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Thursday, 21 February 2002
Page: 807


Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (1:00 PM) —I rise to bring to the attention of this place the awful consequences of the Ansett collapse and the effects that has had upon the country, particularly on the electorate of Burke. I have had meetings with many workers who have been made redundant as a result of that collapse—flight attendants, engineers, freight handlers, administrative workers and even pilots—and also with contractors who relied upon Ansett being in existence. We are all aware of the role that Air New Zealand has played in this debacle—its corporate incompetence and even its efforts to steal the assets before walking out on the workers and its own customers.

But what we have failed to fully focus on is the pathetic, rudderless efforts by this federal government to concern itself with the plight of those workers and the customers of Ansett. This government was forewarned about the imminent collapse of Ansett. Ansett met with the Minister for Transport and Regional Services well before the collapse and informed the minister of its plight. What did that minister do to avert the collapse of this aviation carrier? What did the minister do to save 17,000 jobs directly, and probably 20,000 or 30,000 jobs indirectly? The minister did nothing. The minister defended his position on an open skies policy, the policy that brought almost a monopoly in the domestic aviation market of Australia. The minister had no regard for those workers at Ansett. The government's policy, as I said, has led to almost a monopoly within the domestic market in aviation in this country.

Maybe it is unfair to categorise the government's role as being non-existent. They played some role. They played largely a spoiler role in the efforts to get Ansett flying again. They have managed to limit Ansett employees' entitlements insofar as their redundancies are concerned. Since the collapse, they have shown no regard for properly involving themselves in assisting a new carrier to hopefully supplant the carrier that has gone to the wall.

Good government would have heeded credible warnings given to it and acted to save thousands of Australian jobs. Good government would have provided assistance to this ailing company, this national icon, Ansett. But what did the government do? Instead, it played politics. This government was preoccupied playing wedge politics—not saving Australian jobs, but dividing the Australian community on other issues and not concerning itself with what was, I believe, the most important issue of the days preceding the election on 10 November. What is required, and clearly what is sadly lacking, is leadership. What is required is a government willing to construct a sensible, effective aviation policy.

The community expects a government that cares and leads those people—not one that divides and has no regard for people. In my electorate of Burke, over 1,000 families had an awful Christmas. Over 1,000 families lost jobs. In one case—and I spoke at length with them—a mother, father and two of their children had lost their jobs as a result of the collapse. Four in the family had lost their jobs. They made calls to the government. They asked me what the minister was doing about this—and no doubt asked others what the minister was to do about it. The only thing we could say is, `He's not interested in your plight. He has no regard for your interests.' He clearly showed that in his behaviour, his actions and his inaction prior to the election. The hardest thing to explain to these people is why the government will do nothing. I call on this government to have an effective aviation policy.