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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12037

Qantas


Ms BURKE (Chisholm) (14:57): My question is to the Assistant Treasure and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation. Will the Assistant Treasurer outline how the government's actions to get Qantas planes back in the air put the interests of consumers, business and passengers first?


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongAssistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation) (14:57): I would like to thank the member for Chisholm for her question. She, like every member of the government, is animated by the national interest, and of course the way in which the government approached the Qantas lockout of its workforce reflects the commitment of the government to ensure the national interest of people and the economy is upheld.

On Saturday afternoon, mid-afternoon, the government was notified by Qantas that they would lock out their workforce from 8 am Monday morning—that is, baggage crew, ramp crew, caterers, licensed engineers, international pilots and short-haul pilots; however, they said that, because they were going to lock their workforce out from 8 am Monday morning, all planes would have to be grounded from 5 pm on Saturday. All planes in the air would be allowed to finish that leg and thereafter 155 planes would be grounded, not by the unions but by the management of Qantas, and 140,000 passengers around the world and throughout Australia, because of industrial action by one of the parties in a negotiation, were forced to have their plans inconvenienced, business trips inconvenienced, the tourism industry of one million people inconvenienced, families wanting to be reunited visiting sick relatives inconvenienced. What the government did was take appropriate steps under section 424 of the Fair Work Act to immediately make an application to terminate the industrial action and, in the alternative, if the tribunal did not find favour with that application, suspend the industrial action. All through the evening of Saturday night, senior representatives of the department of transport and the department of tourism attended these hearings and the evidence went—

Mr Andrews: Mr Speaker, on a point of order: how has any of this got anything to do with the Assistant Treasurer's portfolio responsibilities?

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Menzies might have tried that point of order on the question and I still would have ruled against him. The question was in order. Now the problem for the minister is that he remains directly relevant to it—he has been doing a pretty good job of it so far.

Mr SHORTEN: Thank you, Mr Speaker. There was evidence given by the secretaries of two Commonwealth departments about the impact upon the economy by Qantas's action. Then, for 12 hours on Sunday, evidence was led as to why the industrial action by all parties, principally triggered by Qantas's action, should be terminated.

Assisting the government by attending those 12 hours of hearings on Sunday, I can report to the House that I did not trip over any members of the Liberal Party trying to fix this dispute. They were happy to churn out the press releases.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The House will come to order!

Mr SHORTEN: In fact, if any member of the opposition had bothered to turn up, they would have realised that, when Qantas was supporting the government's application to terminate the bargaining periods and cease the industrial action, at no point did Qantas allege that, if they had just had a chance to speak to the government before 5 pm, none of this would happen. Qantas never put that on the record in the 12 hours of legal hearings.

Furthermore, at no stage did Qantas make an alternative application and say that the government should be pursuing another section of the act. In fact, it was very clear that the independent umpire, the Fair Work tribunal, acted decisively and made its decision. Thank goodness this government put in place this act to provide for a tribunal that would stand up to resolve the industrial action.

Let the record be clear: if Qantas and Alan Joyce had not taken the industrial action against the workforce, these planes would not have been grounded and there would have been no upheaval to the Australian economy.