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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4048

Senator MURPHY(6.46 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This document consists of the text of the bilateral treaty, together with national interest analysis, of the agreement between the government of Australia and the government of the Arab Republic of Egypt relating to air services, done at Cairo on 10 March.

A very important point that arises out of this treaty, which I found interesting, is what would appear to be the government's position, by way of the department, in putting together this agreement with the Arab Republic of Egypt relating to air services.

As I understand it, all these agreements that relate to air services between countries contain a very clear understanding relating to airlines that are involved in the process of transporting passengers from one country to another. There are very strict criteria that apply to airlines not being able to carry domestic passengers. There are very few agreements that allow for that; indeed, there are none in Australia. There are only a very few countries that have agreements that allow external airlines to pick up and transport passengers from point A to point B within a particular country.

I asked the department about that because a particular clause within the treaty referred to cabotage, which I found somewhat interest ing. I asked the department about this cabotage clause and what it meant and why it applied. The explanation I received was that cabotage applied to protect the domestic interests of the airlines of a country. I found that to be somewhat of an unusual position for this government to be supporting, given their very strong position relating to cabotage in so far as our sea cargo services are concerned.

I could not understand that a country like the US has legislation that protects their domestic shipping services, and yet we—or this conservative coalition government, I should say, because we on this side are totally opposed to the removal of cabotage—propose to abolish cabotage. That will leave our domestic shipping services open to all sorts of problems, and indeed unfair competition, and will ultimately lead to its demise. That in turn will lead to people seeking to ship goods around this country being at the mercy of international shippers, who will then determine prices that will more accord with what they can charge, because we will not have a domestic shipping industry.

So I found it rather unusual that, on the one hand, the coalition government would say, `Look, it is a dead-set monte that we must maintain cabotage requirements to protect'—and rightly so; I agree—`our domestic air services, but at the same time we are going to scrap it as far as our domestic shipping services are concerned.' It seems an odd sort of a position to take, to me.

I will be very interested to see what the government does in the long term. I asked the department what their view was, how they saw this thing progressing over time, and would we ultimately see the abolition of cabotage as it related to domestic air services. I found their comment somewhat interesting: they did not see it happening for some time. I guess that would be right, because there would be a significant number of problems, and how you would monitor the maintenance of and safety of aircraft that come from outside this country would be of serious concern to the general public, I would think, particularly those that get on planes. A few politicians might start to rethink their strategy in terms of their transport if we get a few Russian jets in here.

I will watch this with interest, but I would suggest to the government that it is a bit hypocritical when you talk about maintaining cabotage in respect of air services and do not seek to protect domestic shipping services. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.