THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
THE HON CHRIS BOWEN MP
MEMBER FOR MCMAHON
THE HON ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport
Shadow Minister for Tourism
MONDAY, 3 MARCH 2014
SUBJECT/S: Qantas; Abbott Government sending Australian jobs overseas
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you for coming. Tonight, Tony Abbott has created a new export industry – Australian jobs. Tonight Tony Abbott has decided to sell the flying kangaroo overseas.
Under Tony Abbott, Qantas will be Australian no more. Under Tony Abbott we will see thousands of jobs go overseas; cabin crew, flight attendants, maintenance workers, the majority of the board of director positions, the head office, even the chairman. Tony Abbott said tonight ‘some jobs have to go offshore, it may be regrettable, but it is the best way to ensure that jobs remain long-term’. Tony Abbott is actually saying that you have to send jobs overseas to save Australian jobs.
Labor has a message for Tony Abbott tonight: we will fight to keep Qantas Australian. We will fight to keep Qantas jobs in Australia. We will fight to stop skilled jobs going overseas because once these jobs are gone we will never get them back. I might ask my colleague, Anthony Albanese to make some comments and Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport: Thanks very much Bill. Tony Abbott has just opened the door to the loss of thousands of Australian jobs. He’s put his dogma and his ideology ahead of a consideration of Australian jobs. This is a Government that over the past few months has shown that it had a plan to get into Government but not a plan to govern. This isn’t some university debating exercise , this has been real with real consequences for real people. Tony Abbott has been prepared to add to peoples insecurity, not just directly, people who work for Qantas, but people who work in the associated industries, in tourism and in freight and logistics. What is the end game here? Warren Truss himself said in December this, he said regarding the exercise that has been announced tonight, just one of the hints they gave that they wouldn’t go down this road, he said this: ‘it would simply be a waste of time and political energy’ he went on to say that ‘the majority of Australian people don’t favour this course of action of selling this great Australian icon’.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks Bill. Tonight we’ve seen the dysfunction of the Abbott Government up close. For months we have seen speculation, leaking, backgrounding by senior Ministers against each other about what should happen with Qantas. We’ve seen one of Australia’s most important businesses try to do business with the Abbott Government and to be rebuffed by the Abbott Government. Just a few weeks ago we saw the Treasurer very clearly despite his denials today outline the criteria that would apply for a debt guarantee to be given to Qantas, he clearly was indicating that that was the road the Government would go down and now the Government walks away from it.
This is about more than Qantas - as important as Qantas is tonight. This is about Australian businesses having trust and faith in the Government of Australia. This is about Australian employees and workers knowing that there is a Government that can come up with a workable plan for their employer, for their jobs to remain in place in Australia. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have been so concerned about fighting each other and who’s more powerful and who’s position will out that they’ve forgotten about those thousands of Qantas workers and those thousands of Australian employees around the nation who are looking for leadership but instead got political games from their leaders.
SHORTEN: Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Prime Minister says that Labor in the end won’t want to see Qantas bleed and is also appealing to Qantas to apply pressure to the Opposition to come around and support these moves. Are there any circumstances in which you could see yourself negotiating with the Government on any element of what it’s proposing?
SHORTEN: Let’s just go to the assumptions in that question, then I might ask my colleagues to supplement my answer. First of all if we want to talk about Qantas bleeding, they’ve been bleeding for the past three months. We’ve seen their share price moved around after the Government’s teased the market and teased Qantas workers saying they might consider a debt guarantee, saying they might pull that rug from underneath the feet of shareholders, stakeholders and employees. And then they’ve said that they want Qantas to put pressure on us. Let’s be really clear: we caught the Government out lying today in Question Time today. Time after time they tried to pretend that carbon was the issue which was causing Qantas’ problems. The Abbott Government were so light with the truth that the CEO of Qantas had to come out today and say ‘the major issues facing Qantas are not related to carbon pricing’. So this is a government which is loose with the truth, they haven’t had a plan to do anything on Qantas and now they want to say to Qantas ‘tell everyone else what we want you to do’. Why is it that the Abbott Government think they are smarter than everyone else? They should let the aviation business of Qantas be run by Qantas. Qantas have said that changing the Sales Act isn’t going to help their issues in the short-term, in the medium-term – so the Abbott Government should get out of the way, stop playing games and stop the hemorrhaging of thousands of jobs and seeing Australia’s national icon and jobs exported overseas.
JOURNALIST: Are you still open to other changes to the Sales Act [inaudible]?
ALBANESE: What we have said consistently is that we would be constructive, that we would be constructive within the very simply parameter which is this: that Qantas remains an Australian airline. It’s not an Australian airline if its head office is not in Australia, if its board is not in Australia, if its maintenance and activity is not done in Australia, if the majority of its ownership is not in Australia. They are the issues that we have said are fundamental to why just about every country in the world, no matter how big, or how small wants to have a national carrier because it’s in the national interest. For an island continent with no land transport borders, it is more important than just about any other country on the planet, but we have said with regard to some of the issues, 35/25 for example, those provisions we’ve said we’re prepared to discuss constructive proposals on those. They were in the 2009 white paper and I remind you go have a look at the press release of Warren Truss the current minister who said in December 2009, when that was released that that endangered the Australian national interest and particularly those services in regional Australia, that is what he said at the time, we could not secure parliamentary support for it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, as the former Aviation Minister, if you look at the proposals that have come from the Government tonight, what do you think is a likely scenario for Qantas? Is it possible for Qantas to trade its way and stay as an entity as it is right now, or is the most likely scenario is a division, a break-up of the company, and a foreign airline coming in?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s not up for me here to make decisions on behalf of Australian management. The announcement tonight, with such a broad change, which went far beyond any of the expectations, no one who had read the TPs, had a look at the leaking that has gone on from Government Ministers in the past few months could have predicted that they would attempt to get rid of the entire section of the Act, every single principle which makes the flying kangaroo, a kangaroo, an Australian, is gone under this proposal. In terms of Qantas’ response, I’m not surprised that Qantas would be thinking to themselves ‘how do you do business with this government’ as the Shadow Treasurer has outlined.
JOURNALIST: But what if the airline makes changes to its corporate structure such that the international arm remains minority 49% internationally owned and a domestic airline goes to -
ALBANESE: They can’t do that, the Qantas Sales Act stops them doing that.
JOURNALIST: But if they were to signal a willingness to do that?
ALBANESE: The Qantas Sales Act stops them doing that, we support Qantas remaining an Australian airline.
JOURNALIST: I’m talking about a scenario in which they come to you and say we need to do this, could Labor move so as to protect the national carrier [inaudible] ?
ALBANESE: The point is, if you break up Qantas, into Qantas international, Qantas domestic, Qantas link, Jetstar and frequent flyer, you lose both the capacity across the company to operate as a significant national carrier in a way that it should, and therefore, that is why we regard the break-up as not being in Australia’s interest.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of the proposition that, in your position in standing against Part Three removal, that you could be endangering Qantas’ viability?
SHORTEN: I’ll tell you what the fiction of the last three months is: that the Abbott Government will fight for Australian jobs or Qantas jobs. The idea that the Abbott Government is now telling a company how to structure itself, to me seems to fly against the way they say that Governments shouldn’t get involved. Then what they’ve said is that maybe we can have Qantas international, but everyone knows that Qantas domestic and Qantas international rely on their economies of scale, rely on the same maintenance workforce, rely on the skills of the pilot training, a whole range of issues.
Then they say we’ll let the Foreign Investment Review Board will check any sale. So what are they saying? They’re going to get rid of the Qantas Sales Act, going to export Australian jobs overseas, but then they’re saying we won’t let foreigners we don’t like buy the airline. This is a government without a plan after three months, they’ve lead people to believe that they were going to do an arrangement with Qantas about a stand-by facility, and now they just haven’t kept that. So as our Shadow Treasurer said, business should be concerned because this is a government who play politics rather than play straight. As our Shadow Aviation Minister said this is an issue that will affect Australian aviation. We will fight for Qantas jobs. I think it is a remarkable turn of events that you’ve got a government in Australia who will create a new export industry, exporting Australian Jobs.
JOURNALIST: Do you think people will actually understand the minute details of this, and will there be any backlash?
SHORTEN: I think Australians, whether or not they fly Qantas or don’t fly Qantas, believe that it is important that Australia, an island continent, the 12th largest economy in the world is capable of supporting a majority Australian owned business.
I think Australians will understand the safety record that has been a part of the product of Qantas, they will understand and value the remarkable skills of their pilots. They will understand that when Australians were stuck in Bangkok or Beirut, it was the flying kangaroo that came to their rescue. Australians will understand that they have a government that will fight for their own jobs, but not fight for Australian Jobs.
JOURNALIST: The proposition the Government seems to be making that is by you not contemplating the whole sub change of the Qantas Sales Act you are risking the future of Qantas, is that a proposition you accept?
BOWEN: Well what that tells you is that this is a Government that is addicted to playing politics. Politics with our national carrier, politics with Australian jobs, they think of the politics first, second and third. They’ve thought about how does this maximise our political advantage, how can we play games with the Labor Party? Not how can we get a package through the Parliament, not how can we sit down with Qantas and work out what is in their short-term and medium-term interest. How can we maximise our political advantage? Well if they want to do that, they can do that; but that’s not what a Prime Minister should do, it’s not how a Prime Minister and a Treasurer should behave. A Prime Minister and a Treasurer should always act in the national interest, and put the national interest in front of their own political interest. They are determined to play politics, and they are addicted to the politics of the Opposition. They are addicted to always finding a way to play politics in their best interest. Well we will act in the national interest, and we believe the maintenance of the Qantas Sale Act is in the national interest.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that you have Qantas support though, in the position that you are taking?
SHORTEN: I have no doubt that Qantas, the management, have a view that they wish that this Government, the Abbott Government had made decisions three months ago. I have no doubt that having been told by Joe Hockey that if they satisfied four preconditions, then it was possible to come to a temporary arraignment in terms of stand-by credit facility, that they feel betrayed and disappointed. I think this is a terrible position for a company to be put in that when they go and meet with the Government for three months, then they find out for political reasons what they’ve been told isn’t the case and in fact, they’re just a political football for the Government, I think they would be deeply disturbed. They know, as we do, and all Australians do that this debate about the Qantas Sale Act is not the issue challenging Qantas in the short or medium term at all. They just want a fair dinkum policy from the Government which doesn’t require the wholesale dismantling of the flying kangaroo and exporting thousands of jobs overseas.
Good night everyone. Thank you
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