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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12033


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (14:36): My question is to the Prime Minister. On Saturday Qantas management took the extreme step of grounding our national carrier. But within 48 hours Qantas got what it wanted and is now on a fast track to arbitration, where it may be able to avoid the protections—for job security and against offshoring—that the workers have been so strongly seeking. Now that the government has begun the process before Fair Work Australia, what is the government's plan to ensure that Qantas will keep jobs onshore and that management is not able to take further extreme actions that will affect the Qantas brand?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:37): I thank the member for Melbourne for his question. I say to the member for Melbourne in this parliament, as I have said outside this parliament, it is not my intention to offer running commentary about the issues in dispute between Qantas, trade unions and employees whilst the conciliation process is happening. I do not think that would be the appropriate thing to do and I do not intend to do it.

The circumstance of the dispute now is that the government has acted to get industrial action out of the way, and now we are in the conciliation period. Qantas and the trade unions involved should use this conciliation period to get the issues in dispute resolved. I do understand from the point of view of the trade unions that there is a job security issue that they are seeking to pursue; the right way of pursuing that now is in the conciliation with Qantas. I say again: if the conciliation with Qantas does not end in an agreement, then the industrial umpire Fair Work Australia can at the end of a 21-day period impose a determination on the parties.

I note that in his question the member for Melbourne used the term 'may' in relation to whether or not the issues about which he is concerned end up featuring in that determination, if Fair Work Australia ends up making one. That will be a question for Fair Work Australia—to deal with those issues if conciliation fails.

But I believe it is in the national interest, in the interests of Qantas and in the interests of the employees of Qantas to use this opportunity now—with industrial action not occurring—to get around a table and get this resolved. I remind the House that the termination of industrial action is the termination of all industrial action, whether it be taken by unions or whether it be taken by Qantas by way of lockout. So the opportunity is now there for the parties to get this resolved for the long term, and they should use it.