Subject/s: Qantas, unions
BOLT: Qantas is in trouble, and wants a change to the law – to the Qantas Sale Act that stops foreigners from buying most of the airline. The Act also stops Qantas from getting its heavy maintenance done more cheaply overseas. The Government says, sure, Qantas should be free to do what our other national carrier, Virgin, can do already. But Labor and the Greens say they’ll block the change. Labor says it’s a safety issue.
OPPOSITION LEADER BILL SHORTEN: The enviable safety record of Qantas is in no small part due to the professionalism, the hard work, the commitment and the expertise of its Australian-based maintenance crews.
PRIME MINISTER TONY ABBOTT: The Leader of the Opposition is trying to suggest that without the restrictions that exist under the Qantas Sale Act an airline can’t be safe. Virgin is a safe airline as well.
BOLT: Joining me is Anthony Albanese, Labor’s transport spokesman. Anthony thanks for coming on. A lot of Labor minister shadows won’t, including the leadership, so I appreciate it.
ALBANESE: Well, I am pleased to be here Andrew. It’s my view that we can have different opinions but hold them genuinely and an important part of democracy is people being able to have discussions without impugning each other’s motives.
BOLT: Good. Bill Shorten’s argument that shifting the maintenance jobs of Qantas overseas will make it less safe. Now Virgin has its maintenance overseas. Is Bill Shorten actually saying that Virgin is not safe then?
ALBANESE: No, he is not. What he is saying is there is a national interest in Qantas remaining majority Australian-owned. That’s a view that was held by the Coalition until very recently. And it’s a view that’s consistent as well, part of that is that the employment that Qantas has here in Australia. But you should be able to also examine what the implications are behind the Government’s changes. Has it thought those through in terms of particularly the employment implications but also that national interest test? And Bill’s actual question was about whether the Australian Prime Minister is proud of the fact that Qantas around the world is recognised as the world’s safest airline.
BOLT: That’s all very well. But the clear implication was – if you shift the maintenance overseas you not going to be as safe. That’s absolutely what he was suggesting. You are now suggesting … that Virgin does it and it’s not unsafe.
ALBANESE: We have a very safe aviation system here in Australia.
BOLT: All right? So why the argument then from Bill Shorten?
ALBANESE: Well, there wasn’t an argument. What there was, was a verballing from Tony Abbott. What Bill Shorten said was: Is the Australian Prime Minister proud of the fact that Qantas has a record which even gets mentioned in movies? We are famous. It’s a part of who we are and there are a range of reasons why Qantas should stay majority Australian-owned. Governments around the world provide support for aviation. This is not some free-market operation. It’s governed by the Chicago Convention. Governments intervene directly and indirectly all of the time because they recognise that aviation plays a critical role in the national economy. There is nowhere that’s more important than an island continent such as Australia.
BOLT: Anthony, everyone saw that clip and everyone will know that that’s Bill Shorten trying to suggest that Qantas would be less safe if you shift the maintenance overseas. I don’t get this case against changing the Qantas Sale Act. You said that it protects jobs but Qantas had to sack another 5000 people. You said Qantas is the national airline but Virgin is too and employs nearly 10,000 Australians. You said we need it to be Australian owned so it can rescue Australians overseas but Virgin promises to do that too. I don’t get the practical difference it would make to change the Qantas Sale Act. What’s the practical difference?
ALBANESE: This isn’t about just today either, Andrew. This is about the way that aviation works here. Virgin is doing well and John Borghetti has provided outstanding leadership for Virgin over recent years. But the fact is – Qantas has more than 90 years of proud history here in Australia. It is recognised as the Flying Kangaroo overseas. Every time somebody sees a Qantas tail it’s an ad for tourism here in Australia.
BOLT: I love it too. But Anthony, paying all of this money just to see a Qantas tail plane, I mean, what is that? That’s just waving the national flag.
ALBANESE: Well, the national flag through activities such as the G’Day USA and G’Day Shanghai functions is about getting tourism and jobs here in Australia. It does play a role, Andrew. In terms of maintenance and those activities, if you export those activities overseas you never get those skills back.
BOLT: Can I put Labor’s real case? Those maintenance workers Bill Shorten says should be protected, many are covered by the Australian Workers Union – the union Shorten used to lead and which helped him to beat you in the ballot for Opposition Leader. That’s not a coincidence is it?
ALBANESE: Most of them, Andrew, are covered by the Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Association or the AMWU as well as the AWU.
BOLT: Yes, the AWU, the AWU. That’s what I am saying.
ALBANESE: They are union members. There is nothing wrong with that. And in terms of the motivation, to suggest that’s the motivation, I am sure that wasn’t the motivation when Joe Hockey, when I through the aviation White Paper had a relatively minor change to lift the sub-restrictions (foreign ownership restrictions on Qantas in 2009, to lift the 25% restriction on any individual ownership and the 35% restrictions on foreign airlines ownership of Qantas, up to 49) they came out with a very clear argument about the national interest and said even that minor change was not in the national interest because of the impact on regional airlines, the impact on jobs here in Australia.
BOLT: That was then, Anthony. They’ve got a different argument now.
ALBANESE: Look. Well, the world hasn’t changed, Andrew.
BOLT: The world has changed.
ALBANESE: I know they’ve changed their argument every few weeks. They’ve changed their argument from two weeks ago.
BOLT: I don’t know. But Qantas baggage handlers are covered by the Transport Workers Union which faction boss Stephen Conroy, your Deputy leader in the Senate another Shorten supporter, he used to work for that and that’s not a coincidence. Labor has had reforming leaders. You have had Paul Keating, you’ve had Bob Hawke. Now they took on the unions, they deregulated the economy to some extent. Right now Labor Party seems to be back to nationalism, protecting industries, big subsidies, big unions. Are you losing touch with that reforming tradition?
ALBANESE: Not at all Andrew and I sit very much in that reforming tradition. One of the things that characterised the Hawke and Keating Governments though was that you had not just protectionism of the old, you had a preparedness for future jobs, future growth. What they did though was they didn’t forget people. They actually had support packages for those transitions, how to retrain workers, how to give people the skills that would be there for the jobs of the future. People are perhaps going to have to also get support for where the location of the new jobs will be. Labor can’t ever just say no to change. We are a progressive party. But being a progressive party means embracing change but making sure that we shape it so we don’t leave people out. The problem with Tony Abbott at the moment is that jobs are being destroyed and there is no plan. You could do a little clip of questions that we asked this week in the Parliament about the 5000 Qantas workers who will lose their jobs. What’s the response of the Government to that? They had none. They just played politics.
BOLT: We all want to give hand-outs. That’s not the issue. They will get help. I am wondering whether Labor is – whether Labor needs to do more to stop being tagged as a mouth piece for unions and to stop just handing out cheques to big business that’s in trouble and particularly to big business with high union membership.
ALBANESE: We of course as a progressive party have to always be looking forward to the future. How do we embrace innovation? How do we embrace change? How do we make sure that we are prepared? Where we are in the growth region of the world here in Asia-Pacific, we have opportunities, if we embrace them.
BOLT: That’s right. Who would disagree with you? It’s the union links to the leadership. Does Bill Shorten need to do more to break those links and stop being seen as a union Patsy?
ALBANESE: What Bill has been doing of course as all of Labor have been doing, is responding to the immediate concerns which are there – which is we have seen more than 60,000 job losses announced under the watch of the Tony Abbott Government and an inadequate response in terms of what will happen in terms of jobs of the future. Take manufacturing, while we are on aviation. A good example is the work that Boeing is doing, which is competitive there in Victoria, which has grown in recent years, which is exporting, which is a part of the global chain in terms of production – a very successful operation. The largest operation that Boeing have outside of the United States is right here in Australia. Now, we need to identify those opportunities, make sure that we are talking about the jobs of the future, that in part is what measures such as the National Broadband Network and embracing new technology while in Government was about.
BOLT: We are out of time. Thank you so much for joining me.
ALBANESE: Great to talk with you, Andrew.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.