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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12041

Qantas


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (15:12): My question is to the Prime Minister. Did any minister propose that the government make a declaration under section 431 of the Fair Work Act to end the Qantas dispute? If not, does that not indicate that the government was more concerned about the lockout of union members at 8 pm on Monday than the impact on the travelling public on Saturday?


Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (15:12): I thank the Leader of the National Party for his question because it enables me to explain something about section 431 that throughout the course of question time has been ignored by the opposition as they twist and turn the facts to try and seek their very silly political story. Let me explain to the Leader of the National Party about section 431. I think he and the opposition need to understand this so that they stop misrepresenting the situation to Australians. I have been asked a question about section 431 and I am answering it.

Mr Truss: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My question was about whether any minister had proposed action under section 431. I was not seeking a detailed explanation of what is in the section.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The Prime Minister has the call.

Ms GILLARD: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I know the facts stand in the way of the opposition but they are going to hear the facts. Section 431 is the section of the Fair Work Act that enables a minister to make a declaration about industrial action. The opposition have pretended all of this question time, and they have pretended in the public debate, that the way in which that section works is that a minister just gets out a sheet of paper and scrawls on it 'I declare' and then it is done. In creating that impression in here and in the public debate, the opposition are peddling a falsehood. The peddling of that falsehood should stop here and it should stop now. It is not the right thing to do—in circumstances where the national interest is engaged, where tens of thousands of Australians have been stranded and where Australians have been anxious about the circumstances of the national economy—for the opposition to peddle that falsehood. Section 431 does not enable a minister to get out a piece of paper, scribble 'I declare' on it and sign it. That is not how it works. The minister needs to be satisfied of certain facts in order to make the declaration; the minister needs to inform himself or herself.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister has the call.

Ms GILLARD: I know the facts are not helping the opposition, but screaming does not change the facts. So let us listen to the facts for the first time. Section 431 does not enable a minister to just get out a sheet of paper; the minister would have to have the evidence before them that would enable them to come to the conclusion about the national economy. In terms of advice and the extension of procedural fairness, the obligation may extend to hearing from the parties affected, and when the declaration is made it is subject to judicial review. So if the minister makes a declaration—bearing in mind that this has never been done in Australia before—it would very likely end up before a court, and a court would be able to traverse all of the facts and all of the circumstances.

If the government had taken that course, it would have been a step into a legal unknown in the sense that this section had never been tested before, and inevitably, given the circumstances of this dispute, it would have ended up in a court case. So rather than putting the nation in the grip of that legal uncertainty for week after week and month after month—which the Leader of the Opposition is clearly recommending—we used the section of the act that has resulted in industrial action being terminated and planes getting back into the sky this afternoon. The Leader of the Opposition is trying to peddle this falsehood because he is desperately unhappy that the Fair Work system has worked to terminate this industrial action. He is always barracking for his political interest rather than the national interest. The performance of the opposition today has been truly shoddy indeed.