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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12161

Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (11:22): A part of this motion I do agree with and that is that the Fair Work Act is operating as the Labor Party intended it to operate. On the weekend we saw no greater proof of its operation than the thousands and thousands of Australians stranded at airports because of an ongoing dispute—a dispute which has reached this point purely because the Labor Party changed the law. This is why we are in the position we are in. We are in this dispute because the Labor Party changed the law and allowed matters to be bargained which were outside of the employment relationship. That is what this is all about.

The member for Chifley, and the mover of the motion the member for Wakefield—the member for the SDA union and the member for the communications union—said this has been extremist action by Qantas, that Qantas has taken on these poor union officials who are just operating in good faith. They did not want any of this; they did not want any of this industrial disharmony; they cannot believe it is happening—except that earlier this year Wayne Forno, who is the New South Wales TWU secretary, said:

Meanwhile our members at Qantas are in for their biggest fight ever for their EA … Our members have the power to make Qantas grind to a halt …

He said that on 14 July, three months before. What they have engaged in since that time is strike after strike. They call a strike, make the airline withdraw services and at the end say, 'Oh, we will call off the strike'—like Qantas can just automatically put the planes back in the air. This is an action where unions have forced Qantas to this point. Steve Purvinas, the Federal Secretary of the ALAEA, the engineers union, said just two weeks ago he would not book with Qantas between now and Christmas. Is that acting in good faith, Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper? I ask you: is it acting in good faith to say to consumers, 'Go and screw the company'?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The honourable member for Mayo will not defy the chair.

Ms Hall: Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is the member for Mayo willing to give way?

Mr BRIGGS: I am not wasting my time with the member for Shortland.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: What was your answer?

Mr BRIGGS: No. This is too important a motion to speak to, to put on the record why the Labor Party is utterly to blame for the position we are in today with this industrial dispute. They changed the law and their only response is to try to conjure up a scare campaign. As Barry O'Farrell said a couple of weeks ago quite clearly—

Mr Champion interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Wakefield will remain silent.

Mr BRIGGS: this is the McCarthyism of the new parliament—that you cannot talk about the failure of these people to manage this issue. Because they are wholly owned subsidiaries of the trade union, they cannot see the wood for the trees when it comes to this dispute. They all represent collectively the different unions that are at the table. And we know that one of the major protagonists in all this is not driven by getting his workers better rates of pay, because he agrees with the offer. Tony Sheldon has said that he agrees with the offer that Qantas have made.

Mr Champion interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Wakefield has made his contribution.

Mr BRIGGS: What he wants to do is manage the company. He also wants to manage the Labor Party. He is running for the presidency of the Labor Party—what a surprise!

Mr Champion interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Wakefield will remain entirely silent!

Mr Champion interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Wakefield will not defy the chair. He will remain silent for the rest of the contribution made by the honourable member for Mayo.

Mr BRIGGS: I can put it no better than how the government is to blame for this than Professor Judith Sloan, who wrote this morning—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: Oh, they all are. Of course, they are now attacking economists. I recently heard you were not allowed to attack economists. Here we go: the Labor Party just want that on the record. All four of them across the way have just attacked Professor Judith Sloan. She put it very clearly, very simply this morning when she said this in the article in the Australian:

While there are differences in the three separate negotiations—with the long-haul pilots, the licensed engineers and the ground staff—there is one core stumbling block. This related to the right of the company to manage its operations, including using contractors and labour hire employees, changing work practices and separating the working conditions of staff across the various parts of the company. Negotiating the wages and conditions of staff is one thing; restricting the ability of the company to remain competitive is another thing altogether.

She sums it up this way, perfectly:

The key issue is that under the act—

under their Fair Work Act, which they are celebrating here this morning; celebrating this dispute, as intended—

there is essentially no prohibited content in agreements. And because of this, protected industrial action is available for the pursuit of virtually any matter.

That is what we are seeing here. We are seeing the unions empowered and on a frolic, trying to tear down an icon of our country. Tony Sheldon talks about job security for Australians. I tell you what: keep going the way you are going, Mr Sheldon, and you will send this airline offshore, because you will destroy it as they destroyed Ansett before. These people are completely biased when it comes to these matters. They see it from one side and one side only. We have seen that in the last 24 hours. We have seen attack after attack. The member for Throsby was on Twitter on Saturday night after Alan Joyce. The member for Chifley was out there—

An honourable member interjecting—

Mr BRIGGS: I am sure I missed the member for Wakefield's contribution. They are all out there personally attacking Alan Joyce and personally attacking Qantas. They will not see the wood for the trees on this issue. They cannot. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the trade union movement in this country. You cannot expect them to say anything else.

The Leader of the Opposition is dead right when he says that the government should have acted sooner. He is absolutely right, so much so that Professor Andrew Stewart, hardly a friend of this side of the parliament—he helped write the Fair Work Act—said in the Sydney Morning Herald two weeks ago:

It has got to get to a point where it's something more than the ordinary type of industrial action—

that has to happen. He told them this was coming. He told them that this was going to happen, that it had to happen, because Qantas were bleeding. They have bled $68 million in this industrial dispute—and the unions were out there telling people, 'Don't book with Qantas before Christmas.' Apparently, this is all the fault of Qantas management. It is all the fault of Qantas. It has nothing to do with the unions at all; they were all acting in good faith. What a load of bollocks! This act is as the government intended it to operate. They wrote this act for this sort of dispute to occur. There is nothing surer. As Peter Costello, very rightfully, put it yesterday on TV: 'This is a dispute about who manages the company. It is not about conditions, not about pay; this is a dispute about the unions wanting to manage this company.'

We are here not to make decisions on who is right and who is wrong in industrial disputes, because, inevitably, people on both sides do things in industrial disputes which none of us will agree with. Disputes are nasty and they cause a lot of damage. We are not here to make those judgments, even though those on the other side continue to do so. And you just heard, again, the rant from the member for Chifley about the waterfront—the waterfront where, the unions told us, you could not get from 16 to 30 crane lifts per hour at the time. We now average 32. What a surprise! It actually worked.

Those people opposite are obsessed, they are wholly owned subsidiaries of the trade union movement and they cannot see this issue. They automatically take sides. Our job here is to write law so we do not have these sorts of disputes, so we do not encourage one side or the other to take the action that we have seen the unions pursue in the last few months, draining the blood from Qantas, so much so that we saw the absolutely extraordinary intervention this morning by John Borghetti, a competitor of Qantas. He is quoted in the Australianas saying:

But I think, generally speaking, given the perception of Australia overseas at the moment, this would certainly be damaging to Brand Australia …

This dispute is very complex. Even the competitors are saying that this matter has to be sorted out. The Prime Minister knew this was coming. She should have acted when she had the opportunity to act. Make no mistake: the government wrote the law to allow this scenario to occur. Every single one of you is responsible for the 68,000 people who were stuck at airports over the weekend. Every single one of you is responsible for what is going on-the industrial chaos which is now affecting our mining companies, wharves and Qantas. They are trying to kill Qantas, by allowing this outrageous and ongoing campaign and by extending the matters that can be included in disputation. The unions are acting out of control and are being supported by their sponsors in the parliament. They should be ashamed of themselves. This act is a disgrace. It must change. Unless we change it, the economy will suffer. Shame on you.