Subjects: Open skies aviation policy, shipping, conscience votes, marriage equality
ALBANESE: Thanks for being here. Cabinet will soon consider a proposal to allow foreign airlines to operate in the domestic aviation market. This is unilateral economic disarmament. No nation in the world allows a foreign airline to operate in its domestic market. Qantas or Virgin Australia can’t operate domestic flights in Europe or in the United States or in our region. Australia has the most open aviation market in the world. Aviation is now, in terms of travel, five times more affordable than it was 20 years ago. So you’ve got to ask yourself what is driving this change. This is pure ideology over common sense.
It’s just like their shipping reforms, which would open up the coast and destroy Australian shipping by having no preference arrangements at all for the Australian flag on the back of Australian ships carrying Australian goods on the domestic freight task.
What’s worse they would allow for foreign wages to be paid during a domestic freight task. You can’t use foreign wages if you are on a truck or a train between Sydney and Brisbane or between Townsville and Cairns. Nor should you be able to pay foreign wages and foreign conditions on domestic routes whether they be aviation in our skies or shipping around our coasts. I’m happy to take questions.
REPORTER: If the changes are brought in theoretically some of these planes are flying around instead of repositioning. It could mean improvement for climate change and consumer prices perhaps?
ALBANESE: What it will mean is an attack on the viability of our own domestic aviation market. What you will see is foreign airlines cherry picking particular routes. Darwin, for example, during the dry season, planes tend to be full. It’s a good market. But during wet season it’s a different story. Similarly, Cairns and Broome have very much on seasons and off seasons. If you open it up to cherry picking, what you do also is destroy the cross-subsidisation that occurs including on very many smaller routes. Places like Bundaberg, places like Cloncurry.
These places need aviation services and that’s why Australia is well served by our existing aviation market. In addition to the big players, they have subsidiaries in terms of Jetstar for Qantas and Tiger for Virgin.
In terms of smaller airways such as Air North, these provide vital services and facilities. Airlines have invested big dollars in planes, in aviation services such as lounges, such as gates at airports. They have also, of course, trained Australians up for Australian jobs. These are important jobs. These are important jobs for those markets. People who live in those markets and work in the aviation sector spend their wages in their local economy.
This is a really silly proposal. No country in the world would allow it. But here in Australia, I think that what has happened is they’ve had this discussion about shipping that’s all about foreign ships being allowed to pay foreign wages doing Australian jobs around the coast and they’ve said, well, the logic of that is let’s move it to aviation as well.
As I said, no other country in the world does it. Aviation occurs on the basis of governments making arrangements with each other for access. What the government is proposing – Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey and others within its ranks; the secretary of the Department of Treasury – is that we give up our domestic aviation sector and get nothing at all in return.
REPORTER: I’m interest in your thoughts on the Labor Party and the conscience vote. Should it be reserved for life and death matters?
ALBANESE: It never has been. If you examine the system of conscience votes very clearly they tend to have been where there’s a view that people hold due to their particular religious beliefs and the official position of those religions and in order to preserve the unity of the party and to accept that people who in good conscience can’t vote a particular way, then that is why you’ve had conscience votes. You’ve had conscience votes including over the location of this Parliament House. Now, as important as it is, I don’t think it’s a life or death matter.
REPORTER: Looking forward though if the (inaudible) legislation precludes any compulsory religious involvement in these, should that appease those people in the party who are concerned on a religious basis?
ALBANESE: I have consistently supported a conscience vote on these and other matters that have come before the ALP National Executive. That has been my position. The whole point here is that it is up to individuals to determine their views and I’m not about trying to impose my view on others. There’s also a pragmatic issue which is that how does this reform get done this way? The only way that it gets done this year is you need more than Labor’s 55 members in the House of Representatives. That’s not 75. That’s a long way from it. You need to ensure that there is a conscience vote across the Parliament and then it can be carried and this reform can be done. We’ve had conscience votes on issues like liquor licensing, over what time pubs will close, over marijuana law reform, over a whole host of issues.
REPORTER Just on the binding (inaudible) did Tanya Plibersek overreach with her push (inaudible).
ALBANESE: No. Tanya Plibersek is absolutely entitled to put forward her view. We’ll have a debate about that at the conference. I’ve put forward my view. It happens to be the same view I put forward at the last conference and at the national executive in past years and at the national executive over a whole range of issues. In terms of where people have said we cannot vote for this due to our conscience and my view is that it is very hard for me to tell you what your conscience is. That is something that is very personal for people and it is very hard to impose it on others. There happens to be in this circumstance a confluence of interests whereby my position that I take as a matter of principle – and I think there’s a real argument within the Labor Party there should be more free votes rather than less in terms of representing the diversity that’s out there in the community. But I certainly think it’s that case that the only way that this can be carried during this in this term of Parliament is if there’s a conscience vote across the Parliament. It’s as simple as that.
REPORTER: You say you want more free votes, a system such as the Liberal Party has that doesn’t result in expulsion if you do decide to go against the party line, is that the sort of (inaudible).
ALBANESE: No, well they are matters for the party to determine. It is the case though, that if you have a binding vote and people vote against it, then people have got to be prepared to expel those people who vote against it. Otherwise you undermine the whole principle of the binding of the platform. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.