By JR on Tuesday, November 01, 2011
She has been trying to deny it
JULIA Gillard's office and three senior ministers were told by Qantas management they had "options available" to avoid the fleet grounding and that CEO Alan Joyce was ready to talk to the PM.
A script for the phone calls confirms revelations in The Daily Telegraph that the government was told it had the opportunity to act but it would need to deliver certainty.
It was also stressed that Mr Joyce was available to speak to Ms Gillard, although she never called him until after the revelations yesterday morning.
Qantas government relations executive Olivia Wirth confirmed she spoke according to the script when she called the Prime Minister's chief of staff at 2.05pm on the day of the grounding.
The script was also used by Mr Joyce in calls with Transport Minister Anthony Albanese at 2pm, followed by Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson and Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans.
All were told: "We recognise the government has a range of options available to you, however we need to make it clear that we will not, and cannot put planes back in the air until these issues are resolved and we have certainty."
This was considered an unmissable suggestion to the PM and ministers that they should ban further action. Ms Wirth confirmed to The Daily Telegraph last night that was "the way you get certainty. No more action".
The PM's chief of staff was also told to let Ms Gillard know: "Alan is available to discuss further details. Alan's here if you want to chat to him." But Ms Gillard did not take this as a request to call Mr Joyce, nor did she have the government declare the strike action illegal, which has stunned many inside Qantas.
Her spokesman yesterday denied the government was given the option to avoid the mass grounding. "The government was presented with the grounding of the planes as a fait accompli," he said.
But Ms Wirth confirmed that the script had been used in all phone calls.
Instead the PM referred the matter to the industrial court Fair Work Australia. By the time the full bench made the same order tens of thousands of passengers had already been left stranded or otherwise disrupted.
In a fiery question time yesterday the Opposition hammered Ms Gillard and her ministers on their handling of the issue. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wanted to know what the government had done in the three hours between 2pm and 5pm Saturday when the grounding took effect.
His deputy Julie Bishop wanted to know why the prime minister had not spoken personally to Mr Joyce in a bid to circumvent the grounding.
Backbenchers lined up to ask ministers how the government's decision to refer the dispute to Fair Work Australia was good for the nation, the economy, the tourism sector and the travelling public.
Ms Gillard defended the government's decision not to take matters into its own hands. She accused the opposition of "peddling a falsehood" by claiming the government merely had to sign a piece of paper to end industrial action because it was in the nation's interest. "Peddling of that falsehood should stop here and it should stop now," she said.
Meanwhile, Qantas passengers are heading back to the airline's terminals across Australia, with international services expected to return to normal by the afternoon.
All domestic services for today are scheduled as normal, with all international flights expected to return to business as usual by late today, Qantas said.