WEDNESDAY, 10 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: Virgin Australia; Dnata workers; Aviation sector; state borders.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thanks everybody for coming out this afternoon. I want to respond to some reports in the media today and in fact a letter that now has been leaked that the administrators have written to the Government, to the Prime Minister, to the Treasurer and to the Minister for Finance, seeking support through the administration process. This isn’t the first time that the Virgin administrators have written to the Government, or that Virgin Australia have raised with the Government the need for additional support in order to survive and to make sure that we have two airlines in this country. Deloitte in particularly, the administrators, have asked the Government for an extension of the JobKeeper program to the aviation sector and in particular to Virgin beyond the September cut-off period. We know that JobKeeper has been important in part of the administration, but it’s also important for aviation workers and in fact we’ve been calling on the Government today to support the Dnata workers who have been denied JobKeeper. This Government clearly does not have a plan for aviation. It clearly does not have a plan for the aviation industry emerging from the coronavirus crisis, and it seems to be that this Government has left Virgin and Virgin workers down by failing to yet again respond to the administrators of Virgin to try and keep this airline in the air. The Extension of JobKeeper would obviously assist the airline, but what the Government needs to do is be serious about the statements that it’s making. It says, and the Prime Minister has sad consistently, it wants to see two strong, competitive airlines in Australia, yet every action It’s taken to date has been to undermine the efforts of Virgin to stay in the air, to undermine the efforts of the administrator to actually help Virgin stay in the air, and it has done nothing so far to assist this process to make sure that we continue to have those two airlines. Labor is calling on the Government to finally get off its hands, to actually do something about this administrative process and to actively intervene to ensure that we continue to have those two airlines.
REPORTER: In Parliament today, the Prime Minister said that it’s really the border restrictions that are more of a problem for Virgin and their staff, rather than this issue.
KING: The Government, in fact the Prime Minister, takes responsibility for nothing. He takes credit for everything, but takes responsibility for absolutely nothing. We know that Virgin Australia was calling for assistance from this Government. Even before this crisis, we knew that there was an issue here. But the Government took a decision, quite wisely, to shut our international borders and to shut this industry down. It was necessary to respond to the health crisis, but the Government has done nothing to actually assist Virgin system through the administration, or prior to administration. It is not about the borders, it is about this Government’s failure to have an actual plan to deal with aviation.
REPORTER: The Government would argue that it is trying to help the airline sector by making some tax concessions on landing slots and those sorts of things. And the PM said in Parliament today that he’s trying to work with the administrators where possible. Do you think that there is the possibility that the JobKeeper scheme potentially will be extended to the airline industry more broadly?
KING: Well, it should be but it is in the Government’s hands as to whether it does that. The Government’s got a deadline here. There are two bidders for this airline. They are required by the 22nd of this month, not that far away, to have their final bids in. They are seeking, via the administrators, some surety from this Government. They’re seeking surety around JobKeeper and the importance of that. They’re seeking surety around any anti-competitive behaviour that may come into play. And they’ve been seeking surety to make sure that that this airline is able to not only get back on its feet, but actually be able to be competitive with Qantas. The Government has a deadline on this. As I said, this is not the first time the administrators have written to the Government. It’s not the first time these issues have been raised with Government members. But we’re now almost in the 11th hour, and we’re yet to see any response from the Government at all to the Virgin administrators, let alone to the 16,000 workers and their families who rely on Virgin.
REPORTER: So you want the Government to have more to say before the 22nd of June, that Virgin or the airline sector more generally will be an industry that will receive this extra assistance in a similar way to what it’s done with childcare. It’s announced that it will be taking some assistance away.
KING: Well, what we’re seeing from the Government, is the Government has said it’s going to review the JobKeeper program, but it’s not going to release that review until after the Eden-Monaro byelection. That’s what the Government has said. In its review of JobKeeper, one of the sensible things it should do is ask what support is going to be needed for the aviation sector going forward beyond September, as well as, as we’ve been calling on, how it might actually support people like the Dnata workers who currently miss out. The Government is delaying, deliberately, its response to that review. It’s delaying any release of that review and saying it’s going to extend well beyond July, beyond the Eden-Monaro byelection. What I’m saying is that Virgin cannot wait. The bidders for Virgin, we want them, it’s good we’ve got two strong bidders, but we want them to stay in this game. Now the administrators themselves in the letter that has been released publicly today have said very clearly that if the Government does not urgently come to the party and tell us and spell out very clearly what support it is able to give Virgin Australia, including the extension of JobKeeper, but not solely that, then there is the very real possibility that this airline will have to go into liquidation like Ansett did. Now the Government has a decision to make here, it can either continue to play politics with aviation, it can continue to not provide a sector wide response, or it can actually say we are serious about making sure that Virgin survives this administration process, and it can get on with the job of providing that support.
REPORTER: And just finally, back to the borders issue. Do you think the states do have a role to play here? Like you know, you had the Queensland Government that put in a bid or partial bid to take a stake in Virgin, so do they do they have a responsibility to try and reopen their borders now that COVID cases are suppressed?
KING: I think that state governments have done an extraordinary job in making sure that we get through this health crisis, but have also done over a very good job in making sure that economies are opening up, according to the health advice. So I expect that the premiers will make decisions based on the health advice that they are given and I expect that they will continue to make announcements around that. Many Australians are keen to start to travel, we saw that just over the long weekend, particularly in terms of camping and being able to do that, I’m sure that people are keen to do that. But what we’re also very keen to make sure is that we don’t have a second wave, and that we don’t see our economy having to shut down even further.
CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA – WEDNESDAY, 10 JUNE 2020