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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12156


Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (11:01): I do not claim any prescience in this matter. I do not think anybody could, frankly. Nobody could have foreseen before this motion was moved the events that happened over the weekend. The original reason I moved this motion was to simply point out that the most important thing to a person is their job and the most important thing to workers is how they are treated and the conditions under which they are employed. The Fair Work Act has kept employment low—

Mr Briggs: Unemployment low.

Mr CHAMPION: Yes, unemployment. I am glad to be corrected. It has kept unemployment low, increased participation and protected wages and conditions, particularly if you look in comparison to the United States of America or the United Kingdom, both of which have freer markets than ourselves and higher unemployment rates. I think we have put the lie that lower wages lower your unemployment rate to bed for all time. Obviously there are more complicated things that go on in the economy.

We know what happened prior to this. The member for Mayo knows exactly what happened under the Work Choices act that he was one of the architects of. We know that wages were cut. We know that penalty rates were cut and people were dismissed unfairly. We know that AWAs were used to undermine other agreements. And we know that the Australian people were greatly aggrieved by that act. We know that they did not like it, no matter how much the member for Mayo tries to say otherwise. Actually, I am never sure whether he is running away from it or running to it these days. It is a bit hard to establish. One minute he says, 'Oh, no.' But then he says things that seem to point you in one direction. But that is a debate within his own party, no doubt. He and Peter Reith are out there waging a policy war, and who are we to stop them?

We know that Fair Work Australia has also done a number of agreements, such as with Australia Post and Woolworths. In fact, there have been 10,800 agreements covering 1.5 million employees. All of these agreements have been done without fanfare or incidents. They have been completed by good faith negotiation and registered with Fair Work Australia. So we know that there is a great degree of cooperation out there in the workforce. We know that there are large numbers of companies, employees and unions all getting together, negotiating in good faith, coming to an agreed set of wages and conditions and then getting on with the business of making money and, for the workers, getting on with the business of doing their work.

Tragically, in the last couple of days I think we have seen a situation where a company has taken a very extreme path and we have seen our Flying Kangaroo turned into an angry leprechaun—an angry, nasty leprechaun—that wants to inconvenience the Australian public. Our national carrier has embarked on an orchestrated and premeditated assault on consumers; not on workers but on consumers. The flying public and the public interest have been completely disregarded, I think, in this whole process. It is one thing not to have good faith negotiations with your workers, but to inconvenience people who have paid for a ticket and expect to get home or to their holidays or place of business is pretty surprising. It is unusual that the national carrier would inconvenience people in such a regard.

It is worth establishing the facts of this dispute. It is about two things: wages and job security. Looking at what the unions have done, the TWU want a pay rise, and for people who work outside handling heavy bags I think that is quite reasonable. I think it is reasonable for baggage handlers to have a pay rise. I think it is pretty reasonable for them to expect that they should have some job security over the life of the agreement. They have had eight hours of protected industrial action. The pilots have worn red ties—oh my God!—and they have made some announcements over the PA, which we have all heard. The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association suspended their industrial action on 20 October.

Mr Briggs: That is not what it is about.

Mr CHAMPION: But look at the press release they put out. They suspended it. And that is an act of good faith, is it not?

Mr Briggs interjecting

Mr CHAMPION: It is an act of good faith not to suspend your industrial action. This is not the unions behaving unreasonably. They have taken protective action under the act and it has been pretty moderate. They have not brought the place to a standstill. All they are trying to do is get a pay rise and protect their jobs, and it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

At the Qantas annual general meeting the boss got a 71 per cent pay rise. I noticed on Fran Kelly's program this morning he was arguing that there was a 30 per cent drop last year—but it is swings and roundabouts for some, I guess. So they found time to talk about that but they did not find the slightest amount of time to talk about the extreme path they were about to go down. They had a premeditated assault on the Australian public: 'Shall we tell the shareholders about that … maybe not.' Bizarrely, they then took some weird endorsement of the AGM for their action. I do not know quite how, and he did not tell anybody.

You have to have more front than a butcher shop, I think, to take a 71 per cent pay rise and then turn around and embark on such extreme action. It is a disappointing thing to see. We all know that people have been inconvenienced. We all know people who have been stuck in Melbourne—admittedly they might get stuck there for the races, so that might not be so bad. But if you were going to go to the Melbourne Cup you would have been pretty disappointed. There were people stuck in Perth, LA and Thailand and all sorts of places all around the world. There was no warning for the 68,000 people of what they were about to do. The fact that the government was given very little warning was confirmed by Alan Joyce on ABC radio this morning when he admitted that there had been some misreporting. I wonder whose fault that was—was it the reporters or was it perhaps the people who were briefing the reporters? I suspect that misreporting was not a mistake, as it were. Industrial relations extremism from our national carrier is disappointing. They are supposed to give 72-hours notice of a lockout. That is the requirement on an employer just as it is a requirement—

Mr Briggs: They gave 72 hours.

Mr CHAMPION: They did, and then they grounded the airline. If a union did that the member for Mayo would be in here talking about wildcat strikes and there would be all sorts of outrage—

Mr Briggs interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The honourable member for Mayo has had a fair opportunity.

Mr CHAMPION: Yet it is different when we see a lockout by an employer pulled on very quickly with no notice, which did not disadvantage the workers nearly as much as it disadvantaged the Australian people and consumers. It has damaged the tourism industry. It has damaged our faith in air travel. It has damaged consumer's personal interests and we have this bizarre vision of people literally being pulled off planes. They were on the plane and they had to get off because of this extreme action that was taken. There was alternative action that could have been taken by Qantas and they should have—

Mr Briggs interjecting

Mr CHAMPION: No, all roads lead to Fair Work Australia. These are the things that Fair Work Australia could have done. They could have continued to negotiate in good faith. They could have sought their own orders to terminate action under section 423. They could have made their own application under section 424. They could have sought arbitration by consent or they could have called in a third party. At the very least they could have embarked on a bit of sabre rattling. You would think they might have given a bit of warning.

They did not do any of these things. They did not negotiate in good faith. They have acted contrary to the national interest and they have declared war on the Australian public. It beggars belief that the top end of town, the corporate class in this country, think that they can take massive pay rises and then lecture Australian workers about a wage rise or job security. It is absolutely extraordinary that that might occur. Corporate Australia is badly out of touch with the community and its expectations in this regard.