Mayo will leave the chamber for one hour under 94a.

The member for Mayo then left the chamber.

Mr ALBANESE:  Not a single person in Australia thought that Mr Joyce and the Qantas board would make this decision to lock out its workforce and shut down the airline.

But it is the case that I have also indicated that, in the lead-up to Saturday, never did Qantas or any trade union call for government intervention into the dispute. Indeed, up until Friday, one day beforehand, the Leader of the Opposition was also not calling for government intervention into the dispute. What we saw on Friday was a front-page story in the Daily Telegraph with letters from Premier Baillieu and Premier O’Farrell to the Prime Minister that were given to the Daily Telegraph about the same time or before the Prime Minister’s office received those letters. That morning, the Leader of the Opposition called for the government to intervene in the dispute—one day before Qantas announced their action and on the day of the Qantas AGM, in which none of the shareholders of Qantas were informed of this plan even though we know from the Fair Work Australia hearing that Qantas received a report on 20 October about the consequences for safety of a decision to lock out the workforce. But not a word did we hear.

Mr Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, was asked prior to question time, ‘Did anyone from Qantas speak to you or your office prior to Saturday about the possibility of a grounding?’ and he could not answer it. He was then asked, ‘The question was whether your office was forewarned of the dispute; can you answer that?’ and he could not do that either. We know that when they were in office they were a part of a conspiracy—

(Time expired)