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Wednesday, 26 June 2002
Page: 4447

Mr WINDSOR (3:24 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will you consider setting aside two to three per cent of the sale proceeds of Sydney airport to establish an investment trust, the interest from which would be used to subsidise the country air routes that have been identified by commercial operators as unviable? Would you meet a delegation of country people to discuss such a proposal, with a view to maintaining these essential services in country areas?

The SPEAKER —Before I call the Prime Minister, I remind the member for New England of the obligation everyone has to address questions and answers through the chair; therefore, reference to the word `you' was not appropriate.

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I will take the second part of the question first. I am always happy to meet a delegation of people from country Australia. The Deputy Prime Minister, over quite a number of years, has brought many delegations to me representing the interests of country people. In the last couple of weeks, I have had two meetings with a sugar task force of members of the Liberal and National parties who have conveyed to me the concerns of the Australian sugar industry.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Lyons, again!

Mr HOWARD —The question about the proceeds of the sale of Sydney airport gives me the opportunity to remind the parliament that the proceeds of that sale do not go into the revenue side of the budget. There is a common misapprehension in the Australian community—and I fear it is a misapprehension in this place, as well—that, if you get $5 billion or net $4.2 billion for the sale of Sydney airport, it is another $4.2 billion into the revenue side of the budget this year or next year; it is not. It does not go into the budget bottom line, and therefore any expenditure notionally sourced from the $4.2 billion is not offset by the receipt of that $4.2 billion. Therefore, it would represent an additional expenditure over and above the revenues that the government gets through its budget. As the Treasurer and others have indicated—and I re-indicate—the proceeds of that sale will be used to retire Labor's debt.

However, let me make it clear that we continue to be willing to take initiatives to help country users of airlines. We have in place a number of arrangements in relation to the use of Sydney airport. In my 6½ years as Prime Minister, in all of the deliberations in which I have been involved in relation to the airport needs of the greater Sydney area, we have always given priority to the needs of regional commuters.

I remind the member for New England that, when the airline industry was convulsed in September last year with the double whammy of the Ansett collapse and the impact on the tourist industry of the terrorist attack, we were there to provide support for the regional airlines and a tourism rescue package, both of which were of great assistance to people in country areas. The member for New England gives me the opportunity to say to country commuters that nothing that we have done in relation to Sydney airport will hurt rural users of internal airline services in New South Wales or anywhere else in Australia. I can give an undertaking to the House that we will take whatever steps are necessary to protect fully and adequately the interests of rural users of airline services in this country.