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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3002

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(12.00) —The Government accepts the need to place the government airline, Trans Australia Airlines, on an equal basis with that of the private sector airline. To that extent we make no apology for introducing both the Australian National Airlines Commission Retention Bill 1984 and the Australian National Airlines Amendment Bill 1984 and debating them in a cognate way. One of the Bills establishes the government airline on an equitable and commercial basis that will enable it to fulfil its important function as part of the existing two airlines arrangements in this country. The Government recognises that over the last 30 or 40 years, as we have moved into a very highly developed economy, airline travel, from the point of view of business, government and Australian citizens, has become an integral part of that economy. Therefore, it is in the interests of all citizens , and particularly of the government, to establish an environment in which the government airline can operate efficiently and can fulfil its statutory function . Unfortunately an ideological and philosophical approach by the Liberal Party and the National Party places them at variance with the Government's view. We have set about in the legislation to improve the effective management and function of TAA and at the same time to remove the threat that hangs over that airline as a result of the previous Government's legislation. The purpose of the legislation, in short, is to create an environment of stability and an environment based upon proper commercial practices.

I appreciate the view that Senator Peter Rae expressed on behalf of the Opposition. It is a view that he has constantly presented over the years, but it is a view that leads us down the track of privatisation, of deregulation. The Government believes that ultimately this approach to the transport industry, especially airlines, would be detrimental to all Australian citizens. The purpose of the legislation is to put beyond any doubt the future of our publicly owned airline, to create a stable situation and to create a management and corporate plan that will result in TAA being an even more efficient airline that it is today. Of course, that is part of a policy commitment.

It ought to be drawn to the attention of Opposition spokespersons that the Labor Government has an electoral commitment to defend, protect, enhance and strengthen the public airline. We are repealing the legislation that the previous Government introduced not only to fulfil an electoral commitment but also to place beyond any doubt in the foreseeable future any threat to the stability that is essential if the airline is to fulfil its public function. I think it has to be said that in most of the post-war years the public airline has been placed at a disadvantage compared to the private airline. Government policies have been designed to give favourable treatment to the private airline over our publicly owned airline, TAA. That has created problems from the point of view of the management, morale and efficiency of the organisation.

The legislation seeks to establish an environment in which there will be complete equity between the operation of the public airline and the operation of the private airline. Of course, a whole number of complex matters are involved in the legislation. We are pleased that at least the Opposition concedes that the previous Government's injection of $28m and the subsequent $90m which this Government gave to TAA were steps in the direction of providing a capital base for the publicly owned airline that would enable it more effectively to carry out its statutory obligations not only on its own behalf but also on behalf of the Parliament and the people of this country.

There is no doubt that the arrangements involving superannuation and all of the other management problems were affected by previous governments' legislative inhibitions in respect of TAA. The $130m improvement in the capital base of TAA gives the management an effective and responsible role in the day to day affairs of the organisation. It gives TAA the essential flexibility and the opportunity to fulfil the earlier hopes and aspirations that were held when the organisation was established in the immediate post-war years. Consequently, under the arrangements which are proposed by the Government, TAA will be able to operate on strictly commercial grounds. It will be able to compete with the private airline in the spirit to which, of course, Sir Robert Menzies gave credence, back in the 1950s. I think it is sad to see that the more important progressive concept about effective competition between the private and public sectors that Sir Robert Menzies had when he was leading the Liberal Party seems to have been thrown overboard by the Liberal Party in more recent years. The Liberal Party believes that all the problems facing the economy can be solved by the use of the magical word 'privatisation'. We have seen this happen in the United Kingdom where Mrs Thatcher believes that even the medical services of the armed forces in that country ought to be handed over to the private sector, that somehow or other this will make a contribution to the very difficult economic conditions that exist in the United Kingdom.

So what we are seeking to do-and I am acting under a great deal of restraint in terms of time-is to give TAA a lot more commercial responsibility and not to put that organisation under the thumb of the Minister of the day. As we can probably anticipate that a Labor government will be around for a large number of years I think the uncertainty and confusion that the Australian Democrats' spokesman, Senator Jack Evans, spoke about will largely dissipate and disappear. That, itself, will be an important ingredient in the changes that are envisaged in the legislation itself. The legislation is designed to give TAA more freedom to borrow. It places less emphasis on the organisation in relation to budget income . It looks at the organisation's responsibilities on the same basis as those of the private sector. In other words, the Government has absolutely no input that inhibits the operation of the private airline. Therefore, if we are to have a proper competitive position, the same principle should apply in respect of the government airline and that has largely been achieved by this legislation.

The Government accepts the underlying principle that we live in a mixed economy and that we should act in such a way as to remove all of the difficulties, obstacles, inhibitions and restrictions that would otherwise apply in respect of the effective operation of our national airways, our national railways, and our national sea transport and to place them at no disadvantage compared with the private sector. If we are to have a competitive society, surely it is proper for the government to take every legislative step available to it to create that sort of environment.

I think it is a matter of pride that Australia can say that TAA has no peer in the world in respect of its safety record and its efficiency. I think that is a great testimony to those who have carried on the management of this organisation over the years particularly in the face of attitudes of governments which take a philosophical position different from that of the Labor Party and which have endeavoured to place some restraints and restrictions upon the way in which the organisation operates.

The injection of funds will have the effect of creating confidence, commercial viability and a better staff environment in terms of an improvement in morale and a degree of certainty. In the final analysis all of this will add up to a more efficient organisation and that, of course, should be the objective of a government, whatever its political complexion. We have put forward this legislation not only as a means of realising those objectives but also as a means of putting our government airline in a position where it can compete with the private sector on the basis of equality, equity and fairness in its operations.

A number of Government members who wanted to extend the debate to cover the private and public sectors have voluntarily withdrawn from the discussion on this Bill. We are endeavouring to expedite the business of the Senate so that we will not still be here at the commencement of the Budget session. The passage of the legislation before the Senate is assured because of the support of the Australian Democrats. However, I think that an opportunity will be presented at some other time if honourable senators want to continue the philosophical debate .

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —The question is:

That the Bills be now read a second time.

Senator Peter Rae —Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. I think the questions should be put separately because, as has been indicated, the Opposition proposes to support one Bill and oppose the other.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Is that the wish of the Senate? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

Question put:

That the Australian National Airlines Commission Retention Bill 1984 be now read a second time.