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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1842

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (10:29): What a load of gobbledegook we heard from the member for Throsby! First of all he is saying that the government is doing nothing yet here we are this morning putting legislation through the House to assist and help Qantas. He says we are doing nothing but here we are, trying to get rid of the insidious carbon tax—which would help Qantas's bottom line by $100 million—yet the member opposite is saying that we are sitting on our hands doing nothing. The problem in this debate and the problem at the moment is not the government; it is the opposition and its friends the Greens, who are trying to stop us at every turn from doing what is right for this nation. This bill before us today, the Qantas Sale Amendment Bill 2014, is the right thing for our nation.

Getting rid of the Qantas Sale Act is in the national interest. Qantas thinks it is a good idea, Virgin thinks it is a good idea and the government thinks it is a good idea. The only people who do not are those opposite, and it is about time that they changed their minds. It is about time that they understood that we now live in a global world and that means that our economy has to be open to capital, it means that our economy must be open to competition and it means that every decision the government takes to do with an industry has to have an eye to what is occurring in the rest of the world. The Abbott government understands that, and that is why it is clearly and methodically, with time, considering its options, issue by issue, and coming up with the right decisions for our nation.

It is very interesting to see that those opposite, while trying to stop us at every turn, are not being supported by people outside of this House who used to be on their side. We had an example yesterday in an extremely well-written opinion piece. David Epstein, a former adviser to the Prime Minister and someone with knowledge of Qantas, wrote a telling article saying that those opposite should get out of the way and support the government on this. Not only did he say that; he also said that it is time that the Labor Party modernised its thinking and realised that it is operating in the 21st century. I would say to those opposite: take the time to read that article, because it was a well-written piece and you could then come on board and help and support the government to undertake the important reforms that this nation needs to ensure that it grows its economy and grows our workforce in the next five to 20 years.

The Abbott government is going to be a reformist government. What we need to see, as we saw through the 1980s and the early 1990s, is bipartisan support. It was very indicative yesterday to see that there have been moments when the Labor Party have thought about it. We found out that the former minister for transport did have drafted legislation which would get rid of the Qantas Sale Act. He actually had it in his drawer. What I would like to know is: if you could have the legislation drafted, if you can get it into your drawer, why can't you then say, 'Okay, yes, we will support it in the parliament'? Let us be clear about this: Qantas wants us to undertake this course of action, Virgin wants us to undertake this course of action and the rest of the aviation sector wants us to undertake this course of action. So why couldn't the former minister for transport, who now sits on the other side—a little bit wounded from the process that occurred in the battle for the ALP leadership after the election, but he is still there—just bring out that legislation that he had drafted and say, 'Yes, actually we support this because we were thinking of doing the same thing'? That would be a principled position if they took that. I am sure that we on this side would be willing enough to admit that they were taking a principled position. But instead they are playing cheap, populist politics. Sadly, my view is that it is going to lead to a long term in opposition if they continue down this path, because the Australian people understand what is in the long-term national interest.

It was interesting to see, earlier on in this debate, that the Leader of the Opposition said we should look to other G20 countries to define what Australia should do. It is an interesting point, because if we look we can see that, since 1987, Japan, Canada, Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Mexico and South Korea have divested themselves of their state-owned airlines

Of the G20 countries, only Russia, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Argentina and China maintain any majority holding in airlines. I note with interest that, in that article, David Epstein actually suggested that maybe the Leader of the Opposition should go over to Argentina so that he could get a bit of a lesson on what not to do, how not to run the economy and how to understand that, if you head down these populist paths that the Labor Party seem hell-bent on, you actually harm your economy.

The time has come for us to not only declare that Australia is open for business but also get government out of the way. That is what we want to do—and we want to do it in all sectors. We want to do it in the aviation sector, because we understand how important the aviation sector is to this nation. We want to ensure that the growth that has occurred in this sector continues. If you look at the recent growth, according to the World Bank, in the past four years passengers carried both domestically and internationally by carriers registered in Australia increased from 50 million to 65 million. That is impressive growth, but we have to make sure it is sustainable and that the capital is there for our aviation industry to sustain and continue this growth—and that is what this bill is all about.

I find it bemusing that the Labor Party still seems to be stuck in this mentality that the only way that we can help industry is if government directs and dictates where that industry should go and what decisions it should take. That is not what government is about. Government is about getting out of the way and letting boards and shareholders decide the course that companies and industries should take. That is what this government wants to do. That is why we want to change the Qantas Sale Act.

One of the things which struck me when I looked at this issue in January and wrote an opinion piece saying that the Qantas Sale Act should go was that, when the Qantas Sale Act was put in place, a fifth of the 50 sections had to be given exemptions from the Corporations Act. That shows that, when you have a modern aviation sector, there is something wrong with that act. It is acting as a regulatory straitjacket upon the company. That is why we need to make the changes to the Qantas Sale Act that we are proposing.

We on this side want to see the flying kangaroo fly. We want to see aviation jobs flourish. We want to make sure that Qantas continues to be a profitable airline. We as a government understand that Qantas is mature enough to stand on its own two feet. It does not need government shackling it in the pretence of trying to help it—because that actually has the opposite effect. The more the government has shackled and regulated Qantas, the worse the result has been.

I must commend all on our side—and, in particular, the Prime Minister—for the stance that has been taken by them. It would have been very easy for us to do what the opposition has done and just take the populist approach. But then we would have had more companies lining up for government assistance—and, when the budget is where it is, we cannot afford that. The mess that we have been left to clean up is of such a high level that we cannot afford to be doing that. We need to let the private sector grow the economy so that we can start paying down the debt, fixing the budget and ensuring that we have an economy which is sustainable into the future. We do not want to be like Argentina.

As David Epstein pointed out, maybe the Leader of the Opposition needs to have a look at what government trying to get involved with industry and trying to dictate what industry should do leads to. It does not lead to the creation of jobs. It does not lead to the creation of sustainable industries. It does not lead to industries growing so that they can employ people so that those people can ensure that their families have a sustainable living. That is what we want to do—and we are acting. We are not a do-nothing government. We are far from that; we are the opposite to that. We are acting.

We have two key pieces of legislation before this House which will significantly help Qantas and those workers that Qantas employ. The first is this bill before us today on the Qantas Sale Act. The second is the bill which is in the Senate to repeal the carbon tax. It is time that the Labor Party and the Greens woke up to themselves. Their unholy alliance is not doing the right thing by this nation. But this government, the Abbott government, is determined to do the right thing, and that is why we have this bill here before the House. (Time expired)