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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3856

Mr LLOYD(1.13) —The motion asks that this House recognise the significant contribution that has been made by Trans Australia Airlines-which is now Australian Airlines-and Qantas Airways Ltd to the development of aviation in Australia. There is no problem, as far as the Opposition is concerned, in joining the mover in recognising the significant contribution that both those organisations have made to Australia. The motion then goes on:

and places on record its view that these 2 airlines should remain in public ownership.

That is where we differ. Could I suggest to the mover that if in future he wants to talk about the coalition's policy he should first read it to save himself the embarrassment of being corrected the moment he sits down. Our aviation policy is out; it has been out for several months. It is quite clear and definite and has been widely acclaimed.

Mr Martin —Is that the one that we got hold of prematurely?

Mr LLOYD —Yes. The Government had a leaked version of the draft issue. It was not quite the final issue but has now been distributed to more than 1,500 people. There have been about 1,500 separate requests in Australia for that policy since it was released in August and it is still being sought frequently by people who want to see this very positive policy for the future of aviation in this country. When one talks about public ownership, Mr Deputy Speaker, one can refer to a government department, a government corporation, a crown corporation or statutory authority or whatever term is used in some of the countries under the Westminster system-in Australia we call them statutory authorities-or to a public company with all of the shares owned by the Government or the majority of the shares being owned by the Government. I emphasise the word `majority' because the entity still remains in public ownership.

What is the position at present of these two airlines that we are talking about? First, Qantas is not a statutory authority or government department. It is a public company, with all of its shares being owned by the Commonwealth. The Labor Government has not attempted in any way to retreat from that position of having a company rather than a statutory authority. The policy of the Opposition is to sell a minority of Qantas shares; so, under a coalition government, Qantas would effectively remain in public ownership. That is quite clear, quite definite, quite distinct. What is more, Qantas agrees with that. The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Martin) should talk to Qantas occasionally. The Qantas management itself believes that there are tremendous positive advantages in a minority of its shares being sold to the Australian public because that would improve its economic performance.

Mr Blunt —That is happening overseas.

Mr LLOYD —That is right. It would improve the efficiency of management, it would improve the accountability of management and would put more commercial pressure on everyone in that organisation at either management or employee level. That course is favoured by Qantas. The organisation has confirmed that. As the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt) has indicated, there is nothing unique or revolutionary about this.

Let us look at all the other countries where it is happening. Is Singapore a rabid, ideologically capitalist society? I think that it is one of the favourites of the Labor Government when it looks around the world. Germany, Japan and a whole range of countries are offering or have offered a minority of shares in their international airlines, their flag carriers, for the very reasons I have given-the very reasons that are supported by Qantas. Let me remind the Government that our policy offers Qantas interlining rights which, so far, the Minister for Aviation (Mr Peter Morris) and this Government have steadfastly refused to approve. That would add to Qantas's ability to compete as the national flag carrier. Let us hear from the Labor Government what it is going to do in that regard. Just to make this point very clear, I quote from the coalition's policy statement on the matter:

A Liberal-National Government will, as soon as practicable, offer a minority interest in Qantas's shares for purchase by the Australian public. Shares in Qantas will be offered with the aims of giving the widest possible shareholding participation to the Australian public, and of giving employees of the company . . .

How about that? Does Labor intend to provide any shares for the employees, to give them encouragement? Not on your life! The policy statement continues:

. . . and any superannuation or like scheme maintained by the company, the opportunity to take up shares on a preferential basis. The Liberal-National Parties will closely consult employees on any question that may affect them in relation to the sale of shares in Qantas.

At the outset, restrictions will be placed on the number of shares that may be held in Qantas by any company, individual or nominee. These restrictions will be kept under review. Foreign nationals and foreign companies will be excluded from holding shares in Qantas, whether directly or indirectly, since their interests and the interests of Qantas as Australia's overseas carrier, the Australian Government's interest in Qantas's overseas operations, and the interests of the Australian travelling public, may conflict. Furthermore, Qantas's capacity to move military personnel and material in and out of Australia in times of emergency is of vital importance to Australia's security, and should not be compromised by questions of ownership.

So, Government supporters should take into account what the Opposition is saying before making incorrect statements.

When one looks at this question of private versus public ownership, one sees that, without doubt, the further removed is any form of public ownership from direct departmental control the greater is the benefit to the efficient operation of that organisation. It is essential that any organisation that is to operate in the market, to be efficient, and to be subject to competition, must be removed from direct government day to day control, from direct double checking of everything that it does-by its being sent back to a department for approval-from the control of the Public Service Board and from government superannuation arrangements. Look at the trouble that the Whitlam Government got TAA into with that. It should also be removed from the effect of Public Service provisions generally. Following the abolition by the present Government of our `no work as directed, no pay' legislation, a government controlled organisation has no ability to discipline staff or management. Above all, there should be freedom from the Public Service mentality-that the organisation exists for the employees, rather than for the public of Australia, in this case, the travelling public.

Let us look next at the management aspect. What incentive, challenge or requirement is there for management to operate efficiently? Their job is not at risk. They are in no way accountable for their decisions. Australian Airlines has not always made sensible decisions. If we want to talk about that sort of thing let us look at Air Queensland. There is no accountability to shareholders. If anything that is wrong is happening the Public Service tries to hush it up. There is no exposure to shareholders' ability to raise these issues at meetings. Above all, there is no incentive to operate commercially because the organisation can always fall back on the taxpayer. That has happened, and I am sure that it will happen again. Similarly, in one of these government controlled organisations management suffers great restrictions on its ability to manage in a sensible and flexible way. There are delays, there are legislative restrictions, there is no flexibility of salary arrangements and there is no incentive.

The Opposition's attitude to privatisation is neither narrow nor ideological. It is very pragmatic. It asks: Is it necessary or advantageous for the Government to continue to own that organisation? Are the reasons why it was originally in government ownership still applicable? If one looks at some of the Commonwealth-owned operations that have existed at various times, one finds interesting examples. In my electorate a ball bearing factory was in that category. It was sold. Does Labor say that it would keep that ball bearing factory? At one stage I believe the Commonwealth had part ownership of an oil refinery. Does Labor say that the Government should still have that refinery? I understand that at one stage we had, as a government, ownership or part ownership in a wireless organisation. Should that still apply? What about Belconnen Mall, which the Government has recently sold? Is the Government saying that everything that was ever government-owned should remain government-owned? Obviously not; it has sold Belconnen Mall.

What about Australian Airlines? Australian Airlines was established by the Commonwealth right after World War II to make sure that in this country there was a comprehensive and effective domestic aviation industry. I would say that that proposition was supported on a bipartisan basis then and has been for many, many years, but the reasons why TAA, as it then was, was owned by the Commonwealth no longer apply and have not for some years. That is why in 1981-82 legislation was brought down, first of all, to turn TAA into a public company, with all of the shares being owned by the Commonwealth. It seems absurd that this Government should have repealed that legislation without repealing also the legislation that puts Qantas on a similar basis, so the Government's actions have been internally inconsistent. We make no apology for the fact that TAA would have been sold to the Australian public by the time the two-airline agreement came up for review, so that we could have a completely and genuinely competitive domestic aviation industry. What is more-and Labor supporters should note this-our proposed legislation guarantees that Australian Airlines will be owned by Australians. At present no legislation guarantees that a domestic aviation company in this country shall be Australian owned. Only the general Foreign Investment Review Board requirements apply. Mr Murdoch, who happens to own some television stations, is, following his recent decision to become a United States citizen, the subject of an Australian Broadcasting Tribunal inquiry as to whether he can still, in any way, be involved in those stations. But Mr Murdoch also owns half of Ansett Airlines of Australia. Is this Government conducting an inquiry as to whether he can do that? When Government supporters talk about maintaining things for Australians they should examine their own actions. Mr Murdoch became a United States citizen in their time in government but they have not moved one jot to determine whether or not he should still be a half owner of Ansett Airlines. Let us have no more rot from the Government about preserving for Australians the ownership of aviation companies in this country. The coalition guarantees that under its policy. The Government offers no guarantee whatsoever.

As to why it is appropriate and sensible to sell Australian Airlines to the Australian public, apart from guaranteeing that there will be Australian ownership, there is the very real aspect of better management to which I have referred. There is also a real point to be made about savings to the taxpayer. Some interesting little things have been revealed by the annual budgets of Australian Airlines. Some $1m was spent last year on carpets and improvements to the terminal at Tullamarine. Also, several hundred thousand dollars were spent for kitchens at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport. The taxpayers of Australia should not be involved in those sorts of expenditures. They should be a responsibility of the private sector.

Mr Jull —How much went into superannuation?

Mr LLOYD —As to the point about superannuation, both sides have now agreed to carry about $350m which, to be fair to TAA, was forced on it by the Whitlam Government. We cannot have a genuinely competitive domestic aviation industry-which the great majority of Australians want-while one of the two major operators remains Government owned, with the ability to fall back on the taxpayer. No one who might be thinking of entering the aviation industry would be inclined to risk an investment while unfair competition existed. It is a question of competing with one hand tied behind one's back, because the competition is Government owned and can fall back on the taxpayer. The majority of Australians favour the sale of Australian Airlines to the Australian public. They have shown that repeatedly in gallup polls. A good percentage of Australian Airlines management employees also want it because they know that it will make their organisation better than it is now. The aviation policy of the coalition parties has been widely acclaimed and if the Government meant, by this motion, to criticise it directly or indirectly it has failed miserably to do so.