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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2141

Ms LIVERMORE (7:30 PM) —It gives me no pleasure to have to again bring to the attention of this House the actions of Qantas in regional Australia and, in particular, in Central Queensland. I wish to refer specifically to the Central Queensland coalmining town of Blackwater. Blackwater is one of a number of Bowen Basin towns currently enjoying somewhat of a boom, and business opportunities are increasing for all types of businesses. One company, BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance, BMA, operates seven mines in Central Queensland and has been a Qantas account holder for many years. BMA employs a large number of people and relies on regular and consistent flights in and out of towns like Blackwater.

On more than one occasion BMA inquired about flights and was assured that flights would remain frequent and convenient for customers. Unfortunately, this has not happened. From week to week schedules are changing, and recently all early flights were cancelled into Blackwater. As a result, rosters are difficult to maintain, costs have increased due to the hire of vehicles to transport employees from Emerald to Blackwater and, most importantly, this additional driving on unfamiliar roads has increased the risk of injury to BMA employees.

BMA is about to undertake a major construction project at Blackwater involving some 400 people over the next two years. It would be expected that many of these people would use air travel for their R and R and that many service providers would need to be able to fly in and out. But Qantas management has decided to vastly reduce the number of flights into Blackwater at the very time that business for them is about to increase. How can this be justified? What sort of business decision is this? I would say there is only one answer: Qantas management has made a decision to abandon regional Australia and concentrate on the Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne axis.

Qantas has reduced services all over Central Queensland and other parts of regional Australia. Qantas has treated the people of regional Australia with utter contempt. Qantas is attempting to use the people of regional Australia as a cash base on which to found its new cut-price, no service Jetstar operation. This downgrading of services by Jetstar and the effect that this has on regional Australia is the core of our problem. It is obvious that Qantas management has not the slightest idea about how to run a truly Australian company, servicing all Australians and understanding the needs of all Australians no matter where in Australia they live.

A new example of this came to light recently. For many years young people in regional Australia have been able to travel to boarding schools or to visit their grandparents and other family members as unaccompanied minors on all airlines. Many families rely on this service for the education of their children and for keeping families in touch. In deserting regional Australia, Qantas has now abandoned this policy. Jetstar's conditions of travel say:

Jetstar generally requires that passengers are able to travel independently. We do not have the systems, staff or facilities required to assume responsibility for assistance and supervision of passengers. Children requiring supervision will not be regarded as able to travel independently on the basis that they may cause a disruption or endanger themselves or others if travelling unaccompanied ... Jetstar is not able to carry such passengers unaccompanied.

So we now have Qantas, an Australian airline which was founded in Central Queensland, abandoning the people of Central Queensland. One can only wonder what the founders of this great airline would think.

I want to take the opportunity this evening to express my appreciation to the management of Virgin Blue, which is moving to fill the service gaps at our major regional centres left abandoned by Qantas. I also note that Virgin Blue is now providing a number of new connecting services out of Brisbane to link with flights from regional Queensland. Again, these services were once provided by Qantas but have now been abandoned as part of the Qantas policy of leaving regional Australia behind. Those of us who live in regional Australia have seen the banks do a runner, we have seen this federal government cut services to regional centres and now we watch as Qantas, which was once our own airline, cuts and runs from service obligations to Central Queensland and my constituents.