ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you for joining me. I am at Sydenham in my electorate of Grayndler, an area that is greatly affected by aircraft noise. Indeed, this area was once occupied by residences which had to be demolished as a result of aircraft noise. It’s a timely reminder that the services that are provided relating to airports are critical, not just for those who travel on planes, but for the communities around those airports. And the proposal of the Federal Government to privatise Airservices Australia would have disastrous consequences for people who live around airports as well as for the aviation sector. The Government has commissioned a review into that privatisation through KPMG, authored by Warwick Smith, a former Federal Coalition minister. That report must be released immediately. I have been denied access to that report through my FOI application. Taxpayers paid $600,000 for that report and taxpayers are entitled to see what is in that report. The privatisation of services – of Airservices Australia – would have severe consequences. If providing aviation safety, air-traffic control, looking after flight paths, looking after fire-fighting services around airports around Australia is not a core government function, then I don’t know what is. The Government must immediately release the report and rule out the privatisation of Airservices Australia. While they are at they could rule out the closure of fire-fighting services in regional communities like Gladstone, Coffs Harbour and Broome, that has also been recommended to the Government. These communities rely upon the employment and the activity that occurs at those airports and if there is an incident it is not good enough to simply rely upon the normal fire-fighting services that are located in those communities to travel to the airport to respond to any incident. The first three minutes, should there by an aviation incident, are absolutely critical in determining what the consequences of such an incident would be. So the Government needs to rule out those cuts. They have announced 900 jobs to go out of the 4500 who work for Airservices Australia. That has consequences for their families. But it also has consequences for the setting up of Airservices Australia for privatisation. Historically, what governments have done is have mass redundancies such as this prior to privatisation in order to increase the value of the asset sale and it appears that that is precisely what is happening here, which is why the Government must rule out the privatisation of air safety services today.
REPORTER: Australia’s aviation reputation around the world is fairly high and may even be one of the best in the world, Is there any fear that privatisation of air services may actually lead to us losing that tag?
ALBANESE: Well, certainly I think there would be great concern throughout the aviation sector from the privatisation of Airservices Australia. Australia is quite rightly proud of our reputation as the world’s safest aviation jurisdiction. And all that is put at threat if you move to a for-profit system. Common sense tells you that aviation safety is a core government function and a core responsibility of the Government. If you move it to a for-profit system, you will inevitably have cost-cutting in order to maximise profits for the private corporation. And what is the need for this? Air Services already retain funds as a result of the services that they provide. It is a good, functioning organisation and there is no need for this privatisation.
REPORTER: You mentioned the rural and the smaller airports. What sort of impact would you imagine job losses in those areas have on those local communities and what would that mean to those families?
ALBANESE: Well, they have a devastating impact and this is after Airservices Australia, over recent years, have spent $1 billion upgrading the fire-fighting services to have state-of-the-art equipment, to have proper training. We have skilled workers who have particular knowledge about firefighting around our airports should an incident occur. This is just mean-spirited cost-cutting. The idea that you would shut aviation fire-fighting services in the smaller regional airports – like Gladstone, like Broome, like Coffs Harbour – would have devastating consequences and that is why those communities deserve this cost-cutting measure to be ruled out today and it’s up to the National Party Minister Darren Chester to rule it out in the interests of those communities. It’s not good enough to skate through an election and then announce 900 job losses and then be still considering the closure of fire-fighting services as part of the setting it all up for the privatisation of aviation safety in this country.
REPORTER: In NSW in particular there has been a lot of controversy around privatisation of late. We saw the controversy with the Baird Government and the Ausgrid sell-off and the Chinese interest. Is there any concern that the Liberal Party is perhaps chasing a privatisation agenda a little bit too strong?
ALBANESE: Well they don’t have plan for the nation. I note that in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, a senior Liberal MP is quoted as saying that Malcolm Turnbull had a plan to get rid of Tony Abbott but doesn’t have a plan to govern. And that’s quite right. So this is a Government in search of a purpose for its existence. This is an Opposition in exile sitting on the government benches looking for a reason for being and that is why they are falling back on ideology. The idea that you would privatise aviation safety in this country is quite extraordinary. They have spent $600,000 on a report on that privatisation proposal to government and now they are hiding that report. They need to release it today and they need to rule out the privatisation of these aviation safety services provided by Airservices Australia. People want to know – the travelling public and those people who live around airports – that the flight paths, that the air-traffic control services, that the fire-fighting services are being run in the interests of safety and good governance, not run in the interests of profit.
REPORTER: One of the other big issue of the day really is gay marriage and the plebiscite. The Greens have indicated that they would seek to block the legislation that would see that plebiscite through. Does Labor have any final position on whether they would be looking to block that plebiscite?
ALBANESE: Well the Greens Party of course are all over the shop. It’s just a year ago that they were proposing, along with other senators, to have a plebiscite. That was their position. Our position has always been consistent. Labor’s position is there is no need for a plebiscite. You can save money. The Government says it is looking for savings. I’ve got an idea for it; save hundreds of millions of dollars by getting the Parliament to do its job – to do its job and to vote in a conscience vote on the floor of both chambers. Marriage equality will be passed. The world will go on. Some people will get rights they don’t currently have, but no-one’s existing rights will be impacted. Marriage equality should not be a controversial issue. It should be debated in the Parliament. When we go back to Parliament next week we’ll be voting on defence, the economy education, health – the whole gamut of issues will be determined by the Parliament. Why is it that some people want me and other MPs to not fulfil our obligations but to give everyone a voting on other people’s relationships? It seems to me that that was always just a delaying tactic by Malcom Turnbull. Malcolm Turnbull knows full well the consequences for young people coming to terms with their sexuality. Malcolm Turnbull knows full well the consequences that will occur as a result of the vilification that is already occurring in the emails that I have received. The denigration of people for who they are is something that we can do without and the Parliament should do its job.
REPORTER: Russell Broadbent has indicated that he would like to see the Government delay any action on marriage equality should Labor join the likes of Nick Xenophon and perhaps the Greens in blocking a plebiscite. Are you at all concerned that that tactic may actually play out and we may not see action on marriage equality for another three years?
ALBANESE: That’s very possible. Malcolm Turnbull isn’t just in conflict with the conservative forces within his own party. He is in conflict with himself. This is a person who said that he supported marriage equality, has campaigned on it, has said there should be a conscience vote in the Parliament and that is how it should be determined but is walking away from it. Others will judge Malcolm Turnbull, but we should get this done and we should get it done quickly and it should be done in the Parliament. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.