Oct 31, 2011

Transcript of Interview – Breakfast with Adam Spencer, ABC 702 Sydney

Subjects: Qantas Dispute

ADAM SPENCER: Anthony Albanese is the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, he joins me now. Mr Albanese, thanks for your time.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day, Adam.

ADAM SPENCER: What time will the first Qantas flight be leaving today, do you know?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, we don’t at this stage, CASA will have to look at the safety aspects as the regulator and grant approval, but certainly I know that the unions and engineers, to their credit, were working yesterday to ensure that planes were ready to go. I know that the airline is keen obviously to get planes in the air, and the reason why the Government went to Fair Work Australia was to get those planes back in the air.

ADAM SPENCER: You’re described on the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph as being furious at Qantas, for them giving only three hours notice on Saturday of their decision to ground the fleet, is that an accurate depiction of your mood?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think that anyone who got the sort of notice that was given on Saturday, I wouldn’t agree to any particular explanation, but I think my approach was one that you would have, Adam, if you were in my situation.

ADAM SPENCER: But this wasn’t the first time that the concept of the fleet being grounded had been discussed with you, had it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Very clearly I’ve seen today the cynical attempts by Qantas to somehow shift blame, and to say that if the Prime Minister had picked up the phone, there would have been change.

I made it clear I don’t normally discuss private conversations, when I was told by Mr Joyce, I asked was there anything we could do? He informed me that the decision was a board decision, and it was done.

ADAM SPENCER: When was this discussion with Mr Joyce?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That was on Saturday afternoon, and at no stage, at no stage, did he raise with me Section 431.

ADAM SPENCER: Because there’s a suggestion that there was a sort of three hour period, between two o’clock and five o’clock, and if the Prime Minister had returned Mr Joyce’s call at any stage, up until about 4.55, and if the Prime Minister had said, we won’t even go to Fair Work Australia, we’ll step in now and declare this over, that Mr Joyce would not have pulled the flights.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s nonsense, that is being done a couple of days after the event. There was an opportunity for it to be raised by either Qantas’s representatives, who were making calls to the Prime Minister’s office, Mr Joyce who I spoke to directly, that was not raised with me. At no stage did Qantas request to me in a number of face-to-face meetings, phone conversations, text messages, at no stage has Qantas requested the Government intervene.

ADAM SPENCER: Regardless, when you had a phone hook-up with the Prime Minister, and relevant ministers, did you consider directly intervening, yourselves?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Prime Minister was chairing CHOGM, so the Prime Minister wasn’t a part of all of the discussions, I certainly spoke to the Prime Minister. One of the points that I made to Mr Joyce was that this decision was being made with no notice to the Government, on the weekend when CHOGM was meeting, and at a particularly difficult time for both the national interest and Qantas’s interests. When you have people who will travel back to their respective countries, and certainly the fact that 17 leaders of nations were booked on Qantas made this a big story in those countries, bigger than it would have been otherwise, and that of course is a negative, in terms of the future viewing of Qantas’s brand.

ADAM SPENCER: Qantas would argue that if they let it run later, and did it during the school holidays or over Christmas, it would be even more damaging, I mean that’s arguments that other people can have, but if…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The documents were tabled in Fair Work Australia, one of the documents showed that they received a risk assessment based upon the shutdown of the airline, with the lock-out of the workers on October 20.

ADAM SPENCER: To which Qantas says the planning for these sorts of contingencies is just part of prudent management, these industrial reforms – these industrial disputes have been on the radar for a while, the union’s talk has been about ramping up and going longer, it would be prudent management to have all sorts of options countenanced.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I wonder whether the ABC have an option in their bottom drawer for what happens if the ABC decides to pull the plug and not have any radio, television or internet services, by…

ADAM SPENCER: Now that…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …locking out…

ADAM SPENCER: …would be a national tragedy.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …by locking out workers? Do you think they have that in the bottom drawer, Adam?

ADAM SPENCER: But can I ask, it’s been suggested in today’s Daily Telegraph, Mr Albanese, that Alan Joyce met you at your electoral office on 21 October, to warn of how serious this was, he threw the books open and said, we are – this is getting very serious, giving the impression that these sort of options would have to be countenanced, did you have that meeting, and were those sorts of issues, you know, put in your mind then?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have had a number of meetings with Alan Joyce, they’ve chosen to put that in the Daily Telegraph, I’ve had a number of meetings, I had two meetings with Alan Joyce on that day.

ADAM SPENCER: And during which time, so the concept that in the worst possible scenario, we could pull flights, that had been raised with you?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I had three face-to-face meetings with Alan Joyce. At no stage did Alan Joyce say to me that they were planning to lock out their workforce.

ADAM SPENCER: I heard one minister described off the record last night as saying this was an act of industrial terrorism. Is that an accurate depiction, or is that language a little bit strong, do you think Anthony Albanese?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not going to get into those discussions, the important thing here is that what we have is a resolution, the Government did the right thing by going to the independent umpire, that was the right thing to do. If we had made a declaration under Section 431 by the way, that would have been challenged in the courts, and you would have had a prolonged delay, because the courts might have taken longer than Fair Work Australia did. We acted upon receiving notice from Qantas, we put in place a range of measures that included, by the way, Virgin Australia doing a terrific job, providing for 3000 extra seats on Saturday night, to get people home, as well as 3500 extra yesterday, and 3000 today, my department, the safety watchdog, in terms of CASA, the regulator, people have worked around the clock.

ADAM SPENCER: What else should Mr Joyce have done, Mr Albanese? He would claim that despite a ringing endorsement of the current structures, pay et cetera, at the AGM, the unions only talked about their industrial relations getting stronger and longer, he says it’s financially crippling the airlines, did he really have any other choice than to bring this on, and take it to Fair Work Australia, as he’s done?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, he didn’t take it to Fair Work Australia, Adam, the Government took it to Fair Work Australia…

ADAM SPENCER: Once Mr Joyce had taken action that forced your hand to do so.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: He made a decision to lock out his workforce, the only industrial action on the agenda planned when this decision was made to lock out the workforce, was pilots wearing red ties and making announcements to passengers, on aircraft. That was the only industrial action planned by the pilots, the engineers had called off all action, for a cooling off period and for further negotiations, and the Transport Workers’ Union, which did have a one-hour stoppage on Friday, had chosen to not have further industrial action. So there was an opportunity, having got through the AGM on Friday, to continue to bargain in good faith. One would expect now that the decision has been made, for Qantas to sit down with the unions, for all parties to recognise their common interests here. You can’t have a successful airline or jobs being provided without that mutual interest being recognised. And I would hope that a bit of commonsense prevails, that people are able to act like adults, and get an agreement.

ADAM SPENCER: In the broader sense, people like David Murray, chair of the Future Fund, on the front page of The Australian newspaper, has described this today as the showdown that the broader Australian industrial relations and economy, had to have, but there are many other companies thinking of radical restructures, or large overhauls of their structure, and who would be sitting back and waiting for someone to have the courage to get involved in this in the way that Qantas has, do you think this is the last time that we’ll see Section 424, Section 431, in such prominence?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, from time to…

ADAM SPENCER: Or are we going to enter an era where there’s going to be a lot more of this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …from time to time, Adam, you have the cheer squad for WorkChoices, and the cheer squad for a radical approach to industrial relations, that sees workers’ conditions and entitlements as something that should be absolutely minimised, that isn’t my approach, or the Government’s approach. The Government’s approach is that we would hope that there’s a recognition that both workers have rights, as well as employers, and that we get the balance right. We think we have got the balance right with the Fair Work legislation, the fact that the industrial umpire has been able to make this determination, which is binding on all the parties, shows that the Fair Work system is able to work effectively in the national interest. And I make this point, that since we have had the Fair Work legislation, industrial disputes are less than one-third of what they were during the period of the Howard Government.

ADAM SPENCER: Okay, thank you very much for your time this morning, minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk to you, Adam.