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Wednesday, 30 June 1999
Page: 8020

Mr BAIRD (10:20 AM) —I rise today to speak on the issue of air deregulation. This has been considered recently by the cabinet; policy announcements were made just two weeks ago. I commend the government for their decisions in this area. The decisions that they made will do much to assist the development of tourism and aviation within the country.

As you may recall, the basic tenets of the policy decision were that foreign airlines would not be allowed to operate domestically within Australia, but there would be greater deregulation of air services coming into Australia. Obviously, when the Minister for Transport and Regional Services announced that a greater deregulation of services would be allowed, encouraging foreign airlines to come into the airports, it was a great fillip to some airports such as Adelaide, Darwin and Cairns.

According to the advice from Qantas, in the electorate of Cook we have more airline employees than any other electorate in Australia. There are two grounds on which I wish to speak today: firstly, to represent the people of my electorate; and, secondly, in terms of my own interest in the area of tourism.

It is true to say that Qantas and Ansett are both very fine airlines with excellent management and leadership. I believe the changes that have been made at Ansett—they have a new managing director—have shifted them in a direction that will make them a competitive force not only domestically but also internationally. James Strong, who has been heading Qantas for some years, has provided the type of leadership which not only achieves excellent shareholding returns for individual shareholders but also provides a strong competitive position internationally. This will allow a number of international airlines which previously had been unable to travel to Australia to come into those ports. They may prefer to go directly to Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport, which has some 67 per cent of all international flights; nevertheless, it allows them to come into Australia and obviously provides link-ons through domestic services.

The debate has been raging for some time about whether we should have a full open skies policy. One side of the debate says to the world, `Look, you can fly to Australia. We won't worry about whether we've got rights to your country. Just come here because we think it is so important for international tourism.' And there are many people in the tourism industry who would say, `Yes, let's do that.'

On the other side of the debate, if we open up our skies to international carriers, it is also important that it should be on a reciprocal basis so that the same thing would apply to our national carriers, with assistance provided to open up traffic rights to both Qantas and Ansett into other ports. To deny that would be clearly wrong. I think it is appropriate to open up our skies on a more limited basis than was originally proposed.

There is no doubt that Adelaide needs a stimulus in terms of international travel. It has only four per cent of the international market at this point in time. Cairns has experienced a downturn because of the slowdown of international visitors from Korea and Japan. And, of course, Darwin and the Top End experienced some downturns because of the reduction in flights into Darwin by Qantas, especially directly from Singapore. There are more flights that overfly it.

In conclusion, it should be borne in mind in the domestic discussions that go on that basically there is no country in the world that allows foreign airlines to fly in their country domestically. So if we open it up we would find Air Botswana and Air Zimbabwe creaming off the market. I believe it is appropriate the government took this decision. I commend them for it.