Aviation workers deserve our support

Published on Mon 19 October 2020 11:27am

There’s no doubt that aviation is facing some of the sharpest impacts of the present crisis, but whatever happens we cannot allow Australian aviation to be jeopardised. It’s essential to our social and economic wellbeing. That means we must have a clear plan for the survival and revival of Australian aviation, a clear plan that protects air services and protects the workers who deliver those services.

 Mr Wilson (11:27 am) — I’m very glad to support the member for Ballarat’s motion which recognises the critical contribution made by Australia’s aviation sector to our way of life as a nation of people who live on a distantly populated island continent and who in the past have relied on air travel to keep us connected with one another and connected to the rest of the world.

There’s no doubt that aviation is facing some of the sharpest impacts of the present crisis, but whatever happens we cannot allow Australian aviation to be jeopardised. It’s essential to our social and economic wellbeing. That means we must have a clear plan for the survival and revival of Australian aviation, a clear plan that protects air services and protects the workers who deliver those services. Unfortunately the plan to date has been far from clear and the government’s response has been patchy at best. It’s one of the paradoxes of the Liberal Party—very friendly with big business but just not good at managing big business issues. Our taxpayer money flows out, but it’s often not clear what we’re going to see for it. The job losses mount; somehow the executive bonuses continue. We see commitments made, but, as with the case of the new owners of Virgin Australia who did commit to maintaining the operation of a full-service airline, it’s not clear that those commitments will be kept and the government’s silent about whether they will hold multinational companies to their promises.

I want to acknowledge Labor’s shadow minister, the member for Ballarat, and my WA colleague in the other place Senator Sterle for their leadership in this area. I know their constructive suggestions and their unstinting advocacy in holding the government to account on this issue are important, especially for the thousands of workers who sustain this vital part of our transport capacity. As others have said, the industry directly employs 45,000 Australians and serves to connect our families and communities, it underpins our two most significant service exports in tourism and international education and it provides air freight capacity for some critical exports like chilled sheep carcasses into the Middle East and seafood into the Asia-Pacific region, both of which are very important to my home state of Western Australia.

It was utterly predictable—by everyone—from the outset that COVID-19 would smash aviation. It’s regrettable on that basis that the Morrison government appears to have reserved some of its shoddiest mismanagement for those parts of Australian life most affected by the pandemic—aged care, universities, the arts and creative sectors, and of course aviation. As a result, we’ve seen far too much uncertainty. It puts our carriers at risk, and it puts our future way of life at risk because Australia simply must have a healthy and competitive aviation sector.

For all the people who work in aviation it has been a disruptive and extraordinarily bleak time. I know a little bit about what that means because, like most members in this place, I’ve heard directly from pilots, cabin crew, engineers, airport staff and people in the freight and logistics part of the business. They’re all people who fear for their livelihoods. Many of them have suffered impacts already, and all of them suspect it’s going to remain difficult for some time to come.

It’s fortunate that in Western Australia the maintenance of the resources sector activity has meant a continuation of flights to support our fly-in fly-out workforce, which in turn is critical to Australia’s overall economic performance. It’s a shame more hasn’t been done by the Morrison government to support the return of stranded and vulnerable Australians.

I want to acknowledge the formidable Transport Workers Union for all their tireless work in speaking up for the aviation sector and in fighting for aviation workers. I particularly note the TWU’s resolve in defence of dnata workers—the men and women who provide crucial ground-handling, logistics and catering services. They are essential workers. They deserve much better than their collective experience to date.

I don’t know that there’s a worse example of mismanagement than the situation of dnata’s 5,500 Australian employees who were told in May that they would be excluded from JobKeeper payments because dnata is controlled by its parent company that is overseas. With a little bit of common sense this could have been fixed.

Despite the workers’ pleas and despite the union’s steady and sensible argument, the Morrison government remains deaf to all reason, which means that thousands of dnata workers are left in the lurch.

The aviation sector was at the front edge of the COVID-19 disaster and, all things considered, it will be among the last to fully recover. It needs to be in a position to resume its vital function as soon as possible to the maximum degree and to the highest standard of service. That will only be possible with careful support and stewardship from the government. So far we haven’t seen that. So far we have seen the reverse. What we have seen with aviation and other key sectors—the arts, universities and local government, among others—is the government’s hands-off, we-don’t-hold-a-hose type of approach. What does that do? That risks long-term damage. It will harm Australian workers and impact all of us.

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