Address to Parliament in support of the Aviation Industry

By David Smith MP

19 October 2020

Address to Parliament on the Private Members Business Motion supporting the Aviation Industry

That the House:
(1) recognises:
(a) the critical role that Australia's aviation sector plays in the lives of all Australians;
(b) that 45,000 Australians work directly for airlines in Australia and hundreds of thousands more in related industries including aviation and tourism; and
(c) that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on the aviation industry in Australia and around the world;
(2) notes the:
(a) Government's ad-hoc and piecemeal approach to Australia's aviation sector during the COVID-19 response, putting thousands of jobs at risk;
(b) Government's failure to take an equity stake in Virgin resulting in the company collapsing into voluntary administration, putting at risk the livelihoods of almost 16,000 workers; and
(c) inequitable treatment of the 5,500 workers of aviation support company dnata, who were told on 1 May 2020 that they would not be eligible for Jobkeeper payments; and
(3) calls on the Government to outline 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.


Mr DAVID SMITH (Bean) (11:22): I support the motion moved by my colleague the member for Ballarat, and I commend her for taking overdue leadership on this critical issue. I support every worker across this essential industry, particularly those laid off, on reduced hours or facing uncertainty about their future. I support the broader union movement—their members, delegates and organisers—who are fighting to secure a better future for their colleagues and our economy. I support those airline executives who actually endeavour to pay their staff properly, support regional tourism and provide a quality service to the people of Australia. And I support all those in related industries that have suffered the flow-on impacts of COVID-19 on the airline industry.

Australia's aviation sector exists in the lives of all Australians. The workers in this industry quite literally carry the nation. It is therefore imperative we have a vibrant and competitive airline industry and an airline for those in regional Australia. Our national capital has two competitive performing airlines, and we do not have another cut-price budget carrier as a replacement for a full-service airline. The airline industry is an essential plank in the make-up of our economy. In 2018 aviation had an estimated annual revenue of $46 billion, adding an estimated $18½ billion to the Australian economy. Significantly, over 45,000 Australians work directly for airlines in Australia, with more than 93,000 workers' livelihoods depending on the industry's five main subsectors.

Those in Canberra and in my electorate of Bean benefit greatly from the existence of competitive performing airlines operating in and out of the national capital. For the year ending December 2019 the ACT saw $2.5 billion contributed to the local economy through tourism. This is an economic boon that was flown in and out by our pilots, catered to by cabin crews and had belongings moved by baggage handlers. Furthermore, all this was done smoothly with the efforts of a plethora of other workers right across the industry. Further afield, the communities in our regions will rely upon more regional services with lower fares bringing in more tourists and visitors to these communities, which in turn creates vital jobs. Unfortunately, the impact of COVID coupled with the inaction of the Morrison government has seen service numbers and fares headed in the opposite direction, hitting our already struggling communities hard.

On 7 October, I was proud to stand alongside ACT and New South Wales colleagues in the rain with local members of the Transport Workers Union. Qantas has stood down these workers, many of whom had provided decades of loyal service. Dammingly, when the industry takes off once more, these workers face the very real threat of having their jobs outsourced to a third party or in some cases offshored. The unprecedented pandemic is being used as a shameful cover to change these dedicated workers' employment status. Labor, the unions and myself will stand with these men and women and fight for a reversal of this mean-spirited approach by Qantas management.

Above all, Australia needs leadership that will work with workers, pilots, baggage handlers, avionics technicians, air traffic controllers and the multitude of others who rely upon this industry, but unfortunately, when leadership was needed most, this government vanished. The Morrison government rejected eight letters from Virgin asking for assistance. They preferred the airline fall into administration rather than take action to protect routes and jobs. This cannot be characterised as anything less than a betrayal of these workers. Conversely, the government decided to support the majority foreign owned airline REX with $54 million in untied funding, allowing them to quickly move from fighting for survival to announcing entry into the east coast markets. This ad hoc approach only serves to exacerbate uncertainty and worry across the industry, and yet this is simply a hallmark of the Morrison government. We know that Virgin received mixed signals from those around the cabinet table regarding potential support for the airline. In truth, it's just been the picking of winners and losers. This government picked 16,000 workers to lose, and they still can't answer why. This government's chronic undervaluing of our commercial airlines hardly comes as a surprise. After all, who needs a commercial flight when you can simply bill the taxpayer for a private jet to the Melbourne Cup.

Right now, what we need is a comprehensive plan for aviation. We need certainty and the best possible outcome for both the travelling public and the thousands of workers whose jobs depend on a robust and vibrant aviation industry. I commend this motion.