Oct 31, 2011

Transcript of Interview – ABC 774 Melbourne

Subjects: Qantas Dispute

WALEED ALY: Right now I’m going to speak to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. You’ll know him well. His name is Anthony Albanese and he joins me now. Good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day, Waleed.

WALEED ALY: Here’s what Qantas CEO Alan Joyce had to say earlier this morning.

ALAN JOYCE: We have had briefings with ministers, with – with the departments, we have told them how our advance bookings were collapsing. We told them the – how our operation was deteriorating and our reliability was collapsing. We told them that we were grounding aircraft.

I said on multiple occasions we could get to a stage where we’ve have to ground the airline. That’s how bad this was and that was made very clear.

WALEED ALY: He’s talking there about the decision to ground the airline. Why is it that you – the Government said at least that you were taken by surprise by the announcement that Qantas would ground its fleet?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because I’m sure you were as well, Waleed.

WALEED ALY: Yes, but he – I didn’t have briefings with him which he said that you did.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The idea that Qantas would make a decision with no notice to the Government or to the travelling public that they would ground their domestic and international airlines themselves was quite extraordinary. Indeed…

WALEED ALY: So are you saying – sorry to cut you off there but are you saying that what Alan Joyce just said then, in that grab that I played you, is untrue?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What I’m saying is at no stage did Mr Joyce or anyone else indicate that there was any imminent decision about to be made to ground the airline and what is extraordinary is that people could have expected that the next step to be made would have been to call for the Government to intervene into the dispute. Mr Joyce did not call upon the Government to intervene in the dispute and there were a number of avenues open to Mr Joyce including going to Fair Work Australia and making an application to terminate the bargaining period under the same provisions that the Government went to Fair Work Australia with on Saturday evening.

WALEED ALY: I’ll get – I’ll get to the Government’s decision to do that in a minute but does that mean then that you’re saying that while you were given warning that it may come to the airline having to ground its fleet, that you had no expectation that that was imminent. Is that the way you’re answering the question?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I had a number of meetings with Mr Joyce. I don’t go into the details of all those private meetings but it was the case that I had discussions with Qantas including about ensuring and noting the fact that CHOGM was being held and the particular importance of CHOGM being held in Perth.

WALEED ALY: Yes.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The fact that Qantas made this decision on Derby Day with CHOGM happening in Perth, with under three hours’ notice was, to quote Mr Joyce himself when he held the press conference on Saturday night, he said this decision was unbelievable. They are his words that he used when he announced…

WALEED ALY: Yes, and he also…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …his decision.

WALEED ALY: He also said it was necessary. You’ve – you’ve criticised Qantas there for not taking other action that was available to it. I’m just interested in your government’s action here though.

You’ve referred – you referred the matter to Fair Work Australia.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes.

WALEED ALY: Pushing for a termination of the dispute but you have the power to make that decision yourself. Why wouldn’t you just do that instead of going off to – incorporate a tribunal into the process and slowing everything down?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: There’s a couple of reasons for that and when the Government was notified and I rang Mr Joyce on Saturday, someone from his office rang my office, I rang him when I didn’t get the call that I was told I was going to get. So I rang him and then he returned my call after 2.00pm. They’re the circumstances that occurred on Saturday. The Government immediately had discussions between ministers and I had a conversation with the Prime Minister.

WALEED ALY: Sure but…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We determined that we would go to Fair Work Australia for two reasons. One, that Fair Work Australia is the independent umpire and that it would be important for them to make a determination. Secondly, the provision for a ministerial determination which is there in the Fair Work Australia Act and has been in previous acts of industrial relations, has never been used by any minister either in this government or the former government and therefore has not be tested. It would have been extremely likely that what would have happened would have been an injunction would have occurred and therefore we would have been tied up in a legal process. What we determined was that the most effective way to respond was to refer the matter to Fair Work Australia, to advocate for a termination. We did that successfully and…

WALEED ALY: Sure, but just get rid of the section then. If you, in circumstances like this which are fairly extraordinary circumstances, you’re not prepared to use it because you’re worried that it’ll involve some protracted legal process, what is the point of having the section then…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No because…

WALEED ALY: …in your own act?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because it might end up taking longer and in terms of the act let’s put some perspective here. Think back to the Patrick’s dispute. Think back to the protracted disputes of the past that occurred including under the Howard government and they lasted for months. Here we have an action taken by Qantas, made by its board, they say on Saturday morning, conveyed to the Government after two o’clock, under three hours’ notice to the Government on Saturday afternoon, of a lockout of its employees to take place from Monday evening.

WALEED ALY: Yep.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government acted swiftly, with determination. We got on Saturday night 3000 extra passengers were able to travel because we immediately contacted Virgin Australia…

WALEED ALY: Sure.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We kicked into gear…

WALEED ALY: I’m going to have to leave it there because we’ve run out of time and there – I’m going to cross to some people at some airports, actually, and see how they’ve been affected by this as well. Anthony Albanese, I do appreciate your time though.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No worries. The good thing is that planes will be in the air later this afternoon with the kangaroo on them.

WALEED ALY: With a fair backlog, I imagine. Anthony Albanese, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, speaking to me there.