POSTURING by opposition “leader” Bill Shorten and his MPs on the fraught subject of Qantas is aimed squarely at pandering to their mates in the union movement, with a cavalier disregard for the welfare of the airline irrespective of proclamations to the contrary; Shorten and his cohorts might think themselves clever for devising a potential roadblock for the government, but should Qantas fail at any point, the ALP will wear the blame for it.
For a party that likes to accuse the Liberals of acting on “thought bubbles,” the criticism from the ALP that the Abbott government has “spent three months dithering” in relation to what to do about Qantas — and its request for some form of assistance — is a curious one indeed.
Perhaps Labor would have preferred the government to run off, half-cocked, on the first lame-brained tangent it came up with; then again, had Abbott done precisely that, ALP voices would be heard in thunderous unison screaming of recklessness and a dangerous unsuitability to be trusted with the levers of governance in this country.
In other words — if you’re Tony Abbott — you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
It’s a telling point, because stripping away Labor’s response to the solution the Coalition will try to legislate in an attempt to tool Qantas up to sort itself out, the ALP position amounts to nothing more than a blatant attempt to shore up the bailiwick of its union mates.
It has nothing to do with concern for Qantas: in fact, if Labor had its way, Qantas would collapse.
For those not across the detail of what the Coalition is proposing to do on the question of the difficulties Qantas faces, the short version is: no renationalisation (the Liberals are correct to maintain governments shouldn’t own and/or operate airlines), no debt guarantee (the argument that Virgin, Rex, and indeed any other company in trouble could legitimately make similar claims of the taxpayer is a valid one), and no taking the “easy option” of doing nothing.
Rather, the government will attempt to repeal the section of the Qantas Sale Act that places restrictions around the level of foreign ownership it can take on, alongside reforms that will mandate the retention of Qantas International in majority Australian ownership but allow Qantas Domestic to be as foreign-owned as the market will support: subject to regulatory approvals and the approval of the Foreign Investment Review Board.
In other words, removing the barriers to Qantas being able to operate on exactly the same basis as Virgin does, with its 77% foreign-owned domestic operations the conduit for some $350 million in capital raising it undertook last year — money which, by the way, came from the three state-owned airlines that also own Virgin domestic.
I would have thought this was a fair enough outcome, and a middle path through the options that were on the table that should have been broadly acceptable to all of the stakeholders involved.
Not so, of course, if you’re the ALP.
It seems to matter not that until yesterday, Labor had been making conscientious-style noises — replete with furrowed brows and anxious expressions — about “working with” the government to find “a compromise” over revising the allowable foreign ownership levels for Qantas; confronted with a solid option by the government the ALP has simply reverted to type in attacking it.
Let’s have a look at the latest drivel from Labor over Qantas, and get to the bottom of its objections.
“How on earth do you free an airline by selling it off overseas, by sacking people?” Shorten asks rhetorically, as if drawing attention to some deep and underlying stupidity he is bent on exposing.
Well…at the risk of throwing fuel on Labor’s “slashing pay and conditions” bonfire, allowing Qantas to send some maintenance work to internationally-accredited facilities in other countries might allow it to recoup some of the money its union-orchestrated enterprise bargaining agreements have inflicted on it.
“We say that when it comes to Australian jobs and Qantas’ need to engage a majority of its activity right here in Australia (the Qantas Sale Act is) worthy of support. (It’s) there for a reason,” fumed deputy Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
Whatever the rationale of the Keating government for putting the Qantas Sale Act in place back in 1995, it’s fairly clear Labor’s stout defence of it starts and finishes at its concern to keep union members on the sloshing gravy train they have enjoyed — jeopardising Qantas’ very viability — for far too long.
Shorten — in rationalising Labor’s intention to block the changes to the Qantas Sale Act in the Senate — pompously asserts there is “no way” Labor would be a party to finishing off jobs and aviation in Australia. Yet if the ALP persists with its approach, it is likely to facilitate precisely that.
It all boils down to three inescapable truths, none of which serve Qantas, most of its workers, or the national interest.
1. The only jobs Labor is interested in protecting are union jobs.
2. Labor would prefer an extinct Qantas than one with a long-term future involving a higher proportion of foreign ownership and some of its maintenance done offshore to help it compete internationally.
3. Labor is so blinded by trying to stick its thumbs in Tony Abbott’s eyes that it is incapable of engaging in reasoned and intelligent public debate.
Four, I might add, is the elevation of the union movement above — literally — every other consideration of governance, or aspect of Australian society: expect this theme to be a developing one in the Coalition’s assault against Labor as its term in office progresses; the more this lesson is served up to Labor on the platter of electoral oblivion, the more determined it is to ignore it.
At some point, Labor is going to have to accept the fact that its union buddies have priced their members out of the markets in which they are employed. There is a reason SPC is at risk of collapse as cheap fruit, of comparable quality, can be sourced from places like South Africa for a fraction of the cost SPC produces it for. There is a reason why the car makers are leaving Australia, and it has nothing to do with Tony Abbott: at US $3,900 per car dearer for the likes of Holden and Toyota to make cars in Australia instead of somewhere else — incidentally, the labour cost differential — it was inevitable they would decide to do so, no matter how much protectionist subsidy money were to be thrown at them.
And there is a reason airlines like Emirates and China Southern are expanding at an exponential rate while Qantas is shrinking and haemorrhaging money: the foreigners cost less to run, pure and simple. Like it or not, having licensed aircraft engineers running around earning $180,000 per annum each simply isn’t sustainable — and specious arguments built around “oh, but the base rate is a quarter of that” don’t cut it; if the aeroplane mechanic is being paid $3,550 per week, that’s his cost to Qantas. The so-called “base rate” is an irrelevant red herring, although of course it is — it’s meant to be. The unions have to have something to hang their claims of impoverished members on.
This country needs to be operated for the sole benefit of the trade union movement like it needs the proverbial hole in the head. This latest posturing around Qantas is proof of it.
It does need to be reiterated that until the government announced its proposed changes to the Qantas Sale Act, Labor was making noises about supporting changes to allowable foreign ownership thresholds for Qantas; viewed through that prism, the game — hot air and bullshit to mask its real position of subservience to the unions — is laid bare.
And all the while, Labor’s political objective — to render Australia ungovernable under the Coalition — may appear, on the surface, to be progressing better than it did than the last time Labor tried this stuff in the wake of its defeat in 1996.
This time, however, the fallout is far more likely to boomerang on Labor; any double dissolution election fought on the Coalition’s inability to get anything other than a continuation of Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government policies past the Senate is likely to be lost very badly indeed by the ALP.
As for Clive Palmer — with his eponymous party designed more to cause trouble than to present serious, plausible solutions — it is difficult to believe his opposition amounts to anything other than yet another attempt to “stick it to” the Coalition parties, having flounced out of the Queensland LNP unable to extract what he wanted from it in government.
Palmer, whose position on Qantas is indistinguishable from Labor’s, would do well to remember that with the exception of his electorate of Fairfax (where most of his primary vote was drawn from Labor and the Greens) his party is dependent everywhere else on support siphoned away from the Coalition under the guise of presenting a conservative alternative to the major parties.
No reputable opinion poll has found a groundswell of support for a renationalisation of Qantas, a government guarantee of its debt or simply leaving it to its own devices to see whether it…erm…sinks or swims.
It follows, therefore, that the course of action outlined by Abbott is the only option consistent with public opinion on this issue, and Palmer — like Labor — may end up paying a heavy political price for what is little more than a stunt, but a dangerous one indeed when the long-term viability and survival of Qantas is at stake.
Just like his unlikely bedfellows at the ALP, Palmer and his troublemaking party should get over themselves.