ISSUES: Easing of restrictions applying to liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGs) on international flights; MRRT; Parliament; uranium; Safe Rates; Qantas dispute; Tony Abbott’s negativity and hypocrisy
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today I’m announcing a relaxation of the regime that looks after liquids, aerosols and gels with regard to international passengers. We all know that when we arrive at the airport putting our liquids in little plastic bottles of under 100 millilitres, putting things in plastic bags and at times getting materials confiscated, takes up time. It’s also costly and inconveniences the travelling public.
What we’ve been doing as part of our Aviation Security Initiative, announced at the beginning of last year, is trialling liquid, aerosol and gel technology which identifies any potential explosive in a liquid through the normal x-ray process. This was conducted at Sydney and Melbourne airports in partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom. Over 7,000 passengers took part in the trial and it was deemed to be successful not just by Australian authorities but – by its nature we had to involve other countries – deemed to be successful by the UK and the United States as well.
What this is about is ensuring that security is maintained while the convenience of the travelling public is made much, much better.
At Sydney International Airport alone, every month more than 1,000 duty-free items are confiscated; more than 7,000 other items such as bottled water are also confiscated by the screeners. What this is also about is making sure that those people doing the screening at our airports concentrate on the real threats, are able to focus on the work that we want them to do. So this is about proper risk prevention. It’s also about getting the policy mechanisms right.
What we’ve seen is a number of changes over recent years. We want to make sure that aviation security and safety remains the number one priority, but also make sure that commonsense and convenience are applied, with this announcement to be in place by 2013. There will be a transitional strategy. By 2012 those passengers transiting through Australia will also have access to this technology. We want to make sure that it’s rolled out in an efficient and timely way.
I think it will be welcomed by the travelling public.
QUESTION: Minister, do you think that this is just one example where security just went completely over the top post-911 and are there going to be more changes?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This was a measure put in place in 2006 in response to identified threats. I make no apologies for taking a very cautious approach when it comes to aviation security. I think we have to do that.
What we also have to do is to use new and better technology to make sure that we can maintain our vigilance whilst minimising the inconvenience to the travelling public. This technology wasn’t available at the time that these regulations were introduced.
What we continue to do is be vigilant, to take advice from the authorities. A couple of years ago I changed the regulation that stopped people having metal cutlery on planes. That was a commonsense response to the advice of the security authorities.
I reckon it’s really important that these decisions not be political, they be based on advice and that we use the best technology available in order to minimise disruption to the travelling public, maximise efficiency, minimise inconvenience.
QUESTION: Minister, what day do you think the mining tax will come up for a vote in the House and how confident are you of it getting through?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well there’s an extensive speaking list. We will be sitting additional hours. I’ve had discussions with the Manager of Opposition Business [Christopher Pyne] and indeed directly with the Leader of the Opposition [Tony Abbott] about that. So we envisage Parliament sitting on Tuesday morning with no divisions to enable more people to participate in this debate. So it’s expected that the vote could take place as early as Wednesday. Certainly I can’t see it taking place before then, but we’ll see how it goes.
I think quite clearly this legislation is out there; it’s been out there for all to see. The debate has been had. The Australian public have a pretty strong view, which is they want to see themselves get the return for their assets that they own. The big mining companies are saying that they’re not only prepared to pay it, but they should pay it. And it’s extraordinary that Tony Abbott, the walking vuvuzela, is once again saying no. The only time you can believe Tony Abbott is when he says no.
QUESTION: How confident are you that you’re actually going to get it through?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I don’t make announcements on behalf of the independents. I think it’s very wise to allow the independents to speak on their own behalf. They’ll have things to say in coming days.
What I’m confident of is that our cause is right, that it is absolutely correct to make sure we get a better return on these resources in order to reduce company tax, assist small business, boost infrastructure spending in regional communities and boost superannuation. This is a commonsense approach. The Australian people get it. The only people who don’t get it is Tony Abbott and the Coalition.
QUESTION: Would you consider those amendments that Andrew Wilkie has made [indistinct]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look we think that we’ve got the balance right. The overwhelming amount of this tax will be paid by the big miners. That is appropriate. So we think we’ve got the balance right. We’re continuing to talk to all of the independents and those discussions will continue. I respect the right of people to put forward ideas constructively. We’ll continue to engage with them, but we think we’ve got the balance right.
QUESTION: The Opposition has said this morning it will consider amendments from the cross-bench MPs but ultimately vote against the legislation. What do you make of that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, this is a confused Opposition. Tony Abbott has said also that they won’t undo the super changes, whereas in the past he’s been on the record criticising the very concept of compulsory superannuation, saying it’s a con. I mean this is an extraordinary proposition to take. It once again is an example of their duplicitous nature. I note it was Ian McFarlane on TV this morning speaking about how bad a price on carbon was. Go back and have a look at what he was saying when he negotiated an outcome for an emissions trading scheme on behalf of the Coalition with Labor. It is simply the case that their default position for everything is to say no.
QUESTION: Doug Cameron, this morning, said that overturning the ban on the sale of uranium to India is a sell out of everything that Labor stood for, for 30 years. Do you agree with that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look I’ll save my comments for the conference floor. I have a view about the nuclear fuel cycle. It’s one that’s well known. I haven’t changed my position about the nuclear fuel cycle. I’ll be making those comments at the conference and that’s appropriate.
QUESTION: Labor’s Left is meeting today. Will it decide to hold its ground on uranium and gay marriage?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ll allow the spokespeople to tell you what happened after the meeting’s been held rather than beforehand, as is appropriate.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that lifting the threshold [indistinct] budget revenue? This is the mining tax though.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve put my position clear. We think we’ve got the balance right.
QUESTION: Thank you Mr Albanese. If the mining tax fails to get through, what does that do to your whole legislative agenda because so much is tied to the revenue raised by the mining tax?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that’s a very bold question from someone who’s clearly confused if he can’t tell the difference between myself and Mr Abbott. We’re supporting the legislation. We anticipate – as we have with all of our legislation – we’re now up to 235 bills. We haven’t had a single bill defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives. We’re going to be arguing our case. We’re about getting this legislation through, not considering what happens if it doesn’t.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s reasonable that the independents can effectively hold something to ransom, [indistinct] demands things which are completely unrelated to it and block something which the Australian public does support [indistinct]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Australian public voted for the parliament that we have. It’s not up to me to comment on that; it’s up to me to respect that.
Tony Abbott has been engaged in the longest dummy spit in Australian political history, since last August, and that’s what we’re suffering from with him trying to drag down the political discourse in this country.
What the Government has done is respected the views put forward at the ballot box by the Australian people. We’ll negotiate and deal with the parliament that we have. Would I prefer for there to be a majority Labor government? I’d actually prefer for there to be 150 members of the Australian Labor Party in the House of Representatives. That’s my starting point. So yes, we would prefer for that to be the case. Commonsense tells you that, just as the Coalition would prefer to hold every seat as well. That’s why they contest them.
But you deal with the parliament that you’ve got. We’re doing it. I think we’ve done it pretty well and this has been an effective government. It has been an effective government that has got our legislation through; that has delivered this year major reform – be it the Clean Energy bills, the structural separation of Telstra, health reform, education reform, all of the legislation related to the Budget. We’re being very effective at arguing our case. We’ll continue to do so on the MRRT.
We think there is an unarguable case that Australians need to get more for the resources they own. We agree with that. The big miners agree with that. The Australian people agree with that. That’s the case we’ll take to the Parliament.
QUESTION: A question on transport, the Transport Workers Union has said that it wants the government to put forward legislation to improve conditions for truck drivers. Will you consider doing it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have certainly indicated a position with regard to safe freights. We do need to do something about defending the interests of the travelling public and that’s what this is about – making sure that practices, when it comes to heavy vehicles, are such that they don’t undermine road safety. We know we’re talking about not just heavy vehicles and the pressure that’s placed on truck drivers, we’re also talking about the impact that it has on the general public on our roads.
This is an issue that’s been considered by parliamentary inquiry after parliamentary inquiry. It’s had unanimous support. We’ve been dealing with these issues and we’ll have more to say on it later this week.
QUESTION: On Qantas, the deadline on the conciliation is rapidly approaching. Is the government confident that a deal can be reached there? Do you have any information?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I think with regard to making predictions about Qantas – as I’ve said before I’m still waiting for one journalist, or anyone else for that matter, to find me one bit of information that predicted that Qantas would lock out its workforce and ground its fleet. So I won’t make bold predictions.
What I will say is that there is no reason in my view why Qantas management and the unions can’t get this deal done and can’t get it done before tomorrow. There are discussions today I know with the licensed engineers and Qantas. There’ll be further discussions tomorrow with the pilots and the Transport Workers Union.
What I would say is what I’ve said from the beginning of this process: all parties need to recognise they have a common interest, a common interest between Qantas as a successful company and its workforce, and they need to act like adults and get this done.
Of course, because of the Fair Work legislation, if they can’t get a deal done, then it goes to Fair Work Australia and that might produce an outcome that is one in which all the parties don’t necessarily agree.
So they have an incentive. Their destiny is within their own control over the next 36 hours and I’d call upon them to negotiate in good faith to get an outcome.
QUESTION: You’ve said that the Qantas dispute is an example of the Fair Work Act working well, but isn’t it the case that the fact from beds remain closed in Victoria and nurses still remain imposing work bans an example…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not the IR spokesperson nor am I a Victorian, so I’m happy to comment on my responsibility in terms of Qantas.
I will say one thing just to conclude on. This week in the Parliament you can expect the Government to be pointing out Tony Abbott’s contradiction when he talks about the economic problems and that the Government can’t get anything right. When he went across to his beloved Tory Party conference in London, he talked up the Australian economy and talked up how well the Government had managed the Global Financial Crisis. He knows that to do otherwise would simply destroy his credibility because the Australian economy is, as we heard from President Obama’s comments again last week, the envy of the world.
This Government did put in place measures that protected us from the Global Financial Crisis. Tony Abbott has to acknowledge that when he’s overseas, even if he’s incapable of walking away from his negative response to everything when he’s on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Thank you very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.