Gillard Refused To Answer The Call That Could Have Kept QANTAS Flying

Posted on Mon 10/31/2011 by


Andrew BoltBy Andrew Bolt

This suggests Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard failed a critical test:

QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce would have abandoned his decision to ground the airline had Prime Minister Julia Gillard returned his call and promised to intervene directly in the union standoff.
Qantas sources confirmed yesterday Mr Joyce waited until five minutes before his decision to ground the fleet to hear from Ms Gillard, after attempting to contact her three hours earlier. It is understood that all it would have taken for Qantas to cancel the grounding was for Ms Gillard to declare all future industrial action illegal.

Sources said Qantas group executive Olivia Wirth called Ms Gillard’s chief of staff at 2pm on Saturday and told him that Mr Joyce was standing by to talk to the Prime Minister…

Ms Gillard would then have had three hours to declare industrial action illegal, a move that would have resulted in Mr Joyce keeping Qantas flying.

But not only did Ms Gillard not take Mr Joyce’s call, she did not return it and still had not spoken to him as of yesterday afternoon.

“We just wanted to force it to a head,” a Qantas source said. “Everything would be fine right now if the PM made a declaration.”

Simon Benson sums up the political bungling:

A MINDLESS chimp could have foreseen where the Qantas dispute was headed. Apparently not the Gillard government.

Despite repeated warnings that the current industrial action against the national flagship was unsustainable, three cabinet ministers yesterday feigned shock and horror when CEO Alan Joyce grounded the airline.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that the government is so incompetent that it could not understand the crisis that was unfolding, or it has been less than forthcoming about what it was trying to negotiate behind the scenes…

To be fair to Gillard, this was not her fault. On this, Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese may have some explaining to do to their cabinet colleagues as to why they did not immediately terminate the dispute, when told at 2pm on Saturday by Alan Joyce that in three hours they would have to ground the fleet… A termination from the minister would have ended the dispute immediately and Qantas would still be flying.

Even Peter Hartcher, albeit a favored Kevin Rudd source, is scathing of Gillard’s failure to terminate the dispute herself:

By allowing a shutdown, the government condoned social, business, economic and reputational damage on a national scale. It was a strategic partial isolation of an island continent. And it was quite unnecessary. Gillard should have demanded an immediate ministerial order directing the end of industrial action by the unions and the company. This would have kept the fleet flying. Fair Work Australia could have dealt with the dispute without damage to the national interest in the meantime.

Gillard, who was an industrial lawyer before entering Parliament and who crafted the existing Fair Work laws, is continuing to see the matter through the lens of an industrial law practitioner. This is wrong. She needs to see it not through the lens of her former positions but her present one – Prime Minister.


Gillard denies she refused to return the call. Joyce this morning says the story that he was waiting for Gillard to call back is a complete “misreporting” of the situation.


Joyce did ring Gillard’s chief of staff, Ben Hubbard, before the grounding, even though he now adds he had “no expectation” she would ring him back. But why didn’t Gillard ring back anyway, or immediately terminate the industrial action on both sides?

 Ms Gillard rejected suggestions the government could have taken matters into its own hands earlier by using a section of the Fair Work Act.

That course of action would have created a legal precedent because it had never been used in Australia’s history, she said.

If we had tried to use it, we would have ended up in a world of legal uncertainty with the prospect of court action.”…

The Prime Minister also defended her decision not to contact Mr Joyce personally after he informed Transport Minister Anthony Albanese of the planned grounding on Saturday.

She said Mr Joyce had told the minister the decision was “not up for discussion”.

“What I did was immediately act to take the application to Fair Work Australia … that was the best thing I could do.”..

Mr Joyce said the airline had warned the Government 10 days ago the dispute was approaching a critical point.

That excuse of Gillard’s involves a misleading statement and a nonsense.

First, when Gillard says never in our history has a government used the Fair Work provision to terminate the industrial standoff, she’s actually talking about a law just two years old.

Second, she herself drafted that section 431 of the Act that would have allowed her to terminate an industrial action she deemed to “threatened … to cause significant damage to the Australian economy or an important part of it”.

If that section could not be applied with any certainty even to this dispute, what good is it? Who drafted such an unreliable weapon? Or is this simply just a case of Gillard not having the guts to use even the laws she’d personally designed?


Joyce may not have had an “expectation” that Gillard would call him before his 5pm deadline, but I suspect most Australians very much would have:

Qantas spokeswoman Olivia Wirth said Mr Joyce made no request to speak to Ms Gillard on Saturday before he announced he was grounding the fleet…

‘’He spoke to Ministers Albanese, Ferguson and Evans and indicated that he was available to talk to the Prime Minister but recognised that it would be difficult due to CHOGM,’’ she said.

It was reported this morning that Mr Joyce waited until five minutes before his decision to ground the fleet to hear from the Prime Minister, after attempting to call her three hours earlier.

Ms Wirth said she spoke to Ms Gillard’s chief of staff Ben Hubbard to inform him what was happening, and to let him know Mr Joyce had spoken to the three senior ministers.

And then said we’re around and available. So no request,’’ she said.

I think a Bob Hawke or Paul Keating would have got on that phone pronto. But Gillard just sat on and on in a meaningless CHOGM conference. She preferred the Commonwealth to common sense, and proved she can’t stop the boats, but can stop the planes.


I’d take the word of Joyce over the monumentally inept Gillard Government on any day, but especially this one:

QANTAS chief Alan Joyce says he repeatedly warned senior government ministers that the airline could be grounded if industrial action by unions was not put to an end.

Mr Joyce said his move on Saturday to halt all domestic and international flights “was not a surprise to anybody”, and was necessary to prevent further deterioration of the airline.

“We had briefings with ministers, with the department. We told them how our operation was deteriorating and that reliability was collapsing,” Mr Joyce told ABC radio.

“I said on multiple occasions we could get to a stage where we would have to ground the airline. That’s how bad this was and that was made very clear.”

But Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said the government was surprised by the dramatic escalation of the long-running dispute….

Julia Gillard labelled the Qantas move “extreme”, saying she only became aware of the airline’s intention to ground all flights after phone call at 2pm on Saturday to Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese.

The Government’s presiding adult, former ACTU president Martin Ferguson, knew nearly three weeks ago that the Government might have to act:

FAIR Work Australia could move to end the industrial dispute at Qantas if it threatens to economically harm the tourism industry or if it looks set to be prolonged.

The airline said today it would ground five of its aircraft and cancel up to 100 domestic flights a week because of the impact of ongoing industrial action.

Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson, following an address to a tourism industry conference in Canberra, said the sector’s patience was running out with the unions.

“The sooner the parties get in a room and sort it out the better,’’ he told reporters.

If they don’t, the government could require the parties to resolve their issues under the umbrella of the Fair Work Act.

Why didn’t the rest of the Government share Ferguson’s concern back then – and act on it?  Why does Gillard now claim such surprise?


Transport Minister Anthony Albanese says at 1:15pm today that he’d rung Joyce an hour earlier to confirm that Joyce had never before Saturday warned he would lock out the Qantas staff. Albanese does confirm that Joyce had, however, warned before that the Qantas aircraft could be “grounded”. It seems a semantic difference.

Andrew Bolt is a journalist and columnist writing for The Herald Sun in Melbourne Victoria Australia.

Andrew Bolt’s columns appear in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Adelaide’s Advertiser. He runs the most-read political blog in Australia and hosts Channel 10’s The Bolt Report each Sunday at 10am. He is also heard from Monday to Friday at 8am on the breakfast show of radio station MTR 1377, and his book  Still Not Sorry remains very widely read.

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