Aug 10, 2013

Transcript of Doorstop, Sydney

Subjects: Max Moore-Wilton’s claims in the Daily Telegraph

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today there is a Daily Telegraph front page story with the headline, ‘Minister accused of helping MPs break curfew.’

This is a story about something that didn’t happen, planes that didn’t exist and unnamed politicians that are a figment of Max Moore-Wilton’s imagination.

In this rather hysterical attack yesterday by Max Moore-Wilton, he seems to believe that he has a right to direct policy when it comes to Sydney Airport’s monopoly interests, rather than the Government acting in the national interest.

He clearly wants a government that will answer to him as did people in the former Howard Government, of which he was of course Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Yesterday Mr Moore-Wilton asserted that ten flights were given permission to land or leave Sydney Airport after 11PM. Now Mr Moore-Wilton in this same speech had an assertion that I acted against, or act against the interests of Sydney Airport.

This allegation that I had intervened to allow flights outside of the normal flying period didn’t suit his narrative. He had to come up with a motive, so he came up with this extraordinary assertion that on these ten flights, how many politicians were on these flights as a motive for why these alleged flights outside of normal flying hours were permitted.

This allegation has occurred in this campaign a few times. You get out there, you make an allegation, it’s reported in the paper and then it’s repeated as if it is fact.

The fact is, the fact is that there were no flights after 11PM on the Tuesday evening in question. Not only that, there were no, obviously, politicians on these non-flights that did not exist after 11PM. Not only that another fact for Mr Moore-Wilton, he has suggested somehow that I personally decide what occurs. The way that the curfew and dispensations work – which Mr Moore-Wilton as the operator of Sydney Airport knows full well – is that the delegate is Mike Mrdak the Secretary of my department. Mr Mrdak has a number of senior people who then make the decision who he has delegated. So it is at two steps away from myself being the decision maker.

Mr Moore-Wilton knows that and he has gone out there and made these assertions.

The dispensations for the curfew of course should occur at times when there is common sense. So for example, on the 28th of February when there were severe weather conditions here in Sydney, there was also a potential dispensation granted to airlines to fly in or out of Sydney Airport between the hours of 11 and 11:30. Similarly to Tuesday night none of these were actually taken up.

There is a second area in which Mr Moore-Wilton’s comments have been reported in the Daily Telegraph today as well; Mr Moore-Wilton has also asserted that I had advised Qatar Airways not to fly to Sydney.

The fact that was provided in writing to the Daily Telegraph yesterday – which they chose to exclude from their story for reasons that are beyond my explanation but perhaps they could explain, that Qatar are indeed entitled to fly to Sydney seven times a week right now and they have chosen not to use Sydney but use Melbourne and Perth.

They are the facts of the matter. Qatar are allowed under the air services agreement between Australia and Qatar to fly 14 times a week – two essentially daily flights – to any of the gateway airports. That’s the way the system works. Max Moore-Wilton knows that level of detail.

Qatar have chosen to fly to Melbourne and to Perth rather than Sydney and they gave their explanation – and the reporter who wrote the story today knows this because he reported it as an exclusive some months ago. Qatar Airways’ comments first notification to me of their view that they didn’t want to fly into Sydney because of the curfew was actually reported in the Daily Telegraph.

Now the way that the airline system works is that you have agreements for the four gateway airports – Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth – but there are unlimited flights to other airports in order to encourage the growth in those other airports.

The third statement that Max Moore-Wilton has made in today’s paper, which is not commented on but I think does deserve some comment, is of his view for the first time that general aviation should be pushed out of Sydney Airport. This is an extraordinary position and the general aviation industry should understand that this is his position and wonder what the alternative government’s position is with regard to general aviation.

We know that Mr Moore-Wilton wants regional airlines to not continue to have access to Sydney Airport. I’ve made sure that that has occurred.

Mr Moore-Wilton has made a number of statements about the so-called constraints at Sydney Airport, so let’s examine them because there is three of them.

Firstly regarding the curfew, the curfew at Sydney Airport arose from a private members’ bill moved by the then Member for Bennelong John Howard. That is how it began at this airport. The cap at Sydney Airport was legislated by the Howard Government. Mr Moore-Wilton should know this. And regional airlines’ access to Sydney is also a bipartisan view, and I recently extended guaranteeing that access.

The curfew, the cap and regional access to Sydney Airport are all bipartisan positions. If that is not the case, then Mr Abbott needs to make clear that he has walked away from those commitments and Mr Truss, as the Leader of the National Party, needs to make that clear as well.

All of these constraints of course were built in to the sale price for Sydney Airport. Max Moore-Wilton should know that because Max Moore-Wilton in the Howard Government was of course the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

He now is of course the head of Sydney Airport, he is also on the Infrastructure New South Wales board, and he made some comments yesterday about representations in terms of New South Wales infrastructure that I’ll leave people to consider for themselves.

But he also said in terms of funding at Sydney Airport in this article, he criticised me for not putting one dollar into Sydney Airport. Sydney Airport is a private corporation. It runs at a profit. It renumerates its board very well indeed, as well as its CEO and other officials.

It is a privately leased airport, was privatised during the period of the Howard Government.

JOURNALIST: Have you had a talk with Mr Moore-Wilton about all this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No I haven’t. Mr Moore-Wilton made a number of appearances yesterday. I was on the road yesterday in Townsville, in Hervey Bay and in Melbourne. These are pretty extraordinary claims that have been made. Certainly in terms of the reporting of them, I had very appropriate conversations with the reporter, I provided him with on the record comments, some of which were used in the article.

The comment that wasn’t used and I think should have been – and that’s not necessarily the reporter’s fault, I know that editors and sub-editors get sometimes to articles and change them for whatever reason – it was not reported that Qatar can fly into Sydney Airport right now, right now. Now Max Moore-Wilton knows that’s the case, or at least he should know that’s the case.

These assertions, this intervention in such a blatantly political way by Max Moore-Wilton is extraordinary. And the fact that the Daily Telegraph chose to have a front page splash about something that didn’t occur – and they know didn’t occur – but people who read the article on the front page, and a lot of people just read headlines, they will read ‘Minister accused of helping MPs break curfew.’

So you put the headline out there, you have Christopher Pyne and others back it in, and people think somehow that this becomes a fact, when there were no planes, no MPs, no breaking of curfew.

But a front page headline like that can be extraordinarily misleading and I just say to people, during this campaign, question what you read, look at the facts.

I have attempted to ring – I have rung and left a message for the reporter that I spoke to yesterday, this morning. I haven’t had the courtesy of my call being returned. That’s a decision for him.

I was notified very late about this story yesterday, in part, to be fair, I was travelling so that’s not necessarily a criticism of the reporter who I’ve had a constructive relationship with, and certainly our phone conversation was very courteous.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell me the genesis of this? Is it because there were four flights that were given dispensation because of the breakdown with Virgin’s booking system? And it was a just-in-case thing?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The first I knew that four had been given potential dispensation was when the reporter raised it with me. This is an arms-length process. The reporter certainly to me indicated he accepted there had been no breach of the curfew at the time. He was asserting Max Moore-Wilton’s assertion that it was ten. He was still asserting that yesterday.

Max Moore-Wilton must have known that that wasn’t the case.

JOURNALIST: He is the boss of the airport.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well you would think he would know. And you’d think also that he would know that none of it occurred.

This is a Tuesday night event – I’ve had a bit on this week – and on Friday he makes an assertion that this has happened and in order to justify motive, because he had to find some motive, because you can’t run around at this conference and say: ‘Anthony Albanese won’t let the airport operate. Oh, by the way, a dispensation was given to flights on Tuesday night. Ten flights were given dispensation’. You had to find a motive. So what was it that he found? There were MPs on these ten Virgin flights – an extraordinary assertion.

What occurred I was advised last night when I rang the Secretary of my department to find out what the details were that were then conveyed to Mr Budd, was that at Sydney they said up to four if needed because of the breakdown in the communications system. And at Adelaide by the way, where Adelaide there was actually one flight outside of the curfew hours. Adelaide also has a curfew on the same basis as Sydney. One flight did access that arrangement and I was informed of that by my department last night.

On 28 February I’m advised by my department the dispensation was from 11 to 11:30 with un unlimited and unspecified number of flights. There were extreme weather event apparently in Sydney on that day, and it was felt that the circumstances which are there in the regulations for a dispensation, which are for extraordinary events that can’t have been foreseen.

So if there’s an event, and common sense should apply, such as extreme weather events and people are going to be stranded. Or there’s an event such as what occurred apparently with the Virgin computer system, and that was widely reported of course on Tuesday that that had occurred, then the delegate or the delegate nominated by the delegate can make that decision. I’m of the view that that decision should take the common sense test.

This all comes back to two issues here. The first issue is around the operation of this airport. Max Moore-Wilton believes that this should continue to be a monopoly airport, the only airport for Sydney. And he tries to find some other reason why there are constraints and issues at this airport. The problem he has is that all the business people, all the users of the airport all know that there are constraints here and there are delays here.

That the peak period is being reached and the joint study into Sydney Airport and aviation capacity needs has shown very clearly – reported in March last year – that Sydney does need a second airport, that if we don’t have one we’ll be saying no to jobs, no to economic growth, and no to Sydney’s future as a global city.

So the Daily Telegraph has run a very strong campaign in support of a second airport. What this article and placing it on the front page today is about is up to them to explain.

All of this too at a time when there are major issues in federal politics that are actually real, issues of employment, jobs, the future of education, the future of health, the future of the National Broadband Network, that’s what I want to be engaged with during this campaign.

Tony Abbott and his supporters want anything but a real discussion about the real issues facing the nation. The people of Australia are sick and tired of this negative, personal politics.

Now it’s extraordinary the way that Tony Abbott has engaged in the politics of negativity for four years. Mr Moore-Wilton is a businessman. He’s engaging in personal attacks against myself about an issue that frankly I have exactly the same position on Sydney Airport as someone like Joe Hockey; exactly the same position. And I have made it very clear that what I want is bipartisanship when it comes to these issues conducted around Sydney Airport.

I’ve always been very courteous to Mr Moore-Wilton, his motives for this extraordinary intervention are up to him to explain.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s political opportunism?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: He’s got to explain how you can go out there and assert as he has three assertions. One, I intervened personally. Two, flights breached the curfew. Three, the motivation was because MPs were on those planes. That is what anyone reasonable who looks at the front page of the Daily Telegraph would assert.

I opened the conference on Wednesday morning, the CAPA conference. On the assertion that I am opposed to aviation, Mr Moore-Wilton might like to consider this. That CAPA, the Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation, named myself as the Aviation Minister of the Year – the International Aviation Minister of the Year – after I brought down a white paper into aviation that set out two decades of planning around aviation. Not just major airports, but regional airports, workforce issues, and I spoke on that on Wednesday in opening the conference.

It was a very constructive conference. Of course, that didn’t get much reportage because there seems to be an obsession on personal attacks against people – against individuals – during this campaign.

I think that’s the old politics. The old politics. And when we speak about new Labor, what we’re talking about is new politics, sticking to issues, moving away from this politics of negativity.

Thank you very much.