COMPERE: Our reporter Kerrin Binnie is trying to narrow down Labor’s preferred options with Anthony Albanese.
ALBANESE: This is a devastating announcement for 5000 workers and their families and the communities in of which they live, including many of the workers will be residents of my electorate in the inner west of Sydney. It is a devastating announcement for them – the worst day in terms of employment announcements since the collapse of Ansett.
REPORTER: You’re a former Transport Minister. Were there any indications while you were in Government that Qantas was in this kind of trouble?
ALBANESE: Well, we have a very competitive aviation industry. It’s a difficult industry but we provided letter of comfort for Qantas just before the last federal election in August.
That satisfied the markets and they were only downgraded in December.
There have been two significant events that have led to today.
I think one is the downgrade on December 6 and the second is the fact that Virgin were able to access the capital from the three foreign Government-backed airlines – Singapore, Etihad and Air New Zealand.
That occurred in November.
What concerns me is that since December 6, very clearly, the Government has indicated that it was interested in acting.
They’ve raised speculation, they’ve flown kites, they’ve added their insecurity of the Qantas workforce and the tens of thousands of Australians who depend indirectly on a successful Qantas, those in the and tourism industry, the freight and logistics sector, and yet they haven’t acted.
And today the response of Mr Truss is that he’ll wait and see a few days to see how the market reacts.
Well, what I’m concerned about is those workers who’ve lost their jobs and their families and I think that should be the priority of the Government and it’s about time that they acted.
REPORTER: What sort of like Government action would you like to see? Would it be changes to the Qantas sales act on foreign ownership or other changes?
ALBANESE: There’s a range of measures open to the Government. Qantas have made it priority very clear that the immediate priority isn’t the Qantas Sale Act. I mean, foreign share ownership today is at 39%. It can go up to 49% so if it was the critical issue you’d expect it would be butting up against that 49% figure. We believe that Qantas is an iconic Australian brand. It plays an important role in our national security. There’s a reason why governments want national airlines around the world whether they be major countries or smaller countries like Royal Brunei Airlines exists of course. There’s a reason because for nation states they have agreements between each other to allow for international aviation to occur. In order to do that Qantas as well as Virgin’s international arm have to be majority Australian owned and for island continent such as Australia, with no land borders, for us aviation is more important than it is for just about any country in the world with the possible exception of our New Zealand neighbours.
REPORTER: So it’s a no to changing the foreign ownership rule, what about some of the other measures like allowing Qantas to move more of its provisions maintenance off shore and other currently provisions in the Act that are currently restricted?
ALBANESE: We believe it’s an Australian airline and it should remain here in Australia and a majority of its activities should be based here in Australia.
We don’t apologise for that. We recognise that that is important in terms of being in the national interest. It’s important that we have those skills here. There’s a real association between the civil aviation sector and even our defence force. At the moment we’re going through a process we initiated of greater co-operation for example in terms of controlling air space between the RAAF and civil operations. So the sort of skills transfer is vital in Australia’s national interest as an island continent.
REPORTER: Would you like the Government to put together some sort assistance package for those 5000 people that are going to lose their jobs over got to the next few years?
ALBANESE: They’ve got to be responding when people lose their jobs but what I’d like them to do even more than that is to respond before people lose their jobs. That’s really what I’d like to see.
This is a government that is sitting around in Ministerial offices today pontificating about what the market response will be rather than providing a response.
They’ve known the issues and since December they’ve briefed out to journalists, there’ve been articles written every day about this issue, but a failure to act and now they say they’ll wait a few more days to see how the market will respond.
Well they know what the issues are. Qantas have proposed a range of ways in which you could provide some form of government assistance – government assistance that wouldn’t lead to taxpayers handing over money. Qantas aren’t asking for that and the Opposition isn’t supporting that. But measures which would be – whether it’s an equity injection in the company that would produce a return or whether it be the debt guarantee where Qantas would pay a fee for accessing that debt guarantee.
These are measures which the government has been speculating about. It’s added to insecurity.
They had a plan to get into Government. It’s about time plan that they showed they had a plan to govern.
REPORTER: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to talk to you.