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Thursday, 10 May 2012
Page: 3089

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (11:42): The only thing I would like to say in response to Senator Joyce's speech is to thank him for at least not using his full 20 minutes. I acknowledge the work that Senator Xenophon has put into this bill, the Qantas Sale Amendment (Still Call Australia Home) Bill 2011, and the one we were debating previously, the Air Navigation and Civil Aviation Amendment (Aircraft Crew) Bill 2011. I will add my comments to those of Senator Xenophon, who has followed this issue closely. I also point out that this second bill is co-sponsored by Senator Bob Brown.

Having sat through the debates on the previous bill, I suspect that the government had made their minds up before they had even bothered to read the amendments Senator Xenophon had taken the time to put forward in response to the work the committee did on the first bill. It is therefore a bit hard to take at face value the comments of senators such as Senator Sterle, who stood up and basically acknowledged the merit of the work but then suggested, as so frequently happens, that, although this bill is well-meant, there will be no government support for it.

Probably the less said about Senator Edwards's contribution the better. It was quite an extraordinary spray about the evils of unions. That you could come out of the experience of the grounding, with zero notice, of a national airline that stranded tens of thousands of people around the world—with air crews being told, while their aircraft were in midair, that their airline was no longer functioning—and make that the fault of the people wearing the red ties and making announcements over PAs shows an extraordinary ability to miss the point. Nonetheless—and recognising that we do not have a huge amount of time left in the debate—we certainly support this bill.

The idea of amending the Qantas Sale Act to require that the Qantas principal operations centre be located in Australia should be unnecessary. The purpose of this bill is to acknowledge the fact that the spirit, if not the letter, of the Qantas Sale Act is being violated by the way that Mr Joyce is running the carrier. We recognise that this is a difficult business to be in and that, essentially, the three components of expenditure in a business like this are the capital—the aircraft and the maintenance of the aircraft—the fuel, and the staff, particularly the crew. We recognise that there is not a great deal of wriggle room in an industry as competitive as this one and that you would want to think very carefully before you compromised on any of those three components, for the reason that Senator Madigan pointed out quite eloquently.

All of us in this chamber as people who fly an abnormal amount should declare an interest in the integrity of the aircraft, in the qualifications of the maintenance crew, in the airworthiness of the fleet and, in particular, in the skills and talents of the people operating those aircraft on the ground and in the air, especially in the rare event of an emergency or an incident in which the lives of the passengers and crew are suddenly in play. You would need to think very, very carefully before going out and compromising, purely for the sake of competition, any of those three things, particularly in an age of high oil prices.

The Qantas Group today employs more than 30,000 people across a network that spans more than 180 destinations in more than 40 countries. After the decision was made to privatise the national carrier, it was left in this rather odd, hybrid position of being neither a purely private company operating in a private market nor something bound and constrained by an act of parliament; it is an uneasy hybrid of both of those things. But nobody has come into this debate proposing to simply repeal that act. It is at least implied—I think, even in the contributions of those who have quite clearly marked their cards as pro management and against the workforce—that the Qantas Sale Act should remain. There is some public interest in retaining the concept, at least in spirit, of a national carrier, of a national flag.

As the Senate is well aware and as has been discussed, on 16 August the Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, announced plans to cut 1,000 jobs as part of a restructuring that includes a huge aircraft order and the establishment of two new carriers in Asia which would not necessarily even be branded with the Qantas insignia. You might scratch your head and wonder, 'Well, what's that got to do with being the national carrier of Australia?' I think that is certainly worth pondering, because that decision obviously led to the lockout of the airline's workforce.

Partly in response to that industrial dispute, my House colleague Mr Adam Bandt MP, the Australian Greens member for Melbourne, introduced a private member's bill, the Fair Work (Job Security and Fairer Bargaining) Amendment Bill 2012, which is yet to be debated in this chamber. The bill provides that employers must give the same amount of notice, 72 hours, before a lockout of employees as employees must give of any industrial action, and allow Fair Work Australia, when deciding to terminate protected action as it did in this instance, to have regard to whether it considers that the purpose of a lockout is to make any application more likely to succeed. That was quite clearly the intention and purpose of the lockout that inconvenienced and stranded so many tens of thousands of people last year. This bill seeks to prevent employers in future from using Qantas style lockouts as an industrial tactic—because that is all it was; that is quite clearly all it was. If you balance people making announcements over PAs prior to flights, aircrews and people wearing red ties, using those sorts of tactics to remind paying passengers of the issues—like when they see John Travolta up there on the screen saying, 'I really want to make sure that it's a Qantas pilot on the flight deck'; that video disappeared very quickly, didn't it?—and other kinds of low-key industrial actions against the forced closure of an airline for a couple of days, it absolutely beggars belief.

I wonder whether senators in future contributions to this debate might want to indicate what they think of the proposal by the member for Melbourne to introduce that kind of industrial balance into our system, as his bill also introduces a mechanism for Fair Work Australia to make orders that are proportionate to the industrial action. At present, they can suspend or terminate all industrial action, even if only one party is causing significant damage. Of course, there are elements of the trade union movement who are intimately involved in aviation who took no such industrial action. Their workers were locked out.

The intent of the Qantas sale bill put forward by Senators Xenophon and Brown is to provide some security to the Qantas workforce and to its passengers, and to ensure that Australia's national interest is taken into account by Qantas management. It is our national carrier—nobody has stood up in this debate and proposed that that not be the case—as Senator Joyce agreed in his most recent contribution. It should live up to its marketing slogan of being the spirit of Australia and demonstrate a commitment to Australian jobs and the skills of our workforce.

I look forward to commending these bills to the chamber at a future time and putting them to a vote. I wonder whether some of the Labor senators who have spoken in this debate might care to come over to the crossbenches at that time and vote with us. Certainly, those who have come in here wearing a red tie and assuring us that they support the intentions here, saying that they are good intentions and that Senator Xenophon has done the right thing in bringing these issues to the fore, might actually like to back that up by voting for the legislation—the very simple and sensible legislation that we are commending to the chamber this morning.

Once again I would like to thank Senator Xenophon for the huge amount of work that he has put into prosecuting this case on behalf of the people who keep us, as very frequent users of air travel, in a safe environment, and for looking after the interests of the workers, who deserve nothing less than our support as legislators to make sure they are properly remunerated and that they are awake at work. I commend this bill to the chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Parry ): Senator Edwards, you have 42 seconds.