Feb 13, 2014

Transcript of radio interview – ABC Radio National with Fran Kelly

Subject/s: Qantas, Second Sydney Airport 

FRAN KELLY: Well as we were mentioning earlier there with Paul, Qantas has been in Canberra bringing with it its pitch for Government support. Qantas CEO met Coalition MPs last night and he also met Labor’s Transport Spokesman Anthony Albanese yesterday. Anthony Albanese, welcome back to breakfast.


KELLY: You met Alan Joyce yesterday, what does Alan Joyce want and need from the Australian Government?

ALBANESE: I won’t discuss the detail of private meetings that have been held but Qantas is saying very publicly that they want assistance from the government and they’ve been saying that not for days or weeks but months and the government is sitting back doing just like they sat back and did nothing about SPC Ardmona, Toyota and Holden. It seems that this is a government that had a plan to get into government, but not a plan to actually govern once they got there.

KELLY: In your view the government is too slow about this but what should the government be doing? Alan Joyce clearly is asking the government for some kind of debt guarantee, is that what the government should give it?

ALBANESE: Well there are a range of options before the government. One is a form of debt guarantee which would attract a payment from Qantas for that facility being made available. Another option is a straight-out equity injection into Qantas which would then produce a return to the government. What we’ve said is that we would consider any proposal from the government constructively, but they need to act. We’re talking about 32,000 jobs. We’re talking about an iconic Australian company that plays a critical role not just in our national economy but internationally as well, as a very recognisable Australian brand. When people the red kangaroo they know that is a flying advertisement, literally, for Australian tourism and for Australia.

KELLY: So just to be clear, you’re basically saying the government should make great efforts to help Qantas, here so if Qantas comes to the government asking for this debt guarantee facility, that has risk to it, but you’re saying the government should say yes?

ALBANESE: No, we’re saying the government should make a decision and we would consider it constructively.

KELLY: Do you think that’s a good idea? You must have considered this, you’ve been Transport Minister yourself not that long ago. You must have considered this.

ALBANESE: We don’t have the advice of Treasury and Finance. It’s up to the government to govern. We’re prepared to be constructive about this. We believe that there’s a legitimate case for some action to support Qantas and we have been saying now for months – make a decision, just as Qantas have. The situation hasn’t changed at all in past months. We sat last year. Eventually they decided to bring the parliament back and sit. Alan Joyce and Qantas were here then. These issues were there then. I dealt with the issue when we were in government in a satisfactory way. We provided what could be regarded as a letter of comfort to Qantas. That gave them satisfaction, and the agencies some satisfaction at that time. Since then we’ve had a downgrading of Qantas in terms of those agencies and that is having an impact on the business. The government can’t just sit back with all of these issues where we’re seeing these tens of thousands of job losses and no action from the government.

KELLY: Alan Joyce in his pitch for to government MPs last night for support was pointing out and reminding them that he confronted the unions in 2011 and shut down flights for 3 days at that time. He’s pledging to ‘accelerate changes to the airline’ and there’s already 1000 job cuts slated so there should be more ahead. Are you supportive of those noises coming from the Qantas CEO and do you think that’s just the way it’s got to be?

ALBANESE: I’m supportive of the fact that Qantas and its workers have a common interest. I’d prefer to see that common interest stressed. I don’t resile from my criticism of the grounding of Qantas. In my view that was a mistake by Qantas management and I have not changed my opinion of that.

KELLY: We’ll move on from Qantas in a moment but it’s also clear that last night Alan Joyce told Coalition MPs that talking about the Qantas Sale Act, which is a 49% cap on foreign investment; he said ‘the act limits our financial options, it adds costs to our business. Over the long term repealing it is essential to removing distortions in our aviation system’. Labor and Greens oppose amending the Act. So you’re happy to keep Qantas battling away on what Alan Joyce says is an uneven playing field?

ALBANESE: Labor supports the national interest. Once you remove the Qantas Sale Act, what you would do is open up Qantas to the sort of corporate raider that saw activity occur in Air Canada where you saw a breaking up of the company between the more profitable and the less profitable routes and you saw the breaking up of the business. The concern there would be that Australia relies upon Qantas as a major carrier for regional access, so it plays a critical role in our national interest. Once of the reasons I think Qantas has a particular case is the nature of it as An Australian airline. If you take away the guarantee that existed when Qantas was sold – that it remained majority Australian owned, that it would be based here, and most of its activity would be Australian – then it’s no longer an Australian airline. I think you have to be very cautious about heading down that route and it’s something that Labor regards as not negotiable. We’re talking about an Australian airline. The  Qantas Sale Act guarantees that it will remain an Australian airline and I note that Alan Joyce is speaking about the longer term. He isn’t arguing that changing the Act is of immediate concern to Qantas. What he wants is action from the government about specific challenges that are there at the moment.

KELLY: It’s ten to eight on Radio National Breakfast. Our guest this morning is Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese. Just a quick one also on aviation. A cabinet decision is expected next month now to build Sydney’s second airport At Badgery’s Creek. You’ve long been a supporter of a second airport. As Transport Minister you never opted publicly for a preferred site. Will you welcome an announcement that Badgery’s Creek will be the site for a second Sydney airport?

ALBANESE: I’ll wait for the government to make a decision rather than make comments based on newspaper articles that aren’t necessarily accurate. There was a story last week that it was going to happen this week and a story today justifying the fact that wasn’t accurate. Tony Abbott made it clear last week that a decision wasn’t imminent. Sydney does need a second airport, and it needs it sooner rather than later. If we say no to a second Sydney airport, we’re saying no to jobs, not to economic growth and no to Sydney’s position as a global city of the future. Importantly, because 4 out of every 10 flights around Australia go through Sydney, the lack of capacity from not having a second airport is a constraint on our economy.

KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us on breakfast.

ALBANESE: Thank you.