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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12026


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:08): My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the 48 hours of airport chaos that she could have prevented, and I ask: why didn't she immediately terminate this dispute without reference to a tribunal, as she could have under her Fair Work Act, thereby avoiding so much damage to hundreds of thousands of Australians and so much damage to Australia's international standing?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:08): Can I say I am unsurprised by the Leader of the Opposition's question, coming as it does with the Leader of the Opposition showing his usual negativity. He has played politics over the last few day—

Mr Laming interjecting

Ms GILLARD: as the government has pursued the national interest and ensured through our swift action that Qantas planes are returning to the sky today, that industrial action is at an end and that the parties will now be brought together in a conciliation—and if that conciliation is unsuccessful then an arbitration, a determination by Fair Work Australia, will occur.

Opposition members interjecting

Ms GILLARD: So what the government has assured by its swift action is that industrial action is over and that—

Mr Laming interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister was asked a question. The Prime Minister is responding to a question. It is not an invitation for those on my left to canvass everything under the sun. The member for Bowman is warned.

Ms GILLARD: I again make the point that the course of action the government embarked on has given us the results we wanted to see, which is an end of industrial action and Qantas planes taking back to the sky so that people can proceed on their travel plans with certainty. I have been very concerned about the circumstances of stranded passengers. As I have said publicly and am happy to repeat in this place, I view Qantas's action on Saturday as extreme. I view it as extreme because they stranded tens of thousands of people around our nation and around the world. With the industrial action now at an end, those passengers can start seeing Qantas planes flying again and be able to resume their journeys.

During this period in which the government has been acting and attending to the national interest, of course the Leader of the Opposition has been playing his usual negative politics. In particular, the Leader of the Opposition has been seeking to make political points about section 431 of the Fair Work Act. As usual, the Leader of the Opposition grabs onto the politics but he never does any of the work that would be necessary in order to actually analyse the situation and act in the national interest. The Leader of the Opposition never bothered to turn his mind to the national interest.

Let me, for the purpose of the parliamentary record, explain to the Leader of the Opposition the workings of section 431 of the act. This is a section of last resort. It appears in the Fair Work Act and it appeared in earlier legislation. It has never been used. A minister cannot use it until a minister is satisfied that there is a high threshold of significant damage to the national economy—the same test that Fair Work Australia directed itself to. The claims that the minister could have used this section prior to the escalation of the industrial dispute on Saturday are wholly untrue, and anybody who provided him with legal advice to the contrary would have been providing him with the wrong advice.

The dispute escalated on Saturday. I would say to the Leader of the Opposition that the power under section 431 is capable of judicial review. It has never been used before. It would have taken us into wholly new legal terrain, so we determined on Saturday to use section 424—which has been effective—to get the result we wanted, which was to get planes back into the sky. I would also note on the record for the purpose of completeness that we were advised by the relevant department that in these circumstances the appropriate section to use was section 424. The Leader of the Opposition obviously wanted to get the nation on a journey of potentially never-ending litigation. I wanted to get this dispute resolved, and I have done so.

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:13): Mr Speaker, I have a supplementary question. Once the Prime Minister was aware of what was about to occur at 5 o'clock on Saturday afternoon, why didn't she just pick up the phone to Alan Joyce and ask him not to ground the fleet? Was this too hard for you, Prime Minister?

Honourable members interjecting

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

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:14): I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question because it enables me to clarify here, on the public record, some of the things which have been claimed by the opposition which are wholly untrue. Let me make sure that the Leader of the Opposition actually understands what happened with this industrial relations dispute, because he is too involved in his cheap politics against the national interest to analyse the facts, analyse the circumstances and analyse the law. The only thing that the Leader of the Opposition ever knew about workplace relations was Work Choices and ripping workers off. To the Leader of the Opposition, if he actually wants to—instead of playing cheap politics—analyse the national interest then he should absorb the following facts—

Mr Abbott: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It was a pretty simple question: why did she not call Alan Joyce and ask him not to ground the fleet?

Ms GILLARD: I know the facts are always very inconvenient for the Leader of the Opposition but these are the facts: on Friday Qantas was indicating publicly that it was still involved in negotiating this dispute; on Saturday, around 2 o'clock, Qantas advised government ministers, particularly the minister for transport, that Qantas was grounding the planes at 5 pm—

Mr Dutton: Why didn't you call?

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Dickson is warned.

Ms GILLARD: The CEO of Qantas advised particularly the minister for transport around 2 o'clock that planes would be grounded at 5 o'clock in preparation of a lockout. The CEO of Qantas made it perfectly clear to the minister that he was not requesting that the government do anything, that he was not seeking to discuss the matter, that the decision had been made by the Qantas board and the decision would be implemented. So in the face of that advice when I received it from relevant ministers, rather than talk, I acted. The Leader of the Opposition—a man given to things like boat phone, might have spent endless days chat, chat, chat, chat, as thousands of passengers were stranded—might have done that. What I preferred to do was act. I determined immediately that the government would act, that we would intervene in this dispute.

Mr Hartsuyker interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Cowper is warned.

Ms GILLARD: We made application to Fair Work Australia very quickly. An urgent hearing commenced on Saturday night. That hearing continued yesterday. It concluded in the small hours of this morning with a decision that industrial action be ceased. With industrial action now finished, this means that the substance of the Qantas dispute will either be addressed by the industrial parties through a conciliation or will be arbitrated by Fair Work Australia if the industrial parties within a 21-day period do not sort out the dispute. I know the facts do not suit the Leader of the Opposition's cheap politics. I know that he has had as many positions on industrial relations as he has had on climate change. But at base the only thing that is ever motivating him is cheap politics and working out how he can justify a return to Work Choices. That is all this is about.