Subjects: Cuts to Air Services Australia, Bob Day, asylum seeker legislation.
FRAN KELLY: Yesterday on the program we spoke with the Transport Minister, Darren Chester, about the massive job cuts coming at Air Services Australia sparking widespread concerns about aviation safety. Nine hundred workers, that’s almost a quarter of the workforce, have been earmarked for redundancy by the government-owned organisation, which is responsible for air traffic control and air emergency services. Darren Chester says pilots and unions are scaring the flying public with information that is inaccurate and irresponsible.
DARREN CHESTER: There will be no impact on safety as a result of the restructure. Now, keep in mind Air Services has been through a phase of quite significant back-office staff increases. It does need to reduce the costs in terms of air service providers in the back office, and there’s no impact on the front of house office if you like, where you’re talking about our air traffic controllers and the aviation firefighting rescue services.
KELLY: That’s the Minister for Transport, Darren Chester, adamant that the only people who will lose these jobs in the downsizing will be back office support staff. Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Transport. Anthony Albanese, welcome to RN Breakfast.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you Fran.
KELLY: I’ll get to aviation safety in a moment, but can I ask you first about the sort of political issue that is dominating the day and that’s Bob Day. Labor is taking legal advice on this matter, Penny Wong told us on AM. In your view, is there a prima facie case that Bob Day has breached the Constitution, by having a pecuniary interest, directly or indirectly, with the Commonwealth?
ALBANESE: Well, that would certainly appear to be the Government’s view, which is why it has initiated the reference to the High Court, which Labor is clearly supporting. My concern here is why the gap between the Government being made aware, it would appear, that there was as issue in August and only seeking advice, according to Mathias Cormann’s interview with you just half an hour ago, last Thursday. I find that quite extraordinary and I think the Government has questions to answer about when it was aware there was an issue here, with Bob Day’s eligibility to be elected to the Senate.
KELLY: Well the minister told us I think that they received the advice last Thursday night, but there still is a gap in a sense of when questions were raised. Do you have any kind of view on whether, if there was that question mark over it, the Government should have been wary of accepting Senator Day’s advice, or, if they haven’t actually received the legal opinion yet, is that the only option – they have to keep accepting his vote in the Senate?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s extraordinary that the Australian public weren’t told that there was an issue here.
KELLY: Were you told though? Labor knew didn’t it?
ALBANESE: I certainly wasn’t aware. The first I knew of this was when the story broke essentially, in the last few days. Quite clearly the Government has been conscious of this being an issue. They’ve continued to, it might make it a bit of sense for why they were gagging debates in the House of Representatives in the last sitting week, even though the Senate wasn’t sitting. So they were rushing legislation to nowhere, effectively, is what they did with major pieces of legislation, including its ABCC legislation. I would have thought that they would have wanted as many speakers on that as possible, if they thought it was a political winner for them.
KELLY: OK, moving on to another matter, I will get to your portfolio in just a second, but one of the bills coming before Parliament next week will be the permanent ban on Manus and Nauru refugees ever coming to Australia in any way, for a holiday or anything. Bill Shorten has described the law as ludicrous. Other colleagues of yours have slammed it as “extreme”, “evil”, “sick”. Now former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, says this is quote “grovelling to the politics of xenophobia and an appeasement of political thugs like Abbott, Dutton, Abetz and Andrews”. Considering the very robust criticism from your side of politics, Labor can’t support this legislation can it?
ALBANESE: Well, we haven’t even seen the legislation, but of course Fran, you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. What we know is the people currently in Manus and Nauru are there indefinitely under this Government, without a plan being put forward by the Government for resolving their status.
KELLY: Well, we presume that is what this is all about – that resettlement options are in the wings, maybe with the US or Canada or New Zealand. If resettlement depends on this legislation if that’s the argument the Government is putting, does that put pressure on Labor to support it?
ALBANESE: Well, what we know from Prime Minister John Key, in New Zealand, is that this proposition will make resettlement impossible in New Zealand. So, what we are left with is two messages being sent: a message to the people on Manus and Nauru of further anguish, further mental health issues being exacerbated by the Government’s actions here; and I guess not so much a dog whistle, but a dog siren, here to the Australian people, which we’ve seen the end result of – Pauline Hanson saying that refugees are not welcome here at all.
KELLY: So, Labor won’t support it?
ALBANESE: Well, we have our processes Fran and our processes aren’t determined on your show. But certainly I’m very concerned by this proposition. I don’t see that there is any purpose to it, other than politics. The Government hasn’t put forward any other purpose, other than politics. This will make it more difficult to settle in third countries. We know that from Prime Minister John Key and we know that it doesn’t provide any resolution to the issue of resettlement for the people on Manus and Nauru and that should be the Government’s absolute priority. And my whole concern here is the de-humanisation and this is a next step, a further step. I mean just when you think they’ve jumped the shark, they come up with something more extreme and this is an extreme proposition.
KELLY: It’s 13 past eight. Our guest is Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese. Let’s move to your portfolio. These job cuts at Air Services Australia, we were discussing with the Minister yesterday, you heard a bit of that interview there. He says that the 900 job losses will not impact aviation safety. He sought assurances on that. Do you accept his assurance?
ALBANESE: Well, I accept that it is his responsibility and I think that it is a big call to say that if you cut one in four jobs from an organisation, it has no impact on its core function. My concern here is that there were propositions to close the firefighting services in some of the smaller regional airports -relatively small but places like Gladstone and Broome. That was a proposition that was put forward that I certainly raised my concern about that with the minister. In the past there have been propositions to close the air traffic control facilities at places like Sydney Airport, and an argument from Air Services that with new technology location doesn’t matter. But a very different argument from those people who are actually the practitioners, the air traffic controllers themselves, many of whom live in my electorate, who say that there is an issue with regard to location being significant. Just common sense tells you that you can actually see what is going on.
KELLY: But the Minister reassured us yesterday that there’ll be no cuts to air traffic control and no cuts to firefighters. Yet the Virgin Independent Pilots Association said that staff cuts will increase the risk of accidents. You’re kind of raising concerns about it. Is it irresponsible to be sort of scaring the public?
ALBANESE: Well, I think it is responsible to be putting forward measured comments and that’s certainly what I’ve been doing. The people who are pilots and air traffic controllers have a responsibility to put forward their case and they, like myself, have been raising these issues in private for a very long time. I certainly have absolute confidence in Angus Houston, the chair of Air Services Australia. But, I’m also concerned about the broader issue here which is that if you cut the jobs of people – the engineers and the people who provide that support staff – are you going to just end up having to pay people more when they are contracted out and brought in at higher fees? That’s what we have seen across a lot of the public sector. We have seen a massive growth under this Government of consultants, lawyers, people from outside being paid exorbitant fees for jobs that used to be done by public servants who knew what they were doing, who did it as their full-time occupation with a concentration and specialisation that results from that. And that’s part of my concern here as well and I think it is legitimate to raise questions, as we did in Senate estimates, as I have when I’ve sought briefings from Air Services Australia. We have a very safe aviation safety system. I am sure that will continue, but we need to be vigilant about these issues.
KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you Fran.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.