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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31134


Mr PEARCE (2:03 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware of any planned activity tomorrow that could interrupt airline flights?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Aston for his question. The short answer to the question is: it depends on how certain planned rallies tomorrow are conducted. It depends entirely on how they are conducted.

Opposition members interjecting—


Mr SPEAKER —The Prime Minister has the call and he is entitled to be heard in silence.


Mr HOWARD —Along with other members, I have listened to and I have read the transcripts of certain interviews given this morning by the Secretary of the ACTU, Mr Combet, regarding some rallies it is planned to hold tomorrow. I would be the last person in this House to contest in any way the right of the ACTU to organise rallies, of a political or other kind. I note in relation to the Ansett situation that most of the rallies the ACTU has organised have been highly political; they have not been designed to provide Ansett employees with valuable information. I would encourage employees of the Ansett group to look in all the major newspapers today to obtain the information that the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business was denied the opportunity of giving to workers attending a rally at Parliament House two days ago.

I have a very simple request to make of the ACTU: by all means organise a rally— that is your right; it is the right of any Australian to do that—but please do it in a way that does not interfere in any way with the operations of Qantas or in any way with the operations of the airlines. The last thing this country wants at the moment is any activity which in any way interferes with people seeking to travel on Australian airlines. I would hope with the request that I have made to the ACTU that the Leader of the Opposition would join me in making that same request of the ACTU.

Our position is very plain: we do not want the travelling public of Australia to suffer any further inconvenience. I say that as the leader of a government which has brought onto the table a guarantee of $400 million in entitlements of the Ansett group employees. We have brought to that particular part of this very difficult issue good faith and $400 million of guaranteed support; and, as the public advertisements indicate today in the newspapers, having guaranteed and underwritten the entitlements of the Ansett workers, we are prepared to take action—standing in their shoes, as we then would—against Air New Zealand to recover the moneys that we have outlaid on behalf of the Australian taxpayers. But I repeat: the last thing the Australian public wants at the moment is any kind of industrial activity that further inconveniences the Australian public. And I ask the Leader of the Opposition to unconditionally join me in issuing that request to the ACTU.