Transcript of Interview, 2GB with Ross Greenwood



16 July 2014

Qantas Sale Act, Foreign Nationals in Syria

Ross Greenwood: I want to go to another issue that's very important now, because as you may be aware, going through parliament, all these bills—the budget bills, a range of different things—there's also been one in regards to Qantas. Now, the thing is, in regards to Qantas, as you are aware, the Government was seeking to try and raise foreign investment caps and also, in many ways, wanted to see them removed completely. Now what's happened is that the Government has effectively agreed to allow Qantas to remain Australian owned. There's a new deal that will get the airline's Sale Act through the Senate, but under the deal our foreign ownership limits for individuals and foreign airlines will be limited to 49 per cent.

I know that he will have been busy in the recent days. Let's now go to the Leader of the Nationals, the Minister for Infrastructure, Regional Development and Transport, most importantly, and that is Warren Truss. He's on the line right now. Many thanks for your time, Warren.

Warren Truss: Good afternoon.

Ross Greenwood: So can you explain this with Qantas? What have you managed to get through? It's not obviously what you really would have hoped or planned to have got through the Senate, but do you believe it's a reasonable compromise?

Warren Truss: Well, it hasn't yet been voted on in the Senate, but certainly I'm optimistic that there will be some movement. The Government passed legislation through the House of Representatives quite some time ago with the objective of removing part three from the Qantas Sale Act. The Qantas Sale—part three is the section of the act which places a number of restrictions on the operation of Qantas which don't apply to other airlines. We've proposed instead that the Air Navigation Act apply to Qantas as it does to all other airlines. So as a result, then Qantas would have had a level playing field with other airlines operating in Australia.

Now, it is clear that that legislation won't pass the Senate. I'm concerned about speculation about Qantas's results, which are due to be announced fairly soon. Qantas supported the Government's legislation, but in reality they need more flexibility to be able to make sure that they can trade profitably, can get their airline working successfully again, they want more flexibility and the capacity to go into the market to get new investors and new capital. What's proposed now is to remove one section of part three, that is the section that limits individual foreign shareholders to 25 per cent of the total value of the share capital, and airlines, between them, to a total of 35 per cent of the total value.

So that will mean an individual shareholder could, whether it be an airline or a private individual, could own up to 49 per cent of Qantas.

Ross Greenwood: So in other words, they could, in all but name, say that they controlled Qantas, because if you have 49 per cent of the airline, it's highly likely that you'll have the majority of the board seats, or at least be able to exert some executive control over that airline.

Warren Truss: Yes. Well, certainly you'll be the dominant shareholder if you've got something like 49 per cent, but the remainder of the Qantas Sale Act remains in place. In other words, there will still have to be two thirds of the directors who would be Australian citizens, the board would have to be in Australia, the chairman has to be an Australian citizen, the majority of Qantas's activities have to occur in Australia. So there's a clear stamp of Australianism on it. Now, if they were merely subject to the Air Navigation Act, these same sorts of rules would apply to their international operations, but not to their domestic operations.

People like Virgin and others who use Australia's landing rights in other parts of the world do need to comply with the Air Navigation Act, which means that they've got to be 51 per cent Australian owned in their international operations.

Ross Greenwood: I think I understand that. I think that's exactly—so in other words it becomes a more level playing field. Can I take you to one other matter that is important, and obviously in your role as Deputy Prime Minister you'll be well across what was taking place with Senator George Brandis today, the Attorney-General, in regards to foreign nationals. As we heard from David Irvine today, the ASIO chief, some 60 Australians could be in Syria and he's worried that many of them, the vast majority I think he said, his quote was could be moving towards groups that are either controlled directly or indirectly by al-Qaeda.

He also indicated that there are tens of such people who may have re-entered Australia, indeed, there could be 150 Australians who are now under the observation of our security forces. There is also suggestion from George Brandis that there could be even some form of retrospective law that could be taken against these so-called Jihadists coming back into Australia. Where does the Government's position sit on that currently?

Warren Truss: Well, the Government is naturally concerned to protect our borders and that means from within and from without. It is a concern that there seems to be rising enthusiasm amongst some people from the extremist section of the Muslim faith. Now, that sort of thing is potentially a concern if people go and fight in Syria, become battle hardened. We don't want those sort of skills, for all of their evil, to be brought back into Australia.

So it is an issue of concern. Clearly, the Government is seeking to monitor the activities of people who are of concern and we have certain abilities to prevent some of those from coming back to Australia. But, of course, Australian citizens do have privileges and we will need to manage any people who come back to Australia who have been trained while they're overseas to undertake terrorist activities.

Ross Greenwood: This is interesting, because though it is illegal for an Australian citizen to engage in hostile activity in a foreign state, the truth is it's hard to gather evidence of that activity, illegal though it might be, and the point is, as you say, if they are Australian citizens with an Australian passport, then their ability to come back into the country, it would appear to be relatively straight forward.

Warren Truss: Well, if they have dual citizenship, then the option is open to us to cancel their Australian citizenship and, of course, many of the people that are being spoken about would, in fact, have dual citizenship. Others, though, have been born in Australia and they all have acquired citizenship and, exclusively, Australian citizenship since they've been in this country and, therefore, we need to have a strategy to also make sure that those people who have ill intent towards our country are properly managed and there's adequate surveillance in place.

Ross Greenwood: I've got to say, these are very important issues and clearly there's other matters, including the Budget and so forth, that the Government is considering trying to push through the Senate at the moment. The Deputy Prime Minister and also the Minister for Infrastructure Regional Development and Transport, Warren Truss, as always, we appreciate your time.

Warren Truss: You're welcome.