Labor plays Qantas safety card
Labor uses question time to raise the spectre that foreign ownership of Qantas could threaten the airline's flawless safety record.PT6M37S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-349x2 620 349 March 6, 2014
- Live from Parliament: Judith Ireland blogs live
- Qantas management reshuffle puts ex-Tigerair boss in key role
The Abbott government's bill to scrap foreign ownership restrictions on the domesic arm of Qantas has passed the lower house, but the move will be blocked in the Senate by Labor and the Greens.
Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss brought the bill before the House of Representatives on Thursday morning, saying that scrapping part three of the Qantas Sale Act would remove a ''range of outdated restrictions''. The Act forces Qantas to remain at least 51 per cent Australian owned, with no individual ''foreign person'' allowed to own more than 25 per cent of the airline, and foreign airlines allowed to own no more than 35 per cent.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten speaks against the Qantas Sale Amendment Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares
The legislation passed the lower house after almost four hours of aggressive debate, involving numerous gag motions and bids to suspend standing orders.
Labor MPs tried to draw out the debate, but the Abbott government, with its lower house majority, eventually succeeded in pushing through the legislation 83 votes to 53.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten threw a number of animal-related insults at Abbott government ministers, including his description of Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss as "wombolic" – a reference to The Wombles, a children's television show involving pointy-nosed, furry creatures that live in burrows.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss introduces the Qantas Sale Amendment Bill in Parliament. Photo: Andrew Meares
Mr Shorten also had to withdraw a line about the government being ''cheese eating surrender monkeys'' on Australian jobs.
"What a cynical bunch they are," Mr Shorten said of the Abbott government. "What a bunch of cynics."
In response, leader of the House Christopher Pyne argued that Mr Shorten was opposing changes to the Qantas Sale Act because he represented the interests of union officials and was the ''factions' choice''.
Mr Shorten and manager of opposition business Tony Burke during the Qantas debate. Photo: Andrew Meares
The legislation now heads to the upper house where it is expected to fail in both the current Senate, and the new Senate, which forms on July 1 with the Palmer United Party also insisting Qantas remain majority Australian-owned.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has supported the Abbott government's move, saying the legislation would put Qantas on an even footing with its main competitor Virgin Australia, which has the advantage of being able to attract larger amounts of foreign investment.
But the Mr Shorten has so far rejected the appeals from Mr Joyce and the Prime Minister, saying he believes Qantas must remain a majority Australian-owned airline to protect Australian jobs.
Coalition strategists are using Labor's intransigence to frame Mr Shorten as an interventionist and a protectionist, who has forgotten the lessons of the Hawke and Keating reform era. By introducing the Qantas repeal legislation as the first item of parliamentary business on Thursday morning, the Abbott government is hoping to pile political pressure on Labor.
''The best thing we can do is get rid of the Qantas Sale Act so that Virgin and Qantas are competing on a level playing field,'' Treasurer Joe Hockey told ABC radio on Thursday morning.
''This is up to Mr Shorten," Mr Hockey added. ''He can't be both a protectionist and an interventionist and still claim to be concerned about the workers of Australia.
''If he really cares about the workers he will see the repeal of the Qantas Sale Act and support it.''
Mr Hockey again denied pressuring Mr Joyce to renounce the carbon tax. Within the space of three days, Qantas backtracked on earlier statements about the carbon tax's impact on its operations, describing it on Wednesday as ''among the significant challenges we face''. It also revealed that the levy cost the company $59 million in the first half of the year and $106 million in 2012-13. Earlier this week, the airline said its problems ''were not related to the carbon tax''.
''As Alan Joyce corrected it yesterday, it was a misinterpretation of what they really meant,'' Mr Hockey said.
''Alan Joyce rang me yesterday and we talked about it, but it was nothing more than him saying the interpretation on the carbon tax was entirely incorrect.
''A low-level person at Qantas had put out a statement that is not consistent with either [Mr Joyce's] statements last week or his previous statements.
''We certainly don't put pressure on companies like that.''
Mr Hockey refused to say when the Australian public would see the recommendations of the National Commission of Audit, saying he was working his way through an interim report of roughly 900 pages. He denied that the delay of tough news had anything to do with the upcoming state elections in South Australia and Tasmania.
''You'll see [the Commission of Audit report] in due course,'' Mr Hockey said. ''We've only had it a few weeks.''
with James Massola and Matt O'Sullivan