PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Qantas workers; Australia-China relationship; insecure work; ANAO; safe lending.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: 15 minutes ago, Qantas announced that it is now making 2,000 of its ground crew redundant. It has finalised the internal process to see whether they are going to keep those workers in-house, there was a bid from the Transport Workers Union to try and save those jobs, but unfortunately Qantas has now decided that it is going to outsource all of its ground crews at all of the major capital city airports, as well as Alice Springs, Cairns and Townsville. This is a devastating day for the 2,000 workers and their families. Qantas is 100 years old this year and this is devastating for their families, it is devastating for the long history that many, many of those families have had working for this iconic Australian company. But it didn’t have to be this way. Other countries have invested substantially in making sure that not only their aviation industries are strong and continuing, but that they continue to have a national workforce available within the aviation sector. We know the security requirements around baggage handling crews are extensive and it takes a long time to be able to stand people up again if you have made them redundant. The Morrison Government has absolutely no plan for aviation, it has flailed about all over the place and the result of that is that we are seeing job losses after job loss after job loss in this industry. I want to take you back a little bit to the start of this pandemic. We started with Virgin in crisis, Virgin going into administration. At the end of the day they were asking for $100 million of assistance from the government to keep going, the government refused. And we’ve now seen major job losses at Virgin after the government saying that the market should prevail. We saw the circumstances of the 5,000 Dnata workers who were denied JobKeeper because the government decided, with the stroke of a pen, that they did not believe that that group of workers, who were originally Qantas workers, should actually get JobKeeper and those many workers have been very vulnerable in this pandemic ever since. And now, of course, we are seeing thousands of jobs lost at Qantas and more and more insecure work. The government has failed to have a plan for aviation. It has not had a vision as to where it wants the aviation sector to be as we emerge from this pandemic. It’s not done the work to ensure we continue to have two strong, competitive, full service airlines in this country and this is the result, more insecure work, more job losses, and more and more Australians being put on the scrap heap by Scott Morrison. I’m going to hand over to Tony Burke to talk a little bit about the implications of insecure work before we take questions.
TONY BURKE,SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: It’s a really dark day for 2,000 Australians. 2,000 Australians who went to work this morning go home today without a job. 2,000 Australians who have given tremendous loyalty to Qantas for their working lives have now discovered that that loyalty is not repaid and they haven’t asked for a lot, what they have asked for is something that is precious for every Australian, that is to have a secure job. What’s going to be clear, as we start to climb our way out of this crisis and businesses start employing people again is a whole lot of people who used to have secure jobs will only be offered casual jobs or jobs in the gig economy and insecure work. That’s going to be a problem for them and it’s going to be a problem for the Australian economy as well because if people feel insecure at work they don’t spend at the exact time that the economy’s going to need them to be spending again. So, today, Labor stands with those 2,000 workers, they had a right to expect better than this and the test that we’ll be applying as we get to the industrial relations legislation that we expect to be introduced over the course of this fortnight is a really simple test, do the changes that the government’s going to want to offer on industrial relations deliver on secure work? Because ultimately, the rent bill comes through every week or the mortgage comes through every week, that’s not flexible. The energy bills aren’t flexible. You need your wage to be secure as well. 2,000 Australians who this morning thought they might have a secure job have found out now that they don’t.
JOURNALIST: Tony, Catherine, can I ask you, in the last half an hour or so this image has been put on social media by a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Lijian Zhao tweeted this image. If you can’t see it, it is an artist’s impression of an Australian soldier slitting the wrist of a child on the flags of Australia and Afghanistan. Given Labor has said repeatedly the government should pick up the phone to Beijing, what’s your response to this image?
BURKE: I can’t see the image from here, I apologise for that, but I take your word. What you just described is horrific and appalling. The most important message that needs to said immediately to every Australian is for all the reports that are out there at the moment about the behaviour of a few, Australia stands proud and continues to have its trust in our armed forces and everybody who wears the uniform needs to know that Australians stand with them and this parliament stands with them. We also have to make clear that the denigration of Australian soldiers from anywhere in the world is something that will not affect our pride in the people who protect us. There is a report and I apologise I can’t offer more, I haven’t seen the image, I wasn’t aware of it until you held it up and from here I can’t see it properly, but I take your word that we have this key fact in front of us. Some people are wanting to use the fact that Australia has been upfront with an open inquiry process, where the defence force and defence chiefs have been transparent with Australia and with the world. That is something for us to be proud of the way that this is being handled but importantly, we must not allow Australian soldiers who put their lives at risk, some of which have lost their lives, to in any way be denigrated, and allow the actions of a tiny minority be a way of tarnishing the people who keep us safe.
JOURNALIST: Tony, graphic depictions like this from an official Chinese government account. It’s pretty clear in its message. How does the relationship between Australia and China even come back from this?
BURKE: I’m not sure I can be clearer than what I’ve said already on an image that I’ve only just heard about, and the full context I only know through these questions. I think the most important thing I can offer immediately is for every Australian and their confidence in the people that put their lives at risk for us.
JOURNALIST: But for both of you, to put this into context, this is a government that has now issued 14 effective demands on the Australian Government over policy, free speech, free media, its government spokesperson is now tweeting images of Australian soldiers slitting the throats of children. How can this relationship be improved? If this is the sort of act of diplomacy that’s coming out of Beijing?
BURKE: The first thing, message to every country in the world, we don’t change our values. Australia doesn’t change its values and Australia doesn’t get intimidated to change these values, and a misrepresentation of Australian soldiers is a misrepresentation, and it’s something that if there are any people who would fall for an image like that, I don’t think there’s any of them in this building and I don’t think there’s many of them anywhere in Australia. What you have described is disgusting, what you have described is offensive, and what you have described is not a depiction or should not be used to in any way alter the dignity of those people that keep us safe.
JOURNALIST: Do agree though that it’s a clear escalation and even provocation?
BURKE: I think on an image that I’ve only just heard about, I think I’ve gone a fair way immediately. I’m not sure what I can offer anything further than that.
JOURNALIST: Catherine, do you have a reaction to this image at all?
KING: My view is the Australian government should ask the Chinese official to take the image down. It appears on the surface of what you’ve described, it is highly offensive. We are a country that is an open democracy. We’ve had a significant, transparent inquiry into the events that have happened in Afghanistan, that stands in stark contrast to many other countries in relation to how they would handle such matters. And I think it is really important that every Australian, myself included and Tony’s just done that on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, we have had a great deal of confidence and a great deal of gratitude to the men and women of our Australian Defence Force. They deserve better than that.
JOURNALIST: Do you see this as a direct provocation?
KING: I’ll leave that to our foreign affairs spokesperson to talk about the relationship with China. but I think it is fair to say, it is not going well.
JOURNALIST: And where does responsibility for that lie Catherine?
KING: Well certainly, I have to say that the government needs to work more closely to ensure that the relationship is on a stronger footing. I think that we’ve seen over the weekend, the sort of actions that we’ve seen from the government, they’ve got to work their way through this but again I’ll leave it to our foreign affairs spokesperson to talk further about that.
JOURNALIST: When you talk about the government, are you talking about the Australian Government?
KING: Of course.
JOURNALIST: So the Australian Government which has been handed a list of 14 demands over policy areas…
KING: Sorry, thank you Jonathan for clarifying the question that you had. Certainly, the relationship is with both governments to work together to have that relationship but in relation to the image, I think very strongly the government should pick up the phone and ask it to be taken down.
JOURNALIST: A question on industrial relations if you would be interested. You signalled the position that you’ll take on secure work when the government outlines its plans on IR. Can you just flesh out the position that at the moment on that IR, that looming IR reform? Are you open to any change? Do you concede at all that there’s any argument for changing industrial relations laws?
BURKE: No law is ever sacrosanct from change and development. It’s also the case the government’s gone through their working group process. Now the intention of the working group process, and there was a fair bit of fanfare at the beginning of that as to what they thought might be able to be achieved. Now, whatever comes out, if the government’s legislation reflects a consensus from that process, then I’ve got to say it’s reasonable to expect that it will find its way through the parliament relatively quickly. Whatever they come forward with, there are some areas where there was clear agreement, some areas where there wasn’t. On the areas where there’s clear agreement through that working group process, when employers and employees agree on legislative changes, it’s reasonable to expect the parliament to come together as well. So, I think that’s taken as given. The government has flagged that on some of the areas where there wasn’t agreement, they’ll be making a judgement call. Now, given they’ve said that, it’s reasonable to expect that for those parts of the legislation, I don’t know if there’ll be a single bill or a series of bills or exactly how they’ll structure it, but certainly, it would be reasonable to expect that there’ll be some sort of Senate inquiry process that will examine the detail. Because when the government says there wasn’t agreement, there’s a reason why there wasn’t an arrangement.
JOURNALIST: Can you nominate any area for instance where you think there’s clearly no consensus for change, whether that’s, say, you know, the argument from some for more flexible rules on casual workers, is that just a no go zone on reform for you?
BURKE: On each of the five headings, the union representatives, the workers representatives who were there at the table proposed various reforms. So, there’s no area where changes weren’t constructively part of the conversation from the employee side. From the employer side, it was a bit more divided. The employer organisations effectively ended up with the facts in the dispute, where some of the confidentiality of those meetings, ended up turning up in the papers, so you know exactly where those lines are drawn. I think we’ve really got to wait to receive the Bill. The thing that I can let you know, sight unseen, is we’ll approach it constructively. It’s reasonable to expect that there’ll be some sort of inquiry attached to the bills and it’s reasonable to expect that to the extent that the bills reflect a consensus of the working groups process then to that extent, you’d expect relatively easy passage through the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: And Tony do you support Rex Patrick’s calls to restore funding to the Auditor-General?
BURKE: We’ve been deeply critical of the cuts to the Auditor-General, we’ve been deeply critical of those cuts.
JOURNALIST: Will you block changes to safe lending?
BURKE: Anything about which way we’ll vote and what we would block or what are our principles that would be something we wait to see the legislation, we go through caucus process and then we announce it to the media. So, on particular bills I’m not in a position to give you those calls right now. The thing that I’d say with respect to the Audit Office, with the question that you’ve asked, the Audit Office is one of the layers of making sure that when a government acts ineptly or corruptly that it gets exposed, but the government had promised that by now we would have an integrity commission and we still don’t. So, it is incredibly important we get proper funding for the Audit Office, without it the full range of the Sports Rorts scandal wouldn’t have come forward. The Leppington Triangle scandal was fully understood because of the work of the Audit Office, it’s a critical player in letting the public know the extent to which this government has sort of changed what some people would have claimed as a Liberal brand. The truth is, when you look at it, Liberals can’t handle money anymore. They’re not responsible with money anymore. And the Australian National Audit Office has been a key way of that being exposed.
JOURNALIST: So, on money.
BURKE: It’s now a tangent to anywhere.
JOURNALIST: So, recently there was like 100 different organisations, counsellors, all different groups, witnesses for the Banking Royal Commission that put their names to this letter calling for these safe lending practices to be protected that we’ve really just seen come into effect and a lot of those recommendations haven’t even been implemented yet. So do you support their calls? What are you saying to them?
BURKE: You’re talking about an area outside my portfolio about which way we would vote. So, we’ve got a process and the relevant spokesperson, once those processes are followed, then there’ll be an announcement. But an issue outside my portfolio…
JOURNALIST: So, you have no thoughts on safe lending?
BURKE: You’ve asked me for some specific detail on something outside my portfolio and I’m not going to go there. Thank you.
TONY BURKE & CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA – MONDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 2020