QANTAS SALES ACT
THURSDAY, 6 MARCH 2014
HOUSE OF REPRESENATIVES, PARLIAMENT HOUSE
The Opposition does not support the exporting of thousands of Australian jobs — never have, never will. Labor Members of Parliament were elected to this parliament to stand up for Australian jobs, not to stamp their passports and wave them overseas. This debate about the Qantas Sale Act has been a most dishonest, rankly opportunist debate by the Government. They have no ideas about the future of Australian aviation. They have no ideas about Australian jobs. They have no view about the future of this great country. They would use words dripping from their mouths: they 'support freedom for Qantas'. It is the freedom for Qantas to transfer jobs overseas. It is the freedom for Qantas to offshore its maintenance work overseas. No wonder the Member for Paterson scurries away from the table; he doesn't like the sound of truth! It is freedom for foreign governments to buy our airline.
BALDWIN: Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: the Leader of the Opposition has just misled the House. I am not scurrying away anywhere; I am just moving away from the table.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: There is no point of order.
SHORTEN: Another valuable contribution from the Member for Paterson! When they talk about freedom in this House, it is not freedom for thousands of people to work at Qantas; it is the freedom of the unemployment queue, which is the only freedom that these people opposite have been inflicting on Australian jobs. It is a dishonest debate by the Government to say that this is freedom for Qantas. It is the freedom for foreign governments to buy Australia's national carrier.
We hear this nonsense about a level playing field. What a load of rubbish. A level playing field for Qantas? Is it a level playing field for Australia's national carrier to be purchased by either the government in China or governments in the Middle East? There is no level playing field in global aviation. And, if the members opposite knew anything about aviation in the world, they would understand that eight of the top 10 airlines in the world have foreign government shares in their businesses. The only plan that those opposite have for aviation is to sell it overseas, to get rid of the jobs and to shrug their shoulders and say: 'Running a government's too hard. Standing up for Australian jobs is too hard.'
This has been a very poorly conceived debate by those in government. It is a poorly conceived debate because it fails the test of standing up for Australian jobs. It is a poorly conceived debate because the Government's process to arrive at this rushed piece of legislation has been nothing short of shambolic and chaotic. Furthermore, it is a poorly conceived debate because the solution they are offering of changing the Qantas Sale Act, is in fact, no answer at all to the challenges that Qantas face in the next two years.
When I say it is a poorly conceived debate about jobs, my explanation is this. There are thousands of jobs at Qantas which, if the business is sold offshore, will be done offshore. Unlike those opposite, who did nothing when Ansett collapsed, I was there and I saw what happened. I can assure you that the idea that you break up a company into an international and a domestic arm will lead to a net reduction in jobs. We have got that sort of wombolic Deputy Prime Minister stuttering around on the doors saying: 'There'll be no reduction. There'll be no reduction in terms of jobs in Australia.' What planet does that chap live on? It is not planet Earth and it is not the real world, where people are going to lose their jobs.
We see them talk about jobs and say: 'We need to set the place free. We need to set Qantas free.' Everyone knows, any observer of aviation knows, what will happen once you split Qantas into an international arm and a domestic arm. These very clever, card sharp personalities opposite say: 'Well, we'll just let foreign governments buy the domestic business because that's where the money is. And, of course, why wouldn't you let income be transferred overseas? Why didn't we think of that?' But then what they say is: 'The international arm? Oh, that will still be Australian.'
Everyone knows except those opposite. I suspect they know but do not have the moral courage to say what they know. They know that the international arm on its own, without the domestic arm, will struggle. We will be back here debating the demise of the international arm of Qantas if we let these circus acrobats opposite with their backflips and changes and churns on aviation policy have their way.
When we look at jobs, they have never fought for an Aussie job ever since they got into government. People in my electorate, airplane people, people who work at the airport, people who work at Qantas, good people, taxpayers, people who pay the school fees for their kids, people who have worked hard as professionals their whole lives cannot believe the betrayal of those people opposite. They say they just do not get it. But I say to these Qantas staff, of course, why would they get it? I said because they had no fight on Holden, they had no fight on Toyota and they have had no fight for the car components industry. We have not seen them near Alcoa at Point Henry. We have not seen them at the Yennora rolling mill. We have not seen them at Gove, with Rio Tinto and the decimation of that community. We did not see them contact anyone who worked at Forge. These people opposite are the cheese-eating, surrender monkeys of Australian jobs, to borrow from an American politician. Their only manufacturing policy is to buy a white flag made in another country and run it up the mast. Now they are committing acts of vandalism on Qantas.
They are not fit to be the Government when you look at what they have done. But have a look at the process they have gone through. We have had smoke signals. Not smokin' Joe Hockey; we've had smoke signal Joe Hockey and the smoke signals contradict each other. Last November, last December, we got the Hockey waltz—maybe we will, like the old square dance where we put our foot in the middle and maybe we take the foot out. We may give them a debt guarantee; we may not—poor old Treasurer Hockey, rolled by his Prime Minister. You can just see Joe Hockey as a sort of latter-day B-grade Shakespearean character, 'Will I guarantee or won't I guarantee, what should I do?' In fact, what they have done is lead Qantas up the garden path, lead the Qantas workforce up the garden path. They have lead Australia up the garden path for three months. Now what they do is they say: 'Oh no, we won't do anything. We'll just invent this spurious nonsense that somehow shipping jobs overseas is going to save jobs in Australia.' If we want to talk about mixed signals, at least Joe Hockey was just confused. Then of course you have got the chief Womble of the National Party, Warren Truss, and what he said—
Government members interjecting—
SHORTEN: Wombles are nice!
Mr Keenan interjecting—
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Point of order. There is no point of order, the Leader of the Opposition will continue.
SHORTEN: I withdraw that. Thanks, good point. What I was trying to say and what I should have said, with no disrespect intended to Warren Truss or Wombles, is that he said that it would not lead to a reduction in jobs. The truth of this matter is it will. They know it; we know it. The good news is Australians have worked it out. The Prime Minister told us—he expressed his usual crocodile tears of regret. The Prime Minister said, 'I regret that jobs have gone.' Really? If you really regret it, what are you going to do about it? Absolutely nothing, the big zero, the big nothing.
But let us have a look at the process that they have gone through. We have had the mixed signals. We have had the dithering of the National Party where in 2009 Warren Truss, says, 'We wouldn't want to have majority ownership.' Then of course, they do their backflip when they get into power. It is one thing before they get elected and another altogether different beast when they get into government. Then you have had the coercion squad from the coalition come out on Monday night after Qantas said that carbon was not a major issue. It defies belief that somehow Qantas' junior employee just said something.
What people really believe, and take note of it members of the Government, is that Qantas dared to step off the script of this bullying government and they said carbon was not the major issue. Then of course they put the pressure back on. I am sure there was no pressure - if you believe that, there is a big bridge at the mouth of the Yarra that I would like to sell you. Even a crocodile would not swallow some of the stuff we heard yesterday in question time about lack of pressure on Qantas to backflip and change. Now they have got Qantas to say they do not want a debt guarantee. These people are engaged in more pressure than I think we have seen in a long time from either side of politics when they form a government. Of course, not only has the process been absolutely appalling, not only is there no test of what is good for Australian jobs from that mob opposite; but then they come up with the Qantas Sale Act. Ladies and gentlemen, people listening to this debate not here in the parliament, the Coalition's basic case is 'Let's sell the business overseas—‘
Mr Nikolic interjecting—
DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Member for Bass will be silent.
SHORTEN: Let us have a look at how this brain snap will work that the Government has come up with. First of all, the new business will need an air-operating certificate. How long will that take? It will take about a year. The two businesses, the new international and new domestic businesses, will need to divide up. They will need to work out who owns what planes—not an impossible question to work out but not without a lot of legal and contractual work. They will need to work out how they demerge the two businesses. Whilst I acknowledge that some of the cost centres in Qantas could be clearly demarcated to go international business and some of the cost centres can be clearly demarcated to go into the domestic business, I believe that upwards of 80 per cent of the cost structure of Qantas is shared. What Qantas does not understand is how on earth is the government, simply through a legislative instrument, going to deal with the business case of demerging the two airlines? Qantas does not have two years of the government's time to try to work out its future. It does not have hundreds of millions of dollars to implement the latest brain fade from the Abbott Government, as it cannot fight for Australian jobs.
Then you have got to look at the buyers. Who is actually going to buy this airline? The cashed-up buyers in global aviation are China South—
Mr Nikolic: What about to get out and look at—
SHORTEN: Why do you not listen, Member, and you might learn something—China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines. I am going through details that member did not hear in his party room because I know his ministers have not even thought about this stuff. You have China Southern or China Eastern, or you have Qatar or one of the Middle Eastern airways. We have seen how strong and courageous this government is when you get a foreign buyer!
If they can't trust Uncle Sam to buy GrainCorp, what are they going to do with the Chinese government buying Qantas, what are they going to do with Middle Eastern countries buying Qantas? I know that they were lead us up the garden path for two years. More jobs will go and there will be more brand damage to Qantas. I know secretly, in the light of the practical difficulties of this demerger, those people want us to vote against the Qantas Sale Act because they know they have no plan. They know that this is in the too-hard basket. They know that the aviation carrier of Australia is too difficult. What a cynical bunch they are opposite. What a bunch of cynics. because they know—they have actually said it. Indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister—in fact, I do regret my earlier remarks, because he is right on this one—said it's not going to pass.
Mr Albanese: 'A waste of energy.'
SHORTEN: He called it 'a waste of energy', as the Member Grayndler reminds me. It is 'a waste of energy'. How on earth are they going to do this issue? They know that it is going to take Qantas two years, if the sale act got through, to be able to get foreign capital. They know. These people are the great chokers of foreign investment. They will choke in fear. If they couldn't do GrainCorp, they are not going to GrainCorp on steroids - Qantas. We know it and you know it. We know that the Nats will panic, we know Palmer will panic the Nats, we know the Nats will panic Tony and we know that Tony will roll Joe - in fact, we do know that Tony can roll Joe, because we have seen it this week. We know that nothing will happen. What a magnificent waste of time this government is. What a terrible waste of time you people are. You are going to kill Australian jobs. You don't know the people who work in heavy maintenance. We know them. I know what happens when you offshore those jobs - they never come back. I know the families of Ansett, the pilots who had to move their families elsewhere in the world.
You talk a lot about loving this country. You are very quick to talk about patriotism, but when it comes to a tough issue, a subtle issue, an issue which involves steering through and which does not involve you standing in a parade and taking a salute - and that is important - but when it comes to the tough issues of jobs, you go missing. Not only do they have no case on jobs and they have never tried to defend it on jobs, not only do we all know this process has been an ugly messy process of which the government can take no pride, not only do we know that the Qantas Sale Act is a mirage because of the time it will take - Qantas has looked at the sale act -
Mr Nikolic interjecting—
SHORTEN: Listen, why don't you listen and learn something other than the coercion you are getting? What they know is they looked at this option
Mr Nikolic interjecting—
SHORTEN: Please, Members of Parliament, this is a very important point: Qantas looked at the demerger option and they decided that was not the option which they wanted to go down nor could go down in the time they need to make the changes. But, of course, just because the Liberal Party say they know business gives them the arrogance to pretend they know more about breaking up a company and selling it. We would not be so arrogant. The other thing that concerns me about this, which we have heard nothing about it from the patriots opposite, is that I remember that in Somalia Qantas was the only civilian airline which would fly in there. I know that when it came to Bali and when it came to Beirut, Qantas is the organisation who helps in our times of national emergency.
Mr Nikolic interjecting -
DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Member for Bass will be silent! End of story!
SHORTEN: The Defence Act Section 67 makes it terribly clear - that because Qantas is our national carrier, the Government of Australia can stand up for our national interest. This is not good enough and we will not stand by and see you trash an Australian icon - not on our watch.
MEDIA CONTACT: LEADER’S OFFICE MEDIA UNIT 02 6277 4053