The Guardian November 7, 2001


Howard ducks Ansett

by Andrew Jackson

With the Federal election only days away, Mr Howard has made a last-ditch 
attempt to neutralise Ansett as an issue, passionately declaring to Ansett 
workers: "I care". Yet even as the words left his mouth, his legal 
representatives stood in court declaring the $10 ticket tax Mr Howard 
imposed to fund Ansett workers' entitlements does not belong to the 
workers, in fact that possibly "none will be passed on".

The revenue from the airline ticket tax belongs to Ansett employees, this 
was clearly set out in the legislation: "The purpose of the levy is to meet 
the cost of payments by the Commonwealth under the Special Employee 
Entitlements Scheme for Ansett group employees." (Section 7 of the "Air 
Passenger Ticket Levy Collection Act")

Last week, government legal representative Robin Brett, QC said in court: 
"It's wrong to assume that because it has been collected it will be passed 
on (to Ansett employees), it may be that none will be passed on."

Outside the court, Transport Minster, John Anderson directly contradicted 
this saying the levy would "only" be used for paying entitlements.

His position: "If the charge is we are somehow going to use it for general 
revenue...absolutely not, we can't, we won't."

In a press statement later that day he back-peddled, and was a little more 
vague about the destination of the funds: "if there was to be an excess 
levy collection, a proper use would be found for that money".

A proposition which sounds very much like "use it for general revenue"  
conveniently accruing for the government at the rate of $8 million a week.

On Monday Mr Howard attempted to shed light on the issue, stating that 
should they find they have "excess" funds: "we'll try and make some 
arrangements about refunding with a particular bias towards the tourist 
industry."

Again, sounding suspiciously like general revenue to be used for an 
undefined purpose.

Yet Mr Howard is upset, complaining an election dirty-tricks campaign is 
being waged against him on the issue.

"I can't understand, other than politics, why people should be running 
around calling in question our position on the workers' entitlements 
guarantee", he said with a straight face in a weekend television interview.

Martin Foley, of the Australian Services Union pointed out the farcical 
nature of Howard's "guarantee".

"The last three days we've had four different positions from the Howard 
Government", he said.

"We've had the real position put to the court, we've had one position by Mr 
Anderson, another by Mr Costello and we've got another today by Mr Howard.

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet warned that the Government's confusion over the 
issue was threatening all the hard work that had been put into securing a 
future for Ansett employees. 

He bluntly stated: "It is incredible and this could stuff the whole lot".

"Mr Howard is showing contempt for the life savings and the job security of 
thousands loyal and hard working Ansett employees by telling the Federal 
Court that the Government does not have to comply with its own tax 
legislation."

On Monday Mr Howard was once again repeating his Ansett election white-
wash: "The Federal Government has guaranteed the workers' entitlements."

Mr Howard has "never" guaranteed the full entitlements for Ansett 
employees, and from the outset the Government has peddled lies over the 
issue.

Employment Minister Tony Abbott, in his initial statement on Ansett 
entitlements declared the Government would ensure: "that employees wishing 
to resign remain eligible for all their entitlements, including severance 
benefits (pay in lieu of notice and redundancy)".

But further in the very same statement he says, "the Government will pay: 
up to eight weeks of redundancy pay, in line with the community standard".

This a far cry from the "all" he just promised.

Sacked Ansett workers with 20 years service are entitled to 90 weeks 
redundancy pay; with 30 years service  140 weeks pay.

So while Mr Howard pockets the "excess" proceeds of the $10 tax, some 
workers will remain cheated out of 132 weeks pay.

Collectively, this is estimated to be $200 million of hard-earned 
entitlements.

Through all this, Mr Howard still managed to turn on the election charm and 
claimed it is he, and not the unions, who care about the Ansett employees.

"This campaign of misrepresentation, deliberately designed by the ACTU on 
the eve of an election, to try and persuade all of the Ansett employees to 
vote Labor is really dishonest and it's not helping the interests of those 
people who I am concerned about, I care about them."

QANTAS

In a breath-taking display of hypocrisy, Qantas has accused the government 
of anti-competitive behaviour.

Having shored-up 90 per cent of the domestic travel market, and announcing 
1,000,000 discount seats in an effort to sink Ansett Mk II the very week it 
hit the skies, Qantas now claims that government subsidies for Ansett and 
Virgin Blue aimed at restoring lost services will provide them with an 
unfair advantage in the market.

"We now see government and prospective government of all persuasions 
subsidising and proposing other assistance to our domestic competitors", 
said Qantas Chief Executive Geoff Dixon.

"Using taxpayers' funds to prop up our rivals is the antithesis of what has 
been preached in Australia about competition in recent years.

"The national interest will not be served by limiting Qantas's chances of 
success."

While dozens of airlines around the world have slashed jobs and services or 
gone bankrupt, Qantas announced last week its intention to splash out up to 
$9.23 billion on 75 new Boeing aircraft.

And with a $600 million profit forecast, it says it will need to freeze 
wages and decimate working conditions of employees to remain competitive.

"It would be very nice, and very advantageous for Qantas going forward, if 
it could take a deep breath, have a wage freeze and then see what comes out 
of the industry", Mr Dixon said.

Another record profit, no doubt.

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