Nov 21, 2011

Transcript of interview – Sky News

Subjects: Qantas, MRRT, national conference, NSW infrastructure

KIERAN GILBERT: First though on the program, I have the Leader of the House and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese with me. Mr Albanese, thanks for your time.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.

KIERAN GILBERT: Qantas negotiations have not reached a deal. Where to now?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what we’re saying is that there has been progress made and that all the parties should act like adults and get this deal done today. If that isn’t the case, then there are a number of options available. One, that there’ll be a partial deal and some issues to go to arbitration. Or, if all the parties agree, it can go to 21 days further conciliation. If not, Fair Work Australia will make the decision for them.

KIERAN GILBERT: And what about if the Transport Workers Union does launch legal action in the Federal Court, which they are threatening to do?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We don’t support people taking legal action. The Government’s position is, we have an umpire and the umpire should be allowed to make their decision. We’re confident the courts would uphold that.

KIERAN GILBERT: Would you be willing to challenge any win in the Federal Court, in the High Court…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Our…

KIERAN GILBERT: … if the unions won?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Our position is clear, which is that the Fair Work Australia process, which is in operation, should be allowed to function effectively, that if people want to have control over their own destiny, they have today to get this deal done.  It’s not like they’re starting today.

KIERAN GILBERT: But it’s not going to happen is it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, there – with a bit of goodwill it could, Kieran. The truth is that when you talk to the parties about where the substance is of the disagreement, the substantial areas of disagreement have narrowed considerably. And there is no reason, in my view, why this deal can’t get done today.

KIERAN GILBERT: What do you think the most likely outcome is? Do you anticipate a deal possibly with the pilots, maybe the engineers, but you’ve still got the TWU without a deal. Can you see that sort of arrangement unfolding?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve given up predicting what would come out, given the events of Derby Day which no-one predicted beforehand. What I do know is that part of the problem here is just a lack of goodwill, a lack of respect from both sides of the dispute for each other. What I do say is, inevitably, in the longer run, it is in the interests of the company and its workforce to secure better relations and that will be advanced by getting a deal done today.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, a deal done either by negotiation or through arbitration, would you see it as beneficial or preferable if the T… the Fair Work Australia did make a ruling and be done with it…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look…

KIERAN GILBERT: … rather than go on with the negotiations.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is certainly always better to have agreements between employers and employees without outside interference. That’s the basis of our bargaining system. That’s better in the long run because both parties walk away having signed off on an agreement that they can live with. Not one that gives them everything that they want, but one that they can live with. So, that’s a preferred outcome. But if not, Fair Work Australia is in a position whereby if it’s not agreed to go the extra 21 days, then Fair Work Australia will make a decision for them.

KIERAN GILBERT: The TWU say they’ve got the support of the Teamsters union in the United States, Unite, which is the biggest European union out of the UK. We can expect apparently statements from those unions to this effect that they are willing to go out in support of Qantas staff. So, the airline could be hit not by industrial action here but internationally.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not terribly interested in rhetoric which escalates the dispute from either parties and I think that what they should be doing is talking about how they get an agreement done rather than how they muscle up for each other. Whether it…

KIERAN GILBERT:  All right.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: … whether it be management or the union

KIERAN GILBERT:                All right, let’s move onto the mining tax. Has the government got the numbers to get it through this week?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:        Well, we’ll see. I make it a policy, Kieran, as you know, to not make announcements on behalf of the Independents. They tend to not like that and they’ll make their own decisions in their own time, and will make that public when they decide to do so. What we know is, we support getting better resources for getting better benefit for the Australian public from our resources.  We know the Australian public support that.  We know the big miners support that.  The only people who are saying no is Tony Abbott and the Coalition.

KIERAN GILBERT: Will there be a vote on the mining tax regardless this week?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re expecting that to occur.  Whether the Opposition attempt to filibuster or not, we’ll wait and see.  But we expect it to occur.  We’re confident that we have the Australian public very much on our side.  And it’s quite extraordinary that you have the big miners saying, yes, we’re prepared to pay more, yes, we agree we should pay more, and Tony Abbott saying, no, we don’t want you to pay more.  And as a result, issues of superannuation, the reduction in company tax and infrastructure in regional Australia being impacted.

KIERAN GILBERT: Can we expect a vote Wednesday?  What’s the timeline for this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: There’s no reason why we couldn’t get to a vote on Wednesday in my view.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. On the issue of the left faction conference yesterday, the – you know, the left, obviously, which you – of which you’re a senior part has committed to fight the government’s – the Prime Minister’s position on uranium, on asylum seeker policy, on gay marriage.  Particularly on uranium and asylum seeker policy.  These are big decisions of government aren’t they?  Is it really a good look to have such a fractious party on those matters?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:        There’s nothing at all wrong with a political party being made up of passionate people who care deeply about Australia’s future having a debate about the way forward for Australia’s future.  That’s what the Prime Minister has called for at the national conference.  I’m sure that will occur at the national conference.  We’re a democratic party.  People join because they’re interested in the battle of big ideas.  And out of the conference, I’m sure, will come a stronger and united party.

KIERAN GILBERT:  So why is the Prime Minister wrong on uranium to India?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Well, I’ll save my comments for the conference.  I’ve had a historical position when it comes to nuclear issues, that there are a range of issues around the nuclear fuel cycle that have not been resolved.  And I continue to have those views.  I’ll put those views at the conference.

KIERAN GILBERT:  One final issue.  I know we’ve discussed this before, but the New South Wales Government does want federal funding transferred from the Epping-Parramatta rail link to the north-west link.  Now why shouldn’t they have the capacity to do that?  It was a big part of their election platform.  They won a resounding victory.  But your holding out on this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: They’re entitled to have their election promises fulfilled by their funds.  We’re entitled to have a view that when we have tied grants for infrastructure for particular projects, this isn’t a pool of funds that can just be splashed around and changed.  If you did that, Kieran, you would not be able to develop an infrastructure program.  Infrastructure, by its nature, goes beyond one electoral term and you can’t have a federal infrastructure funding program that’s determined by the outcome and – of each and every state election…

KIERAN GILBERT:  But why shouldn’t the federal government listen to what was clearly the will of the New South Wales people?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  It didn’t occur in Victoria, it didn’t occur in Western Australia.  It won’t occur in New South Wales.  We have funding for particular programs.  And today, indeed, we’ve announced we’re bringing forward $200 million for the New South Wales Government to fast-track the construction of the Hunter Expressway, where the Commonwealth’s contributing $1.45 billion.  We’re already contributing $12 billion to NSW infrastructure.  One in every three dollars goes to NSW.  And in the last week, we’ve had the Hunter Expressway and, importantly, $490 million brought forward for the Pacific Highway, about $4.1 billion of infrastructure funding. So, New South Wales is getting its fair share, but you can’t have a situation whereby infrastructure commitments change from the Commonwealth when a state government changes.  If that occurred the system would break down. What we’ve said is that any other projects NSW want to put forward will be considered on their merits and eligible for future funding if they meet the criteria of Infrastructure Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT:  Okay.  Anthony Albanese, thanks for that.  Your Government’s struggling in the polls but you’ve got one fan in Dolly Parton, so that’s good.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Oh, Dolly’s a big fan, and I understand she played up in the Hunter the other night.  So, people will be able to get up there faster in a couple of years thanks to the Hunter Expressway.

KIERAN GILBERT:  [Laughs] Good segue.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  [Laughs]

KIERAN GILBERT:  Thanks a lot for that, appreciate it.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  See you, Kieran.