Sky News AM Agenda - Panel discussion with David Lipson

Subject: Qantas dispute

Transcript, E&OE

31 October 2011

DAVID LIPSON: Welcome back to the program on what has been — well, after what has been quite a historic weekend, not just for the aviation industry but also for workplace relations, tourism, transport and a whole range of other matters.

Now, to talk a little bit more in depth about the situation with Qantas, I'm joined in the studio here by Richard Marles and Jamie Briggs.

Thank you both very much for your time.

First to you, Jamie. What do you make of this result? Is it a win for the Government, as the Government lawyers were indeed pushing for what the eventual result was?

JAMIE BRIGGS: Well, Julia Gillard — this is a dispute of her own making. She changed the Act three years ago; she says she’s immensely proud of that change. And in part of that change she allowed matters outside of the employment relationship to be part of the dispute. And therefore, the unions have had all this power to continue this dispute going to reach this point. So people sat in airports over the weekend because Julia Gillard gave the unions the power to get to this point.

In addition to that, Julia Gillard failed to act when she knew that this dispute was getting to this point; she had every opportunity under her own Act — that she’s immensely proud of — to take action. And she didn't; she failed to do so.

So what we've got is a situation where the Government has created the circumstances that big disputes like this are back in town. Labor’s back in town; big disputes are back in town; they wanted this. Their Act is working as they intended.

DAVID LIPSON: Well, Tony Abbott hasn't been too forceful in blaming the policy for this; he says it’s a failure of leadership rather than anything to do with the Labor Government’s workplace laws. Do you agree with him on that?

JAMIE BRIGGS: Well, he’s right; this is a failure of leadership. She knew — Alan Joyce said this morning, just moments ago, that he had told the Government that this was an option, that this dispute was killing his company, that union’s role in the workplace was to represent workers, not to manage a company.

Now, that’s the nub of the TWU and the other unions' claim in this, is to become the — part of the management of the company. And it’s just simply ridiculous and ludicrous in a modern economy that they would pursue this claim, and that the law would allow them to do so.

DAVID LIPSON: You're quoted in papers this morning as saying that the policy though is to blame, that really it’s Fair Work Australia that has led to all of this. Do you — are you obviously calling for this policy to be wound back, to be changed?

JAMIE BRIGGS: What we're saying is, quite obviously, we are in this situation because the law was changed; the matters which can be debated and can be discussed in bargaining periods are matters which relate to an employment arrangement are now so broad in this discussion. Judith Sloan — Professor Judith Sloan made this point this morning.

Professor Andrew Stewart, who helped write the Government’s Act, said two weeks ago that the Government should be taking action under their own Act. He knew that this was coming. Everybody knew that this was coming. This is a fault of Julia Gillard who set this situation up and then failed to act when she needed to.

DAVID LIPSON: Richard Marles, we heard Chris Evans saying earlier that — and Julia Gillard has said the same this morning — that really, they didn't have much more of an option as to what they — what action they took, but there was adequate time for the Government to intervene directly. Why wasn't that done? And would it have changed things?

RICHARD MARLES: Well, first of all, David, if I can just comment on what Jamie said? What we've really just heard is a pretty unequivocal call from Jamie for a return to Work Choices.

JAMIE BRIGGS: No.

RICHARD MARLES: I mean, what we see is using this dispute as a way to get right back into that industrial relations debate so that we can be reintroducing Work Choices; that’s what we've heard from Jamie now, which is pretty amazing.

There have been changes to the laws to promote fairness for everybody in the industrial relations system so that there are basic minimum standards, but if you're talking about the framework of how you deal with an industrial dispute, this is essentially unchanged…

JAMIE BRIGGS: No, that’s not true…

RICHARD MARLES: … so it would have been exactly the same under Work Choices as it is now, but…

JAMIE BRIGGS: No, that’s not true at all…

RICHARD MARLES: … but what we've got from Jamie and from the Opposition is a desire to use this dispute to reintroduce the debate around Work Choices, because that’s what they would do if they ever got back into Government.

On the issue of whether or not we should have acted under section 431, the Prime Minister has made it very clear; had we gone down that path — which is a path which wasn't used during the maritime dispute, which has never been used before — then right now, instead of sitting here this morning knowing that the industrial action by Qantas and by the unions has been brought to an end, we would be in the middle of a whole lot of legal controversy about whether or not the threshold for that new use of that section had been met.

And so this was the speediest way to go about it. I mean, the Government discovered at two o'clock on Saturday that this was about to occur. Within 36 hours, the industrial action has been brought to an end; within 48 hours we're going to see planes flying back. When there are industrial flames, we douse them.

When the other mob was in power under the Howard Government, they actually lit the fires with the maritime dispute…

JAMIE BRIGGS: [Laughs]

RICHARD MARLES: … and then poured petrol right on them and had the disputes going on for months…

DAVID LIPSON: Why can't this be a trigger for some debate from the Opposition or from the Government as well about any amendments that may need to be made to the Fair Work Act or any other area’s workplace relations? Why does it always have to come back to Work Choices and a debate about…?

JAMIE BRIGGS: Because it’s a scare campaign…

RICHARD MARLES: Well, it…

JAMIE BRIGGS: They want to run a scare campaign…

RICHARD MARLES: It…

JAMIE BRIGGS: They're desperate to run a scare campaign.

RICHARD MARLES: Jamie’s very keen to use it as a trigger and I'm…

JAMIE BRIGGS: Oh, what a load of…

RICHARD MARLES: … very interested in what Jamie has to say. And I think what we've heard from Jamie is that they would go to Work Choices if they could, because…

JAMIE BRIGGS: Oh, complete rubbish.

RICHARD MARLES: … what they want is to see…

JAMIE BRIGGS: Complete rubbish…

RICHARD MARLES: … the Act amended.

JAMIE BRIGGS: Look, this is…

RICHARD MARLES: I mean, that’s what…

JAMIE BRIGGS: … what we've got here is another Labor minister who not — who’s forgotten that he’s a Labor minister and not a union official. We saw that yesterday with Bill Shorten who rolled up to Fair Work Australia; I mean, he knew that there was two cameras in a small vicinity so Bill was there, sat in the room for some unknown reason, acting like a union official. You had the same with Al… Anthony Albanese on Saturday…

RICHARD MARLES: But he was representing the Government.

JAMIE BRIGGS: No, he was not; he had a lawyer…

RICHARD MARLES: Of course he was representing the Government…

JAMIE BRIGGS: … representing the Government; what a load of…

RICHARD MARLES: Yeah, but you have people in the room who instruct; he was there representing the Government.

JAMIE BRIGGS: You had Anthony Albanese on Saturday just boots and all after Alan Joyce and Qantas. You had Ed Husic on Twitter on Saturday night; you had Jones from — the Member for Illawarra…

DAVID LIPSON: Stephen…

JAMIE BRIGGS: … Stephen Jones on Saturday night getting stuck into Alan Joyce as well. These guys, they never leave their union boss title; that’s what they are. And so what they're desperate with this is they know they've created these circumstances; they're actors acting as they wanted it to. This was the intention of the Fair Work Act is to have these big disputes. They wanted to give the unions these powers…

RICHARD MARLES: Oh [indistinct]…

DAVID LIPSON: But the unions have been slapped down, haven't they?

RICHARD MARLES: … under the Work Choices legislation.

DAVID LIPSON: The unions have been slapped down in this, haven't they? They've been told they can't strike any more.

JAMIE BRIGGS: And how much cost? And after how many months of pursuing claims which could just never be included in an employment relationship. Unions cannot manage companies.

Now, these guys have allowed them through the Act. When Richard said [break in transmission] previous workplace relations law did — was exactly the same as this; that is a lie; that is not true. There were certain matters which pertain to the employment relationship which could be debated as part of bargaining…

DAVID LIPSON: Well, Richard, your response…

RICHARD MARLES: Well, let me say…

JAMIE BRIGGS: This is now broader…

RICHARD MARLES: Unions don't see…

JAMIE BRIGGS: Any [indistinct]…

RICHARD MARLES: … don't seek to manage companies, but what we do know is that the Liberal Party can't manage the industrial relations system; they couldn't when they were in Government…

JAMIE BRIGGS: And you're you saying this one today, after the weekend?

RICHARD MARLES: They absolutely…

DAVID LIPSON: Just let Richard…

RICHARD MARLES: No, well, well…

DAVID LIPSON: … let Richard say…

RICHARD MARLES: I'm absolutely saying it today because this is actually a victory for — it’s a victory for the tens of thousands of people out there who'll now be able to fly; it’s a victory for the tourism industry. But what we have seen is a Government acting as soon as it had notice that there was an issue. Within 36 hours the action has been brought to a close; within 48 hours, planes will be back in the air. Compare that to the maritime dispute; months and months of the wharves being shut down because the Howard Government actually…

JAMIE BRIGGS: And what was the outcome?

RICHARD MARLES: … incited the dispute…

JAMIE BRIGGS: And what was the outcome?

RICHARD MARLES: They incited the dispute and they dowsed it with petrol.

JAMIE BRIGGS: Mmm.

DAVID LIPSON: Okay, gentlemen; very sorry, but unfortunately, I'd like to keep going with that, but we are out of time.

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