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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 12320

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (16:01): I rise today to speak on the matter of public importance: 'The failure of the Government to act to avoid the grounding of the Qantas fleet.' This is an absolute public importance issue. In fact, we have just heard the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport try to convince the House that he fully backs the Prime Minister's actions. Yet today in the Daily Telegraphit states that the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and the Assistant Treasurer are believed to have argued for an immediate intervention to save people from being stranded. I wonder where the Telegraph got this information? Who put those leaks out? Publicly the minister is holding and toeing the government line—even coming into this House and stating that this is the way it had to be. It was reported in the media today at 3 pm that a Qantas spokesperson was asked if the fleet would have been grounded if the government had used section 431 of the Fair Work Act, and the spokesperson said, 'No; if a declaration had been made under section 431 of the Fair Work Act, Qantas would have been prevented from issuing a lockout notice to these employees covered by the three unions.'

Enough members of the cabinet must be aware of the very real impact this fiasco has had on our tourism sector, both in terms of short-term bed nights and in terms of the damage done to 'Brand Australia'. The visuals across the world of people sleeping on airport floors because they could not get into accommodation or because they could not afford to stump up the money for the hotel room to be reimbursed is not a good image of Australia. This could have been avoided. The Prime Minister keeps using the words 'decisive action'; what the Prime Minister has is divisive action. It is divisive action which has got the community angry with Qantas, angry with the unions, and, more importantly, angry with this government. This Prime Minister said she had no notice of the issue. I refer to an article in the Australian by Joe Kelly on 21 October. The article is headed 'Tourism begs PM to step in on Qantas'. I am sure that the Prime Minister and her advisers, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and the Minister for Tourism would read the Australian. I am particularly sure that they would have read this article, because the tourism industry was begging the Prime Minister to step in and take action. In fact, according to Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner, the government should have stepped in to force a solution to the dispute. He said:

If they can't do that, it makes you wonder why we elected a government. This is exactly the sort of situation where they should be actively searching or forcing a solution.

For the Prime Minister to come into this House on not one day but two days and say that she was not aware of the seriousness of the situation defies any ounce of credibility.

Today is Melbourne Cup day, Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper. You may have backed a winner or you may have lost. That is the Australian way. But let me tell you: the tourism industry in Melbourne has lost, and it has lost massively. In fact, today in the paper it is reported that the general manager of Melbourne's Adelphi Hotel said that they are sitting on about 80 per cent occupancy when they should be on 100 per cent. For him to miss out on 20 per cent of his business around Melbourne Cup day is a cruel blow. It does not get any better in Melbourne for the tourism industry than Melbourne Cup day. This government, because of its failure to act, has let down the tourism industry.

When the announcement was made, my phone was inundated with calls from Western Australia and Queensland. As you know as a Queenslander, Mr Deputy Speaker, it is now the peak tourism season up in the north of Queensland. But the bed cancellations have ranged between 10 per cent and 20 per cent. This is an industry that is coming off the back of natural disasters, the global financial crisis and all of those things that impact the tourism industry. It is an industry that runs on very, very small margins of profitability. But now, in their peak season, when they needed the government to step up to the plate, what did the government do? They pretended they did not see it was coming. They pretended there was no issue.

I am not here to defend Qantas; neither am I here to defend the unions. I am here to defend the tourism industry—people with their own skin in the game, trying to make a living. Before Saturday's move by Qantas management, the carrier had to cancel 629 flights. Before Friday, Qantas had to reschedule 387 flights. Part of the issue has been that the unions gave notice of intention to strike, which affected flights, and then call it off at the last minute so that they did not lose any wages because of strike action. But Qantas, having to act responsibly, had to cancel flights. This minister who has just addressed this MPI has failed to condemn the union movement for its action, which has totally disrupted our tourism industry and affected our brand: Australia. But I have to say to you that he is not on his own. In fact, the Minister for Tourism himself will stand and talk about all of the effects on the tourism industry from the global financial crisis through to natural disasters, yet he is the minister who has failed to act. The minister is reported to have said that he has urged that the tourism industry 'not be hung out to dry because of this industrial action'. Yet this is the minister who, when it has come to actually getting behind the industry and supporting the industry, has walked away.

Let us face it: what is his track record? Since 2008 Australia has slid from fourth place to 13th place in international tourism competitiveness according to the World Economic Forum. This is the minister who keeps explaining it away, but he is also the minister who did not stand up when this government increased the passenger movement charge by 24 per cent—that is, from $38 to $47 per passenger—in a very price-sensitive market. Their income from the charge is $630 million this year and will increase to $755 million by 2014; at the same time, they are only spending just over $130 million on Tourism Australia. This is the minister who sat back and watched while Customs' budget for processing people when they arrive in Australia was cut by $34 million. This is the minister who has presided while cuts were made to Chinese and Indian trade events—and they are our key target markets. This is the minister who sat back and watched cooks and chefs be removed from the skilled migration list. To top it all off, this is the minister who warned that a carbon tax would disadvantage the aviation industry, yet, in a hypocritical move, then turned around and voted for it. The industry demands a minister who will not pick sides but will stand up for the tourism industry overall and for good and proper management so people can go about and do what they do—that is, create the experience of a lifetime for people. This government has watched over the total destruction of our international reputation.

This Friday in Parliament House, as part of the Abbott opposition's industry review, I am holding a special day in an 'Industries for Australia's Future' review of tourism. It will be attended by groups like the Australian Hotels Association; the Restaurant and Catering association; the National Tourism Alliance; Tourism Training Australia; the Accommodation Association of Australia; Tourism Accommodation Australia; Caravan, RV and Accommodation Industry of Australia; the Australian Tourism Export Council; and the TTF. I know what they will be taking as their first issue of debate on the day when we gather the information on things that are important to them. The first issue of debate will be how this crisis is bringing their industry to its knees when they have just been able to get back up. They were knocked down by the GFC. They were knocked down by the natural disasters. They wanted a hand to get up, and what this government has done is give them a sucker blow. It has knocked them back down on their knees and said, 'It's all Qantas's fault.' This is the government that could not see the signs coming through the industrial action. Would it sit down with people? Would it take decisive action? No; this is the government that takes divisive action. It prefers to drive the wedge between Qantas and the workers and, more importantly, the tourism industry, which relies on the aviation sector as one of its key industry aspects.

I have pages and pages of quotes that have come in to me from industry players about the effect of this industrial action on them. As I say, I am not here to bag Qantas; I can understand the decision they took. I am not here to bag the unions; they are standing up for what they believe in. I am here to stand up for our tourism industry, which is the innocent party in all this action, because the government failed to act. (Time expired)