Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Economics Committee; Reference
I will be very brief because I want this to come to a vote and we have just five minutes left. Isn’t it remarkable that not one National Party senator contributed to this debate? In fact, there are none in the chamber. The Minister for Human Services, Senator Ian Campbell, came in and dismissed this motion to refer the matter, the sell-off of Qantas, to the Senate economics committee with the words: ‘It’s populist and a waste of time.’ Has there ever been a better example of the arrogance of the Howard government, now that it has control of both houses of this parliament, than it using this Senate as a rubber stamp to block a short, sharp and public inquiry into the sale of a national icon, with 38,000 employees’ futures at stake, air safety at stake, the tourism industry at stake, regional air services at stake and, internationally, Qantas’s great name as an Australian talisman at stake as well?
What do we have? We have a consortium called Airline Partners Australia, based essentially in Texas, with a record that very much needs to be put under public scrutiny, about to take over this company. There are many people in the Australian community—I saw one poll showing that 80 per cent of Australians are against it—indicating that they do not want this to happen. Why not? Because this company wants to turn Qantas, with its marvellous record, into a milking cow. They will rough it up. They will cut it back. They will make millions out of it. And the government says: ‘Well, the public can be as concerned as they like about it—the Australian people can be worried about this and the 38,000 employees can be worried about this—but we’ll block an inquiry which doesn’t have the power to alter things.’ It is an inquiry that would not have the power to alter things but that would at least give us transparency into this company: who they are, who’s behind it, who’s going to make money. Macquarie Bank is going to make $100 million simply from its job in the middle. And the government says, ‘We’ll keep that all under the carpet.’
It is an affront to the Senate and it is an affront to the people of Australia that the government is going to vote down an inquiry—not a decision-making process but an information-taking process. The government has put the blinkers on and has shut the public out. What a rotten way to treat the people of Australia, Qantas and Qantas’s 38,000 employees. This government has lost touch with the people of Australia. It will come to rue the day that it took this attitude. ‘A waste of time,’ says the minister. What an affront to the people of Australia, who are concerned and who want information about the potential sale of Qantas.
I have moved this motion as amended and put it to the Senate so that those members opposite can show to what extent they are going to allow the Australian public and the good offices of this Senate to be sold out here tonight.
That the motion (Senator Bob Brown’s) be agreed to.