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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 12326


Mrs D'ATH (Petrie) (16:31): It is not a pleasure to rise to speak on this MPI on Qantas. It is disappointing that we even have to have this debate. What is disgusting is the fact that those on the other side talk about nothing but blaming the government. There is no talk about the passengers being disadvantaged. There was mention of the tourism industry, but there was no mention of passengers by the opposition. That is because they are not actually interested in the impact that this has had on the Australian economy or passengers. Their interest is in playing the blame game. I did not think I could be any further amazed by the opposition and their negativity but today, and the debate yesterday in this House, has shown how far the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Party will go to capitalise on any incident in this country.

The fact is that the Leader of the Opposition will go to all lengths for political opportunism. If it is a decision of a local government having got some sort of funding from the federal government and then doing something wrong, it is our fault. If the state government do something and they get some funding, it is our fault—we must have caused that. It seems that anything that happens in this country is the Labor government's fault. That is what the Liberal Party are about. They are about blaming. They are about opportunism. They are about opposing everything.

We have heard so many inconsistencies in this debate. We have heard that we should have foreseen this happening. We heard that the Prime Minister should have picked up the phone days ago, as we heard yesterday; we are now being told that the Prime Minister should have picked the phone up six months ago in relation to this debate—despite the fact that the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport has said that he has had numerous discussions with Qantas and the unions in relation to this dispute in recent times to try to help reach a resolution in this matter. So the government has been involved in trying to reach resolutions in this matter. But, of course, that is not convenient for the opposition to talk about.

When is the opposition going to say that a company, when it makes a decision, should be held to account for it, just as individuals are? There should be some accountability by Qantas in this debate. And there is on this side of the House. We are holding Qantas to account for the decision they made. No-one else made the decision; Qantas management made this decision.

We are being told that this was foreseeable, but the fact is that Alan Joyce, in his press conference on Saturday afternoon when he said that they were grounding all flights, was asked by a journalist, 'Why didn't you tell the shareholders at the meeting the day before that you were going to do this?' and Alan Joyce's response was, 'We only made the decision to do it this morning.' But apparently we were supposed to know that six months ago. The Liberal Party are full of nothing but political opportunists. They will go to any lengths to try to milk a vote out of this, because that is what they are about.

I just want to get some facts on the record. I do believe the Australian people have the right to know the facts in this dispute. In the Australian yesterday, Alan Joyce said:

THE action I announced on Saturday was the only option available to Qantas to cut short the destructive industrial campaign that has devastated the airline over recent months.

Under the Fair Work Act, no other choice was viably open to us.

I believe the Australian people and all of those customers of Qantas, the tens of thousands of customers who were left disadvantaged over the last few days by the Qantas decision, have the right to know that section 423 of the Fair Work Act specifically says:

(1) FWA may make an order suspending or terminating protected industrial action for a proposed enterprise agreement that is being engaged in if the requirements set out in this section are met.

Requirement—significant economic harm

(2) If the protected industrial action is employee claim action, FWA must be satisfied that the action is causing, or is threatening to cause, significant economic harm to:

(a) the employer, or any of the employers, that will be covered by the agreement; and

(b) any of the employees who will be covered by the agreement.

Section 423 enabled Qantas at any time over the last few weeks to file an application to suspend or terminate the protected industrial action—not because of a view of threatened harm to the national economy but in relation to significant economic harm to its business.

Qantas have said that the protected action that was being taken by the unions was costing them $15 million a week. We have since heard that the decision that Qantas made to ground its fleet was costing $20 million a day. So the unions' protected action was costing Qantas $15 million a week and Qantas's action was costing them $20 million a day, yet Qantas—let us be clear, it was not the government and not any other party—chose not to go to Fair Work Australia, the independent tribunal, at any time over the past few weeks prior to Saturday's announcement to seek to suspend or terminate the bargaining period. That was available to them. Qantas should be honest with the Australian people, instead of saying there was no other response that they could take.

The other side say that the Fair Work Act is flawed. If we want to talk about flawed legislation, I can stand here all day and talk about Work Choices. The independent tribunal under Work Choices had no ability to resolve disputes because their hands were tied behind their back. So employers or employees could not go there to seek any sort of resolution to disputes. Their hands were tied behind their back. This government introduced the Fair Work Act that provided those mechanisms for both employers and unions to utilise when they are needed.

Qantas was able to use section 423. An order could have been made under subsection (7), which states:

FWA may make the order:

(a) on its own initiative; or

(b) on application by any of the following:

(i) a bargaining representative for the agreement—

being the employer or the unions—

(ii) the Minister;

…   …   …

(iii) a person prescribed by the regulations.

Fair Work Australia approved the protected industrial action. Before industrial action in Australia can occur it has to be approved by Fair Work Australia, so Fair Work Australia had approved this industrial action. Fair Work Australia were aware of this industrial action, having granted this protected industrial action by the unions. If Fair Work Australia considered that significant economic harm was imminent to be caused to Qantas, they could have suspended or terminated the bargaining period. But even Fair Work Australia—I know we are being told that we should have had crystal balls for all of this—did not initiate of their own motion a suspension or termination under this section.

We have heard that the government should have used section 431, intervened and put a declaration in place. Unlike the Liberal Party, we believe it is important to get the facts argued before an independent tribunal and have the independent tribunal determine the matter. That is a better course of events than a minister coming over the top, intervening and just imposing a decision on the parties without hearing all of the circumstances. As a consequence, because the government did not use section 431 and impose a decision and instead used section 424 and took the matter to the industrial tribunal, that tribunal was able to hear arguments from all sides and come up with a determination that resulted in giving the parties 21 days to negotiate and, if need be, it arbitrating and making sure there is a decision in this matter. That is a better course of events for Qantas, for its workforce and for industrial relations in this country. It is about time the opposition started telling everybody the true facts in this matter. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The time for the discussion has concluded.