House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Employment

3:37 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | Hansard source

The Morrison government's approach to aviation has been nothing short of inconsistent, as we saw in question time today, and absolutely chaotic. What that means is that it is costing thousands of Australians their jobs and putting at risk our nation's future recovery from the crisis, because it relies on a strong, two-airline aviation sector. Our nation's aviation industry has been brought to its knees because of the necessary travel restrictions imposed by governments in Australia and around the world to limit the spread of COVID-19. The crisis is no fault of workers, and they need government assistance. Labor has taken a bipartisan approach throughout the crisis, but bipartisanship does not mean staying silent when we think the government has got it wrong. When it comes to aviation jobs, the government has got it very wrong. The government needs a comprehensive plan for aviation to ensure the best outcome for both the travelling public and the thousands of workers whose jobs depend on a vibrant aviation industry. But, instead of saving the jobs of thousands of Australian workers in need, the government has, frankly, taken its hands off the wheel. It's saying, 'It is not a problem for us; the market's going to sort all this out.'

The aviation sector plays a critical role in the life of every Australian. Forty-five thousand Australians work directly for airlines in Australia and hundreds of thousands more work in related industries, including aviation and tourism. For years, our strong airline industry, underpinned by two major players in Qantas and Virgin Australia, has delivered affordable services that regularly reach all Australians. The government is allowing that to collapse. Last month, the Morrison government preferred to let Virgin Australia fall into administration rather than offer them assistance. Virgin Australia were not asking for a handout; they weren't after a bailout. They were asking the government either to guarantee a line of credit or to take an equity stake in the airline. Their last ask, just before going into administration, was for $100 million. When you consider that 16,000 direct jobs are on the line, not including the many thousands of workers along the supply chain that depend on Virgin, that wasn't a huge amount to ask for.

When Rex faced similar difficulties, the Morrison government stepped up to secure their cash flow, saving a thousand jobs. We don't begrudge that at all—1,000 jobs are incredibly important. But we saw in question time that the Deputy Prime Minister—the Prime Minister was not prepared to answer the question—has been prepared to give $54 million in an untied grant, no strings attached to it, in order to assist Rex airlines. That is on top of the $13 million they've received in fee relief and route subsidisation to ensure that they survive. Yet when Virgin, responsible for 16,000 workers, needed help, the government preferred to sit back and say it's not their problem and let Virgin and their workers go to the wall. For 1,000 Rex workers the government were prepared to help, but they've told the 16,000 Virgin workers, 'Under this government, frankly, you are on your own.'

The workers at Virgin Australia need help to get them through the process of administration, and the government's failings will do long-term damage to our country, as will the government's denial of assistance to those so many dnata workers. Dnata's 5,500 workers provide crucial ground handling, charter handling, cargo and logistics, and catering services to our aviation sector. All of these workers have skills and security clearances that ensure our aviation industry is able to function. But the government is denying them access to the JobKeeper payment, costing them their jobs. These workers were only excluded because the government made changes to the regulations that would have made them eligible. The government took this decision based not on the workers but on the ownership structure of dnata itself, and the way in which it has done that is an absolute absurdity. These are Australian workers, they live in Australia, they pay tax in Australia and they're Australian citizens. Every cent of JobKeeper that went to these Australian workers would go to their families and their communities. Not a cent would go to the company they work for. JobKeeper is supposed to be about making sure Australian workers can keep that connection with their job and we can get them out of this crisis and straight back into work. The average worker has no say over the ownership structure of dnata. The government and the Treasurer need to fix this now for the 5,500 dnata workers and their families that are relying on the government to do so. (Time expired)

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