Oct 30, 2011

Transcript of Doorstop – Leichhardt Town Hall, Sydney

Subjects:      Qantas Dispute

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Thank you for joining us. I’m here today to make some comments with regard to the Qantas dispute and where it is up to.

As people might be aware Fair Work Australia was commencing its hearing again at 2pm this afternoon.  The Government has made a submission calling for the termination of all industrial action whether by Qantas or by the trade unions.  We believe that it’s time that the parties to this dispute acted like adults and get an outcome in the interests of the company, in the interests of the workforce and importantly, in the interests of the travelling public.

Yesterday I outlined the Government’s initial response to the decision made by Qantas which they say was made yesterday morning.  Can I say this: in the intervening period many thousands of Australians both here and overseas have been impacted by the decision by Qantas management.

This was a decision which the CEO Alan Joyce himself has called unbelievable.  It certainly is an unprecedented decision, and one which was not foreshadowed by Qantas in any of their public statements, or indeed in their private meetings with the Government.  The Government is of the view that there were a range of other options open to Qantas which would not have resulted in the sort of disruption that we have seen.

I’m happy to take questions.

QUESTION:                          What are those other options?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Certainly Qantas at no time indicated that they wanted the Government to intervene.  Both Qantas and the parties to the dispute, in terms of the unions, indicated that they were getting on with the discussions.

As I said it is extraordinary that the first time that Qantas indicated that they were prepared to lockout their workforce was yesterday afternoon after 2pm.

Under the Fair Work Act there were a range of options available to Qantas and certainly there were a range of options available to the Government had some notice been given of this extraordinary decision.

QUESTION:                          You’ve come under criticism for a delay in interfering with the dispute, is that the reason why?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well it’s absolute nonsense to say there was a delay.  People might try to rewrite history.  It’s no surprise that Tony Abbott has tried to make political capital out of this.  Once again he’s chosen to act in his political interest rather than in the national interest.

The fact is that Tony Abbott wasn’t weeks ago calling for the Government to intervene in this dispute.  The fact is that there isn’t anywhere that I’ve been able to find where any commentator or analyst or opinion writer thought that Qantas would take the step of locking out its workforce on under three hours notice to the Government.  The fact is that that was not envisaged by anyone and so someone might have credibility if they can point towards a suggestion made some weeks ago in public that that is what they thought would occur.

It is interesting also that in some of the documents that were tabled in Fair Work Australia last night from Qantas; one of those documents relating to a safety risk assessment based upon the lockout of the workforce was dated 20 October.

QUESTION:                          So Qantas did have plans to do this previously.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well that certainly suggests that Qantas was working through scenarios including a lockout of the workforce.  As I said that document was dated 20 October.  I think anyone who knows anything about the aviation industry would find it remarkable the suggestion that the Qantas board met yesterday morning, one day after their annual general meeting, and made a decision to shutdown the whole of their domestic and international operations by five o’clock yesterday afternoon.

QUESTION:                          Abbott’s made claims that the airline could be up and running again if the Government took action, is that correct?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Last night Alan Joyce made his statement at five o’clock, at 5.45 I indicated that the Government would be making an application to Fair Work Australia.  That Fair Work Australia hearing commenced at 10 o’clock yesterday evening.

And the fact is I did see the Victorian IR minister on TV last night making the contradictory view saying the Government should have gone to Fair Work Australia earlier, whilst at the same time acknowledging that the Victorian Government could have gone to Fair Work Australia at any time.  Indeed the Victorian Government only chose to do that after the Australian Government had announced our position.

QUESTION:                          A resolution wasn’t reached last night, do you think there’s more of a chance that an outcome will be made this afternoon.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Last night was the opportunity for people to give evidence and last night the secretary of my Department, the secretary of the Tourism Department, the unions involved in the dispute and Qantas management all made submissions to Fair Work Australia.  It is appropriate that Fair Work Australia have time to consider those submissions.  They therefore adjourned the hearing at 2am and have reconvened this afternoon at 2pm.

What the Government wants is for Qantas to be up and flying again as soon as possible.  And what the Government also wants is for the parties to act like adults and get an outcome which is in their common interest.  It’s in the interests of Qantas, it’s in the interests of its workforce and it’s in the interests of the travelling public as well as the Australian economy.

QUESTION:                          Nick Xenophon has called for an inquiry that would examine Qantas’ books, does the government support that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Xenophon has a lot of calls for inquiries; we’ll examine any proposition on their merits.  But this isn’t the time to make decisions on the run and to essentially respond in a political way.

What we want to make sure is that we resolve these outstanding issues.  I think that’s what all Australians want to see as well.   I think that given the situation of where the Qantas dispute was up to, it is extraordinary that Qantas made the decision to lockout their workforce.

After all, the actions of the pilots were wearing red ties and making announcements to their passengers. That was the extent of the industrial action from the pilots.  The engineers had indicated that they would defer any industrial action for a period of weeks and were working overtime.

The Transport Workers’ Union did have a one hour stoppage on Friday and every time there’s a one hour stoppage it is disruptive to the travelling public.  But the Government is of the view that this decision by Qantas was not warranted and the fact that there was no notice given to the Government or to the travelling public has meant that there has been considerable inconvenience caused.

Those times that the unions made statements which were damaging to the Qantas brand – such as calling upon people not to fly on Qantas – I as the Transport Minister was very critical because I believe that it’s in our national interest for the Qantas brand to be as successful as possible.

But this decision by Qantas management also does damage to the Qantas brand.

QUESTION:                          How long can this dispute continue, or is there a deadline?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   That is why we’re at Fair Work Australia as we speak.  We await the outcome of Fair Work Australia.  We are certainly of the view, and have made submissions, that Fair Work Australia should terminate this industrial action.

Thank you.