MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE Qantas

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (16:11): It is special to be able to participate in this debate. Am I the only one in this place who gets a little bit nervy when I hear those opposite calling for government intervention on industrial relations? These guys have great form on intervention. We remember Patricks. We remember their other great intervention, Work Choices. If they on that side of the fence had had their chance on this, it would not be flying kangaroos; it would be flying Rottweilers. These people, who have never walked away from a chance to stuff up an IR dispute, are now calling for government intervention and calling on the industrial umpire to get involved in this when they spent the best part of their time in government neutering the role of the umpire in sorting out disputes. They are now saying that we should find some way to intervene. They spent the last election telling us that Work Choices was dead, buried and cremated—though I do not know how something can be dead, buried and then cremated. Putting that logic aside, here they are clipping the defibrillator onto the corpse of Work Choices and arguing that we should be having intervention by the government in industrial disputes.

Whose side are they on? Who are they standing up for? We have had half an hour of contributions from those opposite. Who are they standing up for? The member for Wide Bay was here bemoaning and wringing his hands over the fact that Qantas had been demonised. He did not once stand up for the 68,000 members of the public who had had their worlds or their plans thrown upside down and had all this chaos inflicted on them by a board and a senior management who were executing industrial hardball. We did not hear anything from the member for Wide Bay. We almost got close with the member for Paterson talking about the impact on others, but he could not quite get there to support the general public.

The other thing is that we are getting this rewriting of history by those opposite, who are telling us to intervene. When pressed weeks ago, they did not say a thing. They said it was not up to them to pick sides, and that is right. They also have form when it comes to the aviation sector. When people were locked out of Boeing up in Newcastle and stuck for weeks—close to a year—locked out, they never stood up for those people. They do not stand up for the general public. And what is their answer now? On Friday, it is: 'We don't pick sides.' On Saturday, it is: 'Get involved.' All of 24 hours and they are straight in, telling us now to 'pick up the phone'. I love their fascination with phones—boat phone, jet phone, today it is bank phone. The Leader of the Opposition does not work out of an office, he works out of a telephone exchange. He has got phones connected to every sector of the economy, to every sector of Australian life, and there he is, ringing everyone. But we have not heard them stand up for the 68,000 people, the mums and dads, stuck here and abroad—not a peep. Worse still, they chastise the Qantas workforce.

The Qantas workforce have the temerity to ask for this: a more secure job. As they see jobs being offshored, they are asking for a way to make their jobs more secure. They are even prepared in part to take a wage outcome that is lower than inflation, but their priority is job security—that is what they want to see. Those opposite say that it is too much to ask for someone to have a more secure job. These are the people who trawled through every workplace in the country wringing their hands about the cost of living, telling us how the cost of living was so important to them. How do you manage cost-of-living pressures when you don't have a job? They will not stick up for that. When people are out there trying to protect their livelihoods, you do not hear a peep out of them. It is simply outrageous that they can sit there and not say one word about the way Qantas went about locking out a workforce, disrupting the plans of the public and wrecking the economy.

I am going to put it bluntly: Qantas's actions represented industrial bastardry. They were prepared to put the public in front of a battering ram and force them straight into the middle of an industrial dispute, and not even care about the impact. It is simply a disgrace. A national carrier was prepared to turn on its own public, the flying public, and not care for one moment. It was a preplanned decision. Hotels: booked in advance. Couriers delivering lockout notices: planned in advance. Emails to workforces: planned in advance. And they did not give any advice whatsoever to the share market that they would lock out their workforce and shut down their operations; there was no forewarning that that would happen. It is not surprising now that a whole stack of questions are being asked.

Qantas are taking comfort in this dispute from the words that are being uttered by others in other boardrooms. That demonstrates a complete disconnect from the general public and the public mood. They should not, with respect, be taking comfort from the boardroom; they should not be listing to those people. They should be thinking about the mum who is expecting a child and is stranded, who wants to get back to Cairns but cannot because their operations have been shut down. They should think about the families who were reported about in the weekend papers, like the family trying to get back to another part of the country to see a sick father. They should be listening to the people whose lives were upended as a result of this. Now they are trying a last stand to justify what they are doing, trying to find some excuse for the total disruption to the economy and the total disruption of 68,000 people. Imagine if you were stuck on the other side of the world. Imagine if you had parents who were trying to come back to Australia, who were told when they got off a connecting flight that the next flight was not happening and who are stuck in a place they do not know. These are people who do not know how they are going to get home and their families here have no idea what is going to happen. They are being used—absolutely used—as pawns in this game. This should not be forgotten.

We have moved swiftly. We have got the planes back in the sky because of the actions that have been taken. Mind you, Qantas could have taken the action themselves to try and suspend or terminate the bargaining period. They did not. Why? Because they knew they would not have the ability to argue the case in front of Fair Work Australia that they needed to stop this. They were not able to do it, so they stuffed up the plans of 68,000 people in the most incredible fashion they could muster. That is what they did. They chose that path.

The New South Wales and Victorian premiers wrote to the government. The Victorian government had power to intervene. When they referred their IR powers to the federal level they had an ability to intervene in disputes that they thought were important and would have an impact on their state. Victoria did not intervene, not once. Instead, they thought they would pull a stunt by writing a letter. If they were so concerned about the impact, why didn't they turn up to Fair Work Australia and argue the case? Why? Because they could not, they did not have the means to. Instead, a national carrier was prepared to upend the national economy, and we were forced to move quickly to deal with this. It is simply disgraceful. But it amounts to nothing when compared to the fact that those opposite are silent. They are not prepared to urge moderation, not prepared to urge all sides in this debate to get back to the table and not prepared to urge for common sense. Instead, they are just egging on and giving comfort to some ideology that persists within the Qantas boardroom that this is the way you sort disputes. It is not. The way you sort the dispute is get to the negotiating table and fix it up. Don't hold the national economy to ransom. Sort your problems out at the negotiating table.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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