MEET THE PRESS
23 OCTOBER 2011
INTERVIEW WITH ERIC ABETZ AND TONY SHELDON.
DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE QANTAS DISPUTE, THE CARBON
TAX, THE FAIR WORK ACT, COALITION’S ASYLUM SEKKER
POLICIES, ARE THE UNIONS DESTROYING QANTAS? AND
JULIA GILLARD’S LEADERSHIP.
PAUL BONGIORNO, PRESENTER: Hello and welcome to ‘Meet the
Press’. In a week when Australia’s most high-profile visitor flew in from
London, the tourist industry began sending out warnings that the Qantas
dispute was threatening its viability. No worries for the Queen with
cancellations, all lost luggage welcomed with courtesy but no curtsy.
JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: As I greeted the Queen, she
extended her hand to shake hands and obviously I shook her hand.
PAUL BONGIORNO: But not too many glad hands at the national flag
carrier as the nine-week-old war between Qantas and its key unions rolled
on with strikes and disruptions.
ALAN JOYCE, QANTAS CEO (Oct 13): These three unions are not
representative of the broader union movement.
BARRY JACKSON, AUSTRALIAN & INTERNATIONAL PILOTS
ASSOCIATION (Thursday): What I’d ask Alan Joyce to do is get back to
running the airline and that includes talking to his staff.
JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER (Thursday): Qantas has put an
offer on the table. And so my message still is ‘get round a table and get it
PAUL BONGIORNO: Some of the nation’s biggest energy companies
turned the tables in the Carbon Tax debate, warning the Coalition’s threat
to scrap the tax creates uncertainty and puts a risk premium on
SENATOR BOB BROWN, GREENS LEADER (Tuesday): The
irresponsibility of this Leader of the Opposition is going to shove up
power prices and increase greenhouse gases.
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ, SENATE OPPOSITION LEADER
(Tuesday): Absolutely not. The Coalition has got the most certain policy
and that is no Carbon Tax.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Senate Opposition Eric Abetz is a guest. Later,
Transport Workers Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon. First, Leah
Craven has what’s making news this Sunday, October 23.
LEAH CRAVEN, REPORTING: Thanks, Paul. Here are the major
stories for this morning. Libya’s new leaders will declare the liberation of
the country later today as Libyans queue up for a final look at their long-
time dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, whose body is lying in a cold storage
room in a Misrata mall. The Transitional Council says the body is likely
to be handed over to the family in the next 48 hours as rebel fighters
return home to scenes of jubilation. The Queen will attend church in
Canberra this morning before a lunch hosted by the Governor-General.
Her Majesty presented new colours and praised the Royal Military
College in Duntroon yesterday in its 100th anniversary year, while the
Duke of Edinburgh traded bon mots with alumni of the Commonwealth
Study Conferences, a program he launched more than 50 years ago.
Police removed Occupy Sydney protesters from Martin Place in the city
early this morning, arresting 40 people. Four are expected to be charged
with numerous offences, including assaulting police. The demonstrators
are part of a global protest against corporate greed. The ‘Sunday
Telegraph’ says Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is considering people
power to select Liberal candidates in two seats in NSW. He will launch a
pre-emptive strike on Julia Gillard, with the state’s Liberals opening pre-
selections tomorrow. And those are the headlines this morning. Back to
PAUL BONGIORNO: Thanks Leah. Welcome to the program, Eric
Abetz. Good morning, Senator.
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ, SENATE OPPOSITION LEADER: Good
PAUL BONGIORNO: Has the Qantas dispute reached a stage in your
view of threatening the national economy?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: If it hasn’t reached the stage of threatening
the national economy, it is getting very close to it. And the Government
unfortunately is impotent in this regard because I think Julia Gillard fears
Tony Sheldon may well soon become her boss when he becomes the
national president of the ALP. And so we’ve got this bizarre situation
where the Minister for Tourism, Martin Ferguson, is willing to weigh in
to the dispute and tell it as it is – talk about the damage it’s causing, but
Ms Gillard and Senator Evans, the responsible minister, are quite silent in
relation to this issue.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, the Prime Minister seemed to buy in earlier
in the week – we did see the engineers put their strike action or their bans
on hold for three weeks. Do you put that down to the Government or
merely union tactics?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: The suspension of industrial activity by the
union leadership is an industrial tactic. What it does is create even greater
uncertainty for the tourism industry and the travelling public – as a result
of which, people won’t be booking three weeks in advance with Qantas.
And I simply say to the workers – and especially the union leadership that
are driving this dispute – if you want job security, how about providing
security to the brand and to the travelling public and calls for consumer
boycotts of the company that actually pays your wages is not exactly the
smartest thing to do.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you have any sympathy for the unions? They
make a fairly strong case that what we’re seeing here is the dismantling
of Qantas in breach of the original Qantas sale act?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: I don’t agree with argument. With these
disputes, it’s always an issue of two sides negotiating and hopefully they
can resolve issues. But when you have union leadership talking about
boycotts of the brand up until Christmas, as we go in to the busiest time
of the year, you really do have to start asking what is motivating the
union leadership by asking for such a damaging cause of action, because
Australians do have alternatives. They do have Jetstar, they do have
Virgin, they do have Virgin, they do have Rex, they do have Skywest and
all the other airlines.
PAUL BONGIORNO: So what should the Government do? In fact, what
can it do? I see a number of industrial law experts say that unless there’s
an all-out strike or a lockout, there’s really nothing under the Fair Work
Act the Government can do?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: The Government, I think, has to ask itself and
say to the Australian people, “Is this the way they intended the Fair Work
Act to operate?” It is now their legislation. It was the legislation that was
going to resolve all these matters.
PAUL BONGIORNO: It needs teeth in other words?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: Well, what it needs is a minister and a Prime
Minister that is willing to use the toolkit Labor provided for itself to deal
with these matters. And it is for Labor to explain why they are not acting,
why they’re impotent. And I fear the reason for their impotence is that
Julia Gillard in particular is concerned that her boss will soon be Tony
Sheldon, the national secretary of the Transport Workers Union.
PAUL BONGIORNO: An interesting way of looking at it. Well, Tony
Abbott has been criticised by Liberal heavyweights Peter Costello and
Peter Reith for comments like this.
TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER (Sept 28): We want to work
within the existing act and the existing act obviously has no place for
individual statutory contracts.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Now Senator Abetz, we know the existing act
doesn’t, but it does have a thing called “industrial flexibility
arrangements”. And it wouldn’t be too hard for an incoming Abbott
Government to turn these flexible arrangements in to AWAs, would it?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: The individual flexibility agreements were
deliberately put into the legislation after Labor realised that you do need
flexibility. We now have the Minister, Chris Evans, acknowledging that
the individual flexibility agreements are not being taken up as was
anticipated because they have been made too restrictive, either by
Enterprise Bargaining Agreements, the modern awards, or whatever. And
so the Minister himself has flagged that the Government is looking at
fleshing out the individual flexibility agreement arrangements. And given
that we’re going to have a review of the operation of the Fair Work Act,
commencing as of January 1 next year, I encourage everybody that has a
view on how we can flesh these out to make them actually work for the
benefit of workers and employers, they should make a submission.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, just finally in this segment, an incoming
Abbott Government, would it have a root and branch review of the Fair
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: The Fair Work Act is the framework under
which we’ll operate. We have said that now on a number of occasions.
What we will do is identify the practical problems and then provide
practical solutions to those problems, hopefully in dialogue with both the
trade union movement and employer groups and individual workers and
small businesses, so that we get a system that looks after everybody’s
interests. I think we swung the pendulum too far. Some of the activities
by trade union leadership in recent times suggest that might be swung the
other way too far. So we just want a sensible middle-of-the-road,
practical-solution-for-practical-problems approach and that’s what we’re
committed to doing.
PAUL BONGIORNO: That’s very non-threatening, Senator. Time for a
break. Whether we return with the panel – does the carbon tax face a
filibuster in the Senate? And Bob Katter should definitely stick to his day
BOB KATTER, INDEPENDENT MP (Tuesday): (Sings very badly):
You can all be very sure Bob will work an eight-day week. I know and I
hope you know it too, I can assure you Bob Katter junior will do the best
for you. I know and I hope you know it’s true.
PLAYOFF TO BREAK
PAUL BONGIORNO: You’re on ‘Meet the Press’ with Senate
Opposition Leader Eric Abetz and welcome to the panel, Alison
Carabine, ABC Radio National Breakfast and Malcolm Farr,
news.com.au. Good morning.
ALISON CARABINE AND MALCOLM FARR: Good morning, Paul.
PAUL BONGIORNO: The Carbon Tax will be fiercely debated but
resolutely passed when the Senate returns in a week. The Greens’
numbers are the key, and their senators are already aggressively
dismissing Tony Abbott’s blood oath to repeal it.
SENATOR CHRISTINE MILNE, GREENS DEPUTY LEADER
(Tuesday): It’s the great big new lie of Australian politics he’s telling. On
the one hand, he needs people to believe that he will repeal the clean
energy package and on the other hand, he knows full well that he
wouldn’t do it.
ALISON CARABINE, ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST: Eric
Abetz, there is a growing body of opinion that your policy to scrap the
Carbon Tax and all related measures can’t be delivered. The policy has
been good for an opposition but is unworkable for a Coalition
Government. Don’t you have an emerging credibility gap here?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: Absolutely not. The credibility gap is with a
Government that promised no Carbon Tax and is now foisting one on the
Australian people. We have kept the bipartisan position that was there
before the last election, which was no Carbon Tax. If the Australian
people give the Coalition the privilege of Government after the next
election, it will be because we have promised to dismantle the Carbon
Tax. On that basis, it will beholden upon the Parliament to help us
unravel and dismantle the Carbon Tax, just as Kevin Rudd demanded that
of us in relation to matters workplace relations after the 2007 election.
ALISON CARABINE: But by the time of the next election, the Carbon
Tax and its associated apparatus would have been the law of the land.
Tony Abbott’s blood pledge to scrap the tax may have worked a treat
with the public but you are spooking some business, especially the
electricity sector. Don’t they need the type of investment certainty that
you should be delivering?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: You are assuming that the next election will
be two years away. Nobody really knows when the next election will be.
In relation to certainty, we as a Coalition are saying right now, up-front,
before coming to Government, what our policy will be and businesses can
make the judgment as to whether our policies are likely to be endorsed by
the Australian people. And if that i s likely to happen, whether they
should be planning on that basis. It is quite strange that people assert that
somehow the Coalition is introducing uncertainty into the equation when
it was Labor, only 12 months ago, that was saying ‘no Carbon Tax’ and
then did a complete backflip. That’s what creates uncertainty in the
investment community and we have been very certain – we’ve been very
clear – and we have had the same approach since before the last election.
MALCOLM FARR: Senator, what sort of reception are you going to give
a carbon pricing legislation in the Senate? Are you going to filibuster and
try and push it off to a vote next year, are you going to accept the
inevitable and the majority view of the Senate? The indication so far over
the cigarette packaging is that you’re prepared to dig big ditches and stay
there – what’s going to happen?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: I don’t agree with your assessment in relation
to plain packaging, but moving on to the Carbon Tax, we will fight the
Carbon Tax every single step of the way because we are opposed to it and
we will remind every single Labor Senator, especially those elected at the
last election, that they had been elected on a promise of no Carbon Tax.
And it’s passing strange –and this is what a lot of Australians are asking –
how is it when every single Labor and Coalition member of the
Parliament is elected on a no-Carbon Tax platform that somehow it can
get through the Parliament? What it shows is that Bob Brown is running
the show and Julia Gillard and Labor ...
MALCOLM FARR: It’s all the numbers ...
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: are meekly following.
MALCOLM FARR: It’s the numbers of the Parliament, the
democratically-elected members of the Parliament have a view and we
know what that view will be in the Senate in terms of this legislation. It’s
not an abrogation of democracy, it’s an exercise in democracy. So how
does that give you a right to try and block it?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: No, because these people in the democratic
system actually were elected on the basis of no Carbon Tax. And so that
is something that these elected representatives cannot overcome. They
made a solemn promise. Julia Gillard stared down the camera lens and
said, “There will be no Carbon Tax.” When we as a Coalition said, “don’t
trust them,” Wayne Swan came out, accused us of being hysterical. It’s
now quite obvious we weren’t being hysterical, we were being historical,
and history will record this as one of the biggest attempted deceptions of
the Australian people.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Well Senator, the Coalition’s asylum seeker
policies came under fire during the week. The Navy said turning back the
boats was never safe and one of the architects of the Pacific Solution said
it would no longer work. Here’s Mr Metcalfe.
ANDREW METCALFE, DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION AND
CITIZENSHIP (Monday) : The combination of circumstances that
existed at the end of 2001 could not be repeated with success.
MALCOLM FARR: Senator, could you outline the circumstances in
which a boat intercepted in international waters could be turned around
and sent back to say, Indonesia?
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: Australia did that, as I understand it, about
half a dozen times with success. And what we need to remember is that
the Coalition has a suite of policies. We don’t say “Nauru is the only
solution,” we don’t say “temporary protection visas are the only
solution,” we don’t say “turning back the boats is the only solution.”
MALCOLM FARR: But it’s a solution...
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: Keep in mind, Kevin Rudd was most anxious
to tell the Australian people just before the 2007 election that he would
turn back the boats.
MALCOLM FARR: Tony Abbott’s been saying that since the August
election campaign. It’s never been made clear how that would be done
because Indonesia doesn’t want boats being propelled back to it. And the
Navy has warned it would be very, very dangerous. But you persist with
the policy. I just want to know the circumstances in which it could be
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: The circumstances would clearly be if those
that are confronting the illegal ships or boats coming in to Australia,
make the determination that it is safe – number one – to do so. That the
boat is appropriately seaworthy to be able to take the journey back. And it
would have to be a measure and a decision undertaken by those in the
field – if you can use that term – about the ocean and the sea, but those
that are there practically engaging with them would need to make that
call. But we are saying if it were determined that it could be safe, that it
could be undertaken, like it was done half a dozen times before, that
sends a huge message to the people smugglers and those that would seek
to engage them.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much, Senator Eric Abetz.
SENATOR ERIC ABETZ: Thanks a lot.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Coming up, Tony Sheldon from the TWU on the
Qantas rolling strikes. And syndicated cartoonist Zanetti has this none-
too-sympathetic view of the engineers’ bans.
(Cartoon showing Engineer with Qantas plane taken apart behind him):
“What? Do you expect me to put it all together again?”
(QANTAS THEME: “I still call Australia home” over cartoon and
playoff to break)
PAUL BONGIORNO: You’re on Meet the Press. The Qantas engineers
have put their strike action on hold, passing the stop-work baton back to
the baggage handlers and other members of the TWU who begin their
walk-offs on Wednesday.
OLIVIA WIRTH, QANTAS (Tuesday): Is their campaign working to
damage the business? Absolutely. It’s impacting on our customers, it’s
impacting on the passengers, it’s impacting on the employees, it’s
impacting on the sustainability of this business.
PAUL BONGIORNO: And it’s welcome back to the program, Transport
Workers’ Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon. Good morning, Tony.
TONY SHELDON, TWU NATIONAL SECRETARY: Good morning,
PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, how do you answer Olivia Wirth there? Are
the unions destroying Qantas to save it?
TONY SHELDON, TWU NATIONAL SECRETARY: I think it’s
critically important. First of all, this Olivia Wirth, a spin doctor, paid
many hundreds of thousands of dollars to run a line. I think what really
needs to happen is the people behind the Qantas dispute – Alan Joyce, the
chairman of the board, Leigh Clifford, should be the ones answering
these questions. But quite clearly, the company nine months ago made a
decision to start training people in LA to do baggage handlers’ work. The
CEOs accused the best pilots in the world, Qantas pilots, of being
kamikazes. And we saw the hysterical comments nearly two weeks ago
where 35 thousand employees were alleged to be threatening various
personalities within the Qantas group. That’s not the sort of comments
that somebody makes when they’re trying to keep the brand high in the
public’s mind as being a brand they can trust.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, it did go back to Fair Work Australia this
week. Is there a stand-off? I mean how long is this going to last?
TONY SHELDON: I think the question that’s been raised amongst the
4,000 and certainly soon to be 300 more employees in the areas we cover,
along with the other workers across the Qantas group and that’s how far
is the Qantas management prepared to go? And one of the things we
believe is underlying this dispute is the intention by Qantas to offshore
more jobs to put the debt into Qantas whilst they float the operations for
Jetstar and a new you beaut Asian carrier, which may return quite a bit of
money, in the first instance, for the executives and directors that vote for
it, as we saw at the last APA bid, failed APA bid, when they tried to
privatise, equitise the business.
ALISON CARABINE: Tony Sheldon, you have drawn parallels between
this dispute and the battle for the waterfront. There was much at stake for
Patrick Stevedores and the MUA back in 1998. This time around what’s
at stake? This dispute’s more about than just pay and conditions, isn’t it?
TONY SHELDON: Well, it certainly is about more than pay and
conditions. It’s about whether somebody gets paid, what they get paid,
what the conditions are, whether it be in Australia or overseas and the
outsourcing of labour and job security. We’ve seen in this economy, over
two million people are now casuals, people that don’t have job security.
Many of whom are asking for job security and decent arrangements so
they know how they can feed their family each week, so they can pay
their rent, putting food on the table. Those sorts of questions are really at
the heart of the problem with Qantas. They’ve said they want to
outsource within this country at many hundreds of dollars a week less and
outsource overseas with many thousands of dollars a week less.
ALISON CARABINE: What we’ve seen so far has been as much a PR
battle as an industrial relations battle. Qantas is an Australian icon. Do
you believe that you’re winning the hearts and mind of the Australian
public, not just the Australian travelling public? Are they on your side on
TONY SHELDON: I think what everybody wants, and that is for this
dispute to be resolved. That’s the thing that’s a common position amongst
both the work force and also the travelling public. I think what you look
at with the Qantas strategy, particularly with the likes of Leigh Clifford,
the Chairperson of the board, where he’s had a love relationship with
WorkChoices and has a very ideologically-driven approach to his
workforce, both within Qantas and elsewhere. I think he’s driving a lot of
MALCOLM FARR: If any industry is going to be affected by
globalisation, it’s the international aviation industry. Aren’t you, in effect,
hankering for the days when QF1 rode the skies, and Qantas lived off that
and was the Australian flag carrier and everybody saluted as one flew
overhead? There’ve got to be changes and aren’t you standing in the way
of those necessary changes?
TONY SHELDON: First of all, I’m very supportive of both their
expansion in Asia and also with the operations they’ve created in Dallas.
There’s some fundamental problems about some of the decisions made,
about how they’ve gone about that. They can actually create more
Australian jobs, decent paying Australian jobs in this country and also
expand overseas. This is a greed-on-greed strategy which involves
decreasing the workforce and this country’s rights, decreasing job
security and joining the two million other people hankering for job
security in this country.
MALCOLM FARR: If we can go on to ... we learnt today that you’re
going to be Julia Gillard’s boss after the December conference – I don’t
know what you’ve been talking to Eric Abetz about, but he’s confident of
that. What would your advice be to the Prime Minister? Would it include
the advice from Peter Beattie that to end all the leadership speculation,
she should call on a spill, get it over with and then proceed?
TONY SHELDON: Look, I think Julia Gillard is going to be the person
and I’m confident, will be the person who will go to the next Federal
election. The question of presidents of political parties, I think Peter Reith
had of been elected and I’m not quite sure who Eric Abetz voted for, but
a frightening thought – there was a choice between the guy who brought
soldiers to our waterfront to the person Stockdale who’s on the
Macquarie Bank as a director and a director of a number of other major
ALISON CARABINE: What would your advice be to sort out the
leadership tensions because they’re a drag on the Government?
TONY SHELDON: Look, I think what’s critically important here, is that
Julia Gillard is a very strong leader. The logic of what’s going to happen
over the coming months is that people are going to be focusing on – now
that the Carbon Tax has been dealt with – they’re going to be focusing on
what the consequences are for an Abbott Government. Tony Abbott has
announced that he’s going to bring an extra $1,000 a year to every
household having to pay because of his carbon abatement plan. How will
he is going to distance himself from the $70 billion black hole that he’s
been putting to the Government with all the programs he plans on
PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you for being with us today Tony Sheldon
and thanks to our panel, Alison Carabine and Malcolm Farr. A transcript
and a replay of this program will be on our website and our Facebook
page. Until next week, goodbye.