Feb 28, 2014

Transcript of television interview – Today Show

Subject: Qantas

HOST: Joining us now in the studio is the Minister for Education Christopher Pyne and from Melbourne Shadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese. Good morning to both of you.

PYNE: Good morning.

ALBANESE: Good morning.

HOST: Not surprisingly, we will start with Qantas. Now, Qantas chief Alan Joyce says there are two solutions to the airlines woes: a debt guarantee, and the PM has already ruled that out; or lifting of the foreign ownership restrictions. But with the coming Senate, Clive Palmer last night on Lateline has said that that’s not going to happen. We know that he will more than likely hold the balance of power, what happens now?

PYNE: Well this is where Labor has to step up Lisa. There are two things the government can do to help the government to help Qantas. They can pass a bill to lift the foreign ownership limits from 49 per cent, which would give the opportunity for people to invest in Qantas from overseas but secondly, they could pass the carbon tax repeal bills in the senate, which are sitting there, waiting to be passed. That cost Qantas $106 million last financial year. Every year it is going to be a burden on Qantas until it is passed. So Labor could help Qantas today by supporting the government on two measures.

HOST: Anthony?

ALBANESE: Well, it is about time this government acted like it rather than acting like an opposition. The fact is this: If you lift the restrictions that are there on Qantas, that ensure that it remains an Australian company, then you essentially remove the significance of having a national airline. There is a reason why countries around the world intervene to defend their national airlines and it is about time that this government, having put out there in briefings, on front pages of papers for three months that they were going to deliver a debt guarantee, or some other form of support for Qantas,  at the last minute, they pulled the rug from under Qantas, adding to the insecurity that is there from the workforce, 5,000 of whom found out yesterday that they would lose their job.

HOST: Part of the problem is Alan Joyce says he is absolutely hamstrung because it is not a level playing field with airlines like Virgin, what do you say to that, Anthony?

ALBANESE: That’s right. That’s why the government is in a position to do what hinted they would do, what they briefed journalists they would do, what they were saying they would do, until it came to the time for action yesterday. And what we have seen now is pulling the rug out from under them. The Qantas Sale Act ensures that a majority of Qantas activity occurs here in Australia. What that means is jobs here in Australia. Why is it that this government won’t defend Australian jobs?

HOST: Why the backflip, Christopher?

PYNE: There hasn’t been a backflip, Lisa, the government never announced or hinted there would be a debt guarantee. The problem is Labor are spending other people’s money. They did it in government, running up $123 billion of deficits and had us skyrocketing to $667 billion of debt. They are still being economically irresponsible. Alan Joyce has said it is not a level playing field. Virgin is competing against Qantas and very hard. They are voracious in their campaign but they have got foreign investment. They’ve got Air New Zealand, Etihad and Singapore Airlines, all state owned enterprises and competing hard. Qantas needs to be freed from the shackles of not being able to have that level of foreign investment but also they need to have their tax burden reduced. Labor could do both of those things tomorrow and we wouldn’t need Clive Palmer. If they don’t, then Labor is quite content to see Qantas go under rather than do the things that can be done now to save Qantas.

HOST: Anthony, there’s a lot of speculation this morning that [interrupted]… go on?

ALBANESE: Christopher has just belled the cat. Christopher has said quite rightly that Singapore, Etihad and Air New Zealand put the capital injection into Virgin, which they did last November. They are all government-owned airlines. The governments of UAE, Singapore and New Zealand are prepared to support Virgin but the government of Australia is not prepared to support Qantas. Let’s be clear, Qantas aren’t after a handout. What Qantas have asked for is a debt facility which they would pay for at no cost to the Australian taxpayer. If they use that facility, they would pay a commercial rate of interest. This isn’t about any impact on the government bottom line. And that is why it was briefed out. Joe Hockey put it out there specifically.

PYNE: You’ve had a very good run there Anthony. Time for somebody else to have a turn.

HOST: Anthony, there is a lot of speculation Qantas is on a collision course with the unions over this. We know Qantas can play hardball, we have seen them ground planes before. How much industrial action are you expecting?

ALBANESE: What we know is the job insecurity and the insecurity of the current situation is being added to by the government. Essentially, they’ve teased Qantas and teased the Qantas workforce and teased the Australian public. They have certainly have had discussions with the opposition saying: “Would you be prepared to support us and be constructive?” We’ve indicated that we would. And then they’ve changed their mind. So it is not surprising that that insecurity is there and that tension is there. What I’d say is that Qantas management and the workforce have a common interest in a strong company and I would urge all sides to be cooperative.

HOST: The last word? Christopher?

PYNE: The last word? I had hardly any words. Basically, Anthony’s position is the same as the Greens. He wants to reprivatize Qantas, but he won’t do the things we know we could do today – reduce the tax burden and allow them to compete with Virgin on a level playing field. He wants to privatize Qantas just like the Greens do, and he’s got all sort of verbage about industrial this and government that. On Monday they could pass two bills that would help fix Qantas and let them compete and he won’t, because he is an old socialist and he thinks privatisation is better than competition. The problem for his argument is that his government were the ones that privatised Qantas under Paul Keating.

HOST: We will have to leave it there.