Oct 31, 2011

Transcript of Interview – Channel 9 Today

Subjects: Qantas Dispute

KARL STEFANOVIC:  Joining me now is the Federal Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese. Anthony, good morning to you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Karl.

KARL STEFANOVIC: When will flights be up and running?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: As soon as possible. The regulator will need to tick off – CASA’s the safety regulator. And when you stop an airline like Qantas decided to do at 5pm on Saturday, it’s not quite as simple as just flicking the light switch. But we’re hoping that planes can be in the air this afternoon.

KARL STEFANOVIC: What does need to happen? What are the logistics in getting it back up and running?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the logistics are once you wind down the system staff who’ve been expecting to be locked out have been continuing to work yesterday. The planes need to have fuel in them. The flight schedules, in terms of air traffic control etc need to be sorted out for a new schedule. We have an extra 3000 seats being offered by Virgin Australia today. So there were extra flights were put in. That complicates things in terms of where the schedule is at but we certainly are working very hard, in terms of the department and the regulator working with Qantas and with its workforce to make sure we can get things going as soon as possible. The Government’s very pleased with the decision overnight to uphold its application at Fair Work Australia.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Anthony, there’s no guarantee, is there, that the end of the 21 days the position is going to be any clearer, any different?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well what will happen after 21 days is that there’ll be a determination which is binding on all parties if they can’t get to an agreement. But I would hope that a bit of common sense prevails here and that there’s a recognition that there’s a mutual interest between Qantas being a successful company and its workforce having jobs and being able to have decent standards of living and that we have that common interest. And essentially that all parties – Qantas and the unions – behave like adults and get an agreement done.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Can they appeal the outcome of that ruling?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. It’s an arbitration that will be binding on all parties. This has shown that the Fair Work system has worked pretty effectively. From the time that Qantas made its decision, the board on Saturday is when they say they made the decision. They informed the Government after 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We put in place the application at Fair Work Australia and we’re very pleased that Fair Work Australia was able to expedite the hearing and that we’ll get planes back in the air.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Why didn’t you terminate the dispute at 2pm on Saturday when you found out?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Were we to take that step that would have been subject to legal dispute and the legal dispute would have been dragging on. As I think you’d be aware Karl, legal challenges can take longer than the process that we’ve just been through. We referred it to the industrial umpire; the industrial umpire has made a very strong decision overnight and that was clearly the right thing to do.

KARL STEFANOVIC: But if you had terminated under Section 431 of the Fair Work Act it would have meant that Qantas and the unions went back to work straight away.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, it probably would’ve meant one party or the other would have challenged that decision legally.

KARL STEFANOVIC: How do you know though? Maybe both wanted to go back?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: In terms of going back, the unions hadn’t gone anywhere Karl. Let’s be clear. The only union industrial action that was planned, in terms of in the immediate sense, was the fact that pilots were wearing red ties. That was the only industrial action [indistinct]…

KARL STEFANOVIC: [Interrupts] So the unions – Anthony. The unions wouldn’t have appealed it. How do you know Qantas would have?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: While…

KARL STEFANOVIC: They would’ve be fine going back.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I would’ve thought the unions could have potentially appealed it and I would be surprised if they wouldn’t have given that there would have been no notice of determination and the decision by the Government. This was a unilateral action by Qantas as a result of a board meeting on Saturday. And when asked was there anything that the Government could do, Qantas didn’t make that suggestion. And indeed Qantas at no stage, prior to their announcement on Saturday, have called for – either publicly or in private – the Government to intervene in this dispute.

KARL STEFANOVIC: So, just finally you have, or hold, no responsibility on behalf of the government for a decision that you could have made and resulted in there being far less disruptions across Australia?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The idea that there would have been less disruption, there would have been legal action under Section 431. The decision that we made, to refer the matter to Fair Work Australia for an urgent hearing, was the appropriate decision. We now have the outcome. The decision by Qantas to ground the airline – and I checked with CASA after I spoke to Mr Joyce on Saturday – that was a decision by them and by them alone. And a decision in which the Government was told that a [indistinct] decision had been made by the board that morning.

We know from the Fair Work hearings that Qantas had envisaged this occurring as early as October 20 – one of the documents that was tabled – and there was no discussion between October 20 and Saturday. In spite of the fact there were a number of meetings with Mr Joyce and other people in Qantas, and phone conversations with various ministers, at no stage did Qantas say we intend to lock out our workforce.

KARL STEFANOVIC: What’s the point of – what’s the point of 431 if it only leads to legal action? How’s that more efficient?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have an efficient mechanism and it was used in terms of the Fair Work Australia decision and getting them in. We also set up a taskforce, we put on extra planes to make sure the travelling public could go. But Qantas are responsible for the decision that they made at their board meeting on Saturday, one day after their annual general meeting.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Alright. It’s a bit of a mess at the moment. Let’s hope everything’s fixed up in the next 12 hours, people can get back into the skies and all of those disrupted people can get on with their lives. Well you hope they can sort it out – the unions and Qantas. Thanks Anthony, appreciate your time this morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly hope so. It’s a good outcome Karl. Thanks for talking with us.

KARL STEFANOVIC: No worries at all.