Monday, October 31, 2011

More incompetent decision-making from Julia Gillard

QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce would have abandoned his decision to ground the airline had Prime Minister Julia Gillard returned his call and promised to intervene directly in the union standoff.

Qantas sources confirmed yesterday Mr Joyce waited until five minutes before his decision to ground the fleet to hear from Ms Gillard, after attempting to contact her three hours earlier.

It is understood that all it would have taken for Qantas to cancel the grounding was for Ms Gillard to declare all future industrial action illegal.

Sources said Qantas group executive Olivia Wirth called Ms Gillard's chief of staff at 2pm on Saturday and told him that Mr Joyce was standing by to talk to the Prime Minister.

Mr Joyce had intended to give Ms Gillard advance warning of his intention to announce that he was grounding the airline's entire fleet and leaving almost 70,000 passengers a day stranded.

Ms Gillard would then have had three hours to declare industrial action illegal, a move that would have resulted in Mr Joyce keeping Qantas flying.

But not only did Ms Gillard not take Mr Joyce's call, she did not return it and still had not spoken to him as of yesterday afternoon.

"We just wanted to force it to a head," a Qantas source said. "Everything would be fine right now if the PM made a declaration."

Qantas management have been pilloried for the decision but it was considered to be the only way to force the Government to act.

Ms Gillard was in an executive session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and was not available by phone. She was however informed of Qantas's decision.

It has also been revealed that Mr Joyce went to the Marrickville electorate office of Transport Minister Anthony Albanese on Friday, October 21, to warn of the crisis looming. He opened the books to Mr Albanese to demonstrate the urgency of the company's financial position if the unions continued their industrial campaign.

Mr Joyce's office was then in almost twice-daily contact with senior ministers' offices providing updates until the annual general meeting last Friday.

With the engineers' union warning of extending their industrial action into next year, Mr Joyce called an meeting of executives to consider options for negotiating with the unions. On Saturday morning, Mr Joyce convened another meeting with key executives to discuss lock-out options and a risk assessment for grounding the airline.

At 10.30am the Qantas board gave unanimous approval for his plan to give 72 hours notice of a lock-out of striking unions and to ground the airline at 5pm.

At 2pm Mr Joyce called Mr Albanese, followed by Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson and Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans. Mr Albanese was reported to have told Mr Joyce the move was "aggressive".

At 3pm, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority was notified.

After the announcement Mr Albanese and Mr Evans, Ms Gillard and three other ministers called a crisis cabinet phone hook-up where it was decided that instead of calling an immediate termination of the dispute, as allowed under the Fair Work Act, a request for termination or suspension would be taken to Fair Work Australia.


Qantas costs are too high

At the very pointy end of those huge Qantas flagships, the Airbus A380s, the senior captain has a lot of training, experience and responsibility. He is also earning a lot of money - up to just under $540,000 a year - a healthy 40 per cent premium over Prime Minister Julia Gillard's $386,000 salary and allowances.

This is one reason why Qantas International is losing $200 million a year and will never, ever, make a profit again under its present cost structure. The international operations are being subsidised by the domestic carrier Jetstar, the frequent flyer program and freight operations.

Why bother keeping Qantas International going when it is no longer a viable business? The international airline is burdened by rigid, outdated industrial relations practices and imperial legacies it can no longer afford. It is not built to survive long-term.

I'm not going to defend the blunderbuss tactics deployed by management, but the big question - why should Qantas run a loss-making international operation indefinitely? - needs to be addressed by the long-haul pilots and their representatives at the Australian International Pilots Association.

This question also needs to be addressed by Tony Sheldon, one of the architects of the union strategy of bleeding Qantas into submission with erratic work stoppages spread over months. Sheldon is national secretary of the Transport Workers Union and, as pointed out a week ago, is running for the presidency of the Labor Party.

It says a great deal that Sheldon thinks bringing the national flag-carrier to its knees is a credential he can use to become president of the ALP. This is not a cynical observation given the numerous deals made by a union-dominated federal government.

The context for the Qantas dispute is the Gillard government's transformation of industrial relations. Passing the Fair Work Act 2009 and setting up Fair Work Australia to replace the Industrial Relations Commission has re-empowered the unions. As well, of the 11 Fair Work Australia commissioners appointed by the Gillard government, nine are former union officials or union advocates. The other two are career bureaucrats.

Another big problem for Qantas is its main competitor, Virgin. A myth has developed that Virgin is a low-cost carrier and less unionised. Not true. It is just as unionised, but has more flexible workplace practices. The real gap between the carriers is international services, where Qantas is vastly bigger and has heavier costs.

Virgin's domestic pilots are paid only 4 per cent less than Qantas pilots. Its ground staff are paid only $1 an hour less than Qantas staff. Virgin has made job-security agreements Qantas is refusing to grant its workers. Virgin even pays its engineers more than Qantas does. It is committed to building a heavy maintenance centre in Australia. It has been around for only 11 years and is very much an underdog.

Without having access to the internal workings of this Qantas dispute, there had to be a more subtle way for Qantas management to end the intolerable process of attrition by the unions. The more prudent play would appear to have been to allow the operational losses to build until the unions appeared reckless and deviant and the government complicit.


Afghan soldiers disarmed after shooting diggers

HUNDREDS of Afghan army soldiers have been disarmed after a "rogue" comrade went on the rampage. Two of the three Diggers killed died instantly; the third was pronounced dead on being flown to a field hospital at Tarin Kowt. It is believed that because they were inside the base, in Kandahar province, they were not wearing helmets or body armour.

A critically wounded Digger will be flown to Germany for treatment.

Diggers reacted with anger and dismay at the second killing by an Afghan soldier of their Australian comrades: on May 31, army cook Lance-Corporal Andrew Jones was killed in the Chora Valley.

"This is it for me - I'm done," one soldier said. "We are over here risking our lives to help them (the Afghans)."

Families of the dead men yesterday declined to release names and photographs, because some relatives had not yet been notified.

The Afghan commander at the base, Brig Mohammed Zafar Khan, disarmed all 200 ANA soldiers there and confined them to barracks.

Mentoring Task Force 3 commander Lt-Col Chris Smith urged his soldiers not to let one ANA soldier's act detract from the mission.

"They will deal with a whole range of demons. They will struggle to trust them, they will lose confidence as a consequence of this," he said. "But I appeal to their sense of duty that at the end of the day the only true way to honour the memory of the three who died is to get back out as soon as possible and do the very job they died doing."

Australian Defence Force Chief David Hurley said: "It is difficult to find the words to express our profound sorrow and sense of loss at this time." He said it was too early to speculate. "Let's not jump to conclusions here.".


Darwin named among the world's best cities to visit in 2012 in Lonely Planet list

This is not as odd as it sounds. About 20 years ago, an American tourist was taken and eaten by a croc near Darwin. The result was an upsurge in American tourist arrivals. Excitement even of a dangerous kind is a valued commodity

DARWIN has been named as one of the best cities in the world to visit in 2012 by Lonely Planet.

Famous for its monster crocodiles, the Northern Territory capital has a lot more to offer, the travel guide says.

Darwin wasn’t the only surprise entry on the list. While London came in at number one, other lesser-known cities such as Muscat in Oman, Bengaluru in India, Cadiz in Spain and Guimaraes in Portugal also made the cut.

Described as “multicultural, free-wheeling and vibrant”, Darwin received a glowing review.

"With a pumping nocturnal scene, magical markets and restaurants, and world-class wilderness areas just down the road, today Darwin is the triumph of Australia's Top End," the book says. "It's now a hip city to visit rather than just the end of the road for lost souls."

Cities in the top ten list were chosen by Lonely Planet's in-house travel experts, based on topicality, excitement, value and that special X-factor.

Lonely Planet’s Charles Rawlings-Way, one of the authors of the book, admitted that Darwin was an unlikely entry. But he said that Darwin has a lot to offer.

“It is a bit of a surprise for Australians in particular to see Darwin shaping up as a vibrant tourist destination,” Mr Rawlings-Way said.

The city has had a major face-lift in recent times, growing from a town full of fisherman, hippies and “redneck truckers” to a very young and energetic city, he said.

“In the 80s and even 90s it was pretty grim up there and its appeal was limited. Cyclone Tracey levelled the place and taken long time for Darwin to rebuild from that," he said.

"Darwin is gathering pace, it's not somewhere Aussies think of going for a holiday but its position is really interesting in the world."

As well as the famous Mindil Beach Markets, Darwin is close to a host of national parks including Kakadu, and is the closest major Australian city to Asia.

While Lonely Planet recommends a trip to the waterfront precinct and buying indigenous art, it warns travellers about dorms without air-conditioning, monsoonal rain and “over-boozed backpackers”.

If you’re after a bizarre sight then check out the 5m-long, 780kg stuffed saltwater crocodile called Sweetheart” at the NT’s Museum & Art Gallery.

Visitor numbers to the Northern Territory have dropped in recent times, with figures showing tourist arrivals falling by 9.5 per cent during the 12 months to June 2011.

NT Tourism Minister Malarndirri McCarthy said she was pleasantly surprised to see Darwin on the list, but she wasn't surprised people were impressed by the incredible sunsets, the markets, the nature and the historical sites.

"It puts Darwin certainly on the map as one of the best cities," Ms McCarthy said.

Last year Lonely Planet created quite a stir by putting Newcastle in the list, urging travellers to check out its beaches, night-life and art. Sydney and Melbourne have never made the list before as they are "too dull".


1 comment:

Paul said...

Personally? I think Joyce made a correct if unpopular decision, as a well-paid Manager should. Watching the (mostly ABC) media frenzy over this everything is QANTAS this and QANTAS that, but I didn't hear the words "Transport Workers Union" or anything Union mentioned once. Everything is looking a bit 70s/80s on the Industrial relations front all over again just now, no doubt taking advantage of a distracted, compromised shell of a government. Where's John Kerr when you need him?