Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Julia WAS told she could stop the Qantas grounding -- but did nothing

She has been trying to deny it

JULIA Gillard's office and three senior ministers were told by Qantas management they had "options available" to avoid the fleet grounding and that CEO Alan Joyce was ready to talk to the PM.

A script for the phone calls confirms revelations in The Daily Telegraph that the government was told it had the opportunity to act but it would need to deliver certainty.

It was also stressed that Mr Joyce was available to speak to Ms Gillard, although she never called him until after the revelations yesterday morning.

Qantas government relations executive Olivia Wirth confirmed she spoke according to the script when she called the Prime Minister's chief of staff at 2.05pm on the day of the grounding.

The script was also used by Mr Joyce in calls with Transport Minister Anthony Albanese at 2pm, followed by Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson and Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans.

All were told: "We recognise the government has a range of options available to you, however we need to make it clear that we will not, and cannot put planes back in the air until these issues are resolved and we have certainty."

This was considered an unmissable suggestion to the PM and ministers that they should ban further action. Ms Wirth confirmed to The Daily Telegraph last night that was "the way you get certainty. No more action".

The PM's chief of staff was also told to let Ms Gillard know: "Alan is available to discuss further details. Alan's here if you want to chat to him." But Ms Gillard did not take this as a request to call Mr Joyce, nor did she have the government declare the strike action illegal, which has stunned many inside Qantas.

Her spokesman yesterday denied the government was given the option to avoid the mass grounding. "The government was presented with the grounding of the planes as a fait accompli," he said.

But Ms Wirth confirmed that the script had been used in all phone calls.

Instead the PM referred the matter to the industrial court Fair Work Australia. By the time the full bench made the same order tens of thousands of passengers had already been left stranded or otherwise disrupted.

In a fiery question time yesterday the Opposition hammered Ms Gillard and her ministers on their handling of the issue. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wanted to know what the government had done in the three hours between 2pm and 5pm Saturday when the grounding took effect.

His deputy Julie Bishop wanted to know why the prime minister had not spoken personally to Mr Joyce in a bid to circumvent the grounding.

Backbenchers lined up to ask ministers how the government's decision to refer the dispute to Fair Work Australia was good for the nation, the economy, the tourism sector and the travelling public.

Ms Gillard defended the government's decision not to take matters into its own hands. She accused the opposition of "peddling a falsehood" by claiming the government merely had to sign a piece of paper to end industrial action because it was in the nation's interest. "Peddling of that falsehood should stop here and it should stop now," she said.

Meanwhile, Qantas passengers are heading back to the airline's terminals across Australia, with international services expected to return to normal by the afternoon.

All domestic services for today are scheduled as normal, with all international flights expected to return to business as usual by late today, Qantas said.


Qantas workers must face global facts of life

In all the commentary on the Qantas dispute, perhaps the most salient point was raised by journalist Claire Harvey. She was on the Meet the Press panel on Channel Ten, where the principal guest was the Workplace Relations Minister, Senator Chris Evans. Discussion soon turned to the issue of job security.

There are numerous disputes between several trade unions and Qantas management over a range of issues. However, the gist of the various disagreements turns on the assertion by Qantas's management of its right to manage and the demand by trade union leaders that their members should enjoy job security.

This is an unusual industrial dispute in that pay is not the principal driver.

About halfway through the interview, Harvey asked the telling question: "How can any private company guarantee job security into the future? Isn't that an impossibility?" To which Senator Evans replied: "Look, I think that's right. I think Qantas are saying that they're under commercial pressure to change their business."

Evans went on to refine his answer. He declared that "the 30,000-odd employees of Qantas have a right to pursue their job security". The minister added that "those clashing objectives . . . have to be resolved by either negotiation or before Fair Work Australia".

The problem with the second half of Evans's answer is that it completely contradicted the initial response.

The fact is that, in an increasingly globalised world, it is impossible for a private company, such as Qantas, to guarantee job security. Only the public sector - where employment is funded by the taxpayer - can deliver permanency in employment.

Qantas is an international airline competing on the world markets in an industry that historically returns small profits on funds invested. It cannot guarantee jobs without inhibiting its business operations.

Trade unions - representing pilots, engineers or baggage handlers - cannot prevail in the face of this economic fact of life. Nor can tribunals such as Fair Work Australia.

If the Qantas dispute is not settled by negotiation between the parties and it goes to arbitration, Fair Work Australia cannot guarantee job security.

It's possible that Fair Work Australia's tribunal, which is comprised primarily of former barristers and one-time trade union officials, might direct Qantas to preserve jobs in Australia. However, it cannot deliver on such a ruling since no tribunal can stop any business from scaling back on employment or going out of business due to its inability to compete on world markets.

On ABC TV news on Friday, the serial shareholder media tart Jack Tilburn got prime coverage when he declared outside the Qantas annual general meeting: "The workers aren't getting proper salaries and wages and conditions. They're being strangled, they're being bulldozed, they're being knocked over."

Tilburn ended up talking of himself in the third person when he said about Qantas: "It's a board of dictators, says Jack Tilburn, not a board of directors."

The fact is that Qantas pilots, engineers and baggage handlers enjoy some of the best pay and conditions in the international airline industry.

And that is precisely why Qantas management cannot guarantee that all future employees in all Qantas businesses can be remunerated at similar rates.

Journalists and editors should know this better than anyone. There is no job security in the Australian media industry - outside the taxpayer-funded ABC. Likewise, there is no job security in financial services or retail or agriculture or construction or even mining. No private industry that competes in the marketplace can guarantee job security.

However well-meaning, governments cannot prevail against markets.

It is not surprising that the Gillard government's decision to re-regulate the labour market under the Fair Work Act has been accompanied by an increase in unemployment and part-time and casual employment.

The Herald's economics correspondent, Peter Martin, in his analysis of the recent Bureau of Statistics figures commented that "Australia has created so few jobs in the past three months that at the present rate it would take a quarter of a century to reach the 500,000 promised in the federal budget".

In April, Julia Gillard delivered a significant speech to The Sydney Institute on the dignity of work. Her message was that it was in the interests of all Australians that the long-term unemployed should find jobs. Good point. The problem with the Prime Minister's address was that it focused on only one side of the problem.

Sure, the unemployed should be encouraged to work. But who is going to give them a job, particularly full-time employment?

Here the unfair dismissal laws provide a real disincentive for small business operators to give a long-term welfare recipient a job. Why should anyone take such a risk if the government makes it harder to terminate employees for poor performance? Fine sentiments do not make, or retain, a job.


Media censorship on the agenda again

NEWSPAPERS and magazines could be fined up to $30,000 for "exceptionally grave" or persistent breaches of media standards.

In a submission to Julia Gillard's media inquiry, the Press Council has also raised the prospect of securing government funding to expand its coverage to online news and "blog" websites.

And it suggests newspapers could be censured or reprimanded "where appropriate" under sanctions to boost public confidence in the media.

The Press Council part-funded by News Limited has fired the opening shots in the Government's media inquiry with a series of options to beef-up public sanctions against sloppy journalism.

These include a new panel, headed by a retired judge, with the power to impose fines against newspapers or magazines of up to $30,000.

In a letter to the media inquiry, chair Julian Disney said the Press Council was "currently considering" such a process but also raised concerns it could become "legalistic and time-consuming".

The first trickle of submissions were published yesterday by the media inquiry which was established by the Gillard Government following pressure from the Greens.

Retired Federal Court judge Ray Finklestein has been asked to report back to Government by February, including on the effectiveness of the Press Council considered a "toothless tiger" by its critics.

Mr Disney, who is overseas and could not be contacted last night, has put forward a number of options to beef-up the body and expand its coverage over emerging online media.

Raising the issue of government funding will be controversial. Mr Disney has suggested it as an option "to help expand membership amongst online publishers".

But he added it was "essential" funding from government or external sources was given without "conditions".


Green capitalists hijack carbon agenda

by Gary Johns

THERE was a time when capitalists were capitalists. Now, half the bastards parade as greens making money from green ideology. The other half have given up in the face of environmentalism.

The combination of corporate rent-seeking and capitulation makes the world more vulnerable to mishap. No wonder the gormless ferals "Occupying" city squares across the Western world are confused.

Green capitalism wants public corporations to behave not as shareholders and taxpayers wish but as green activists wish. Green activists and corporate people cosy up to regulators and governments, but especially the UN.

Corporations accept the activity as strategic, coping with political pressure for the nebulous desire for sustainability. Some corporations acquiesce, some make money.

There are crooks such as Enron and jokers such as BP (remember Beyond Petroleum?) who play the game. Others just attend conferences. But attending lends weight to stupidity and rent-seeking on a global scale.

These conferences become places where politicians grandstand. Remember Kevin at Copenhagen? A few days ago in Washington, DC, a group of chief executives, "major investors and bankers", together with former British prime minister Gordon Brown and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, called for a "far-reaching reform of the global financial system". The price of applause is taxpayer subsidies and preferential regulation.

These people helped the US and Europe live beyond their means. Now, under the banner of the UN Environment Program Finance Initiative Global Roundtable they want to direct good money into bad investments under the guise of sustainability.

This is the crowd that brought the massive waste of debt forgiveness, Make Poverty History and the Clean Development Mechanism. Brown has suggested a global tax to raise even more money for aid and the environment. Tell that to the Greeks and the Irish.

This is the crowd plotting the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro where even more promises will be made with money that does not exist. They want to "mobilise investment at scale by the banking and investment sectors into the clean energy sector, renewable energy, green buildings and retrofitting, clean vehicles and fuels". You will pay for this.

The farce is that even on its own terms, the combination of green activists, corporate capitulation and UN mischief-making moves the world further from the possibility of coping with issues such as climate change and poverty.

Take the example of nuclear power. Siemens built all of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors. In 2006 Siemens' president and chief executive Peter Loescher said: "In view of global climate change and the increasing power demand worldwide, for us nuclear energy remains an essential part of a sustainable energy mix. Nuclear energy, which is practically CO2-free, will gain in importance above all with a view to climate protection."

In September this year Loescher announced Siemens' withdrawal from the nuclear industry. The firm will no longer build nuclear power stations.

Although the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March pushed it across the line, it was the constant drip of ideology that broke the company's resolve. As Loescher said, it was the firm's answer to "the clear positioning of German society and politics for a pullout from nuclear energy".

Siemens' 17 nuclear reactors accounted for 23 per cent of German electricity production. A lot of solar panels and windmills are going to be built with taxpayers' subsidy to fill that gaping hole. Should the windmills come at the expense of the Greece bailout?

And our little green capitalists' tentacles reach from global to local. A recent press release screamed: "World's largest investors, worth $20 trillion, step up call for urgent policy action on climate change".' It was our friends at the UNEP Finance Initiative, in tandem with the likes of the local Investor Group on Climate Change.

IGCC is a green-capitalist crowd. It represents finance, including church and industry super funds. Being from finance, they seek rent rather than capitulate a la Siemens. IGCC wants to "encourage government policies and investment practices that address the risks and opportunities of climate change, for the ultimate benefit of superannuants and unit holders". You bet they do.

The Australian chief executive is Nathan Fabian, former adviser to Penny Wong in the opposition portfolio of corporate governance and responsibility. Fabian by name, Fabian by nature.

Are the Fabians telling investors that the Senate estimates statement by Treasury's Martin Parkinson on October 20, that "the cost impact of the carbon tax is very, very small", was based on an assumption there would be a global agreement on reductions of CO2 emissions?

Julia Gillard cannot achieve what the great Kevin Rudd could not. An agreement by developing countries attending the 17th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban next month to curb emissions will not be forthcoming.

Make sure you tell your members, Fabian.


1 comment:

Paul said...

"She has been trying to deny it"

Albanese, weasel that he is, denied it in the Parliament for her. Did he lie to the Australian Parliament?

Oh well. if Paul Lucas can be promoted after presiding over possibly the biggest (publicly acknowledged) financial management disaster in Queensland history, then I guess Labor people would have little compunction about lying and misleading a mere Parliament.