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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1521

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(10.24) —There was quite lengthy debate on the Air Navigation (Charges) Amendment Bill 1984, the Air Navigation Amendment Bill (No. 2) (1984) and the Qantas Airways Limited (Loan Guarantee) Bill 1984 in the House of Representatives. Some six amendments were moved. As an indication of the flexible attitude which the Government is taking in respect of these Bills, four of those amendments were accepted by the Government. Of course, Senator Messner is wishing to move the two amendments which were unacceptable to the Government because they changed the processes by which the Government believed it had some obligations in respect of the airline industry. The Government is not able to accept the two amendments to be moved by Senator Messner, and there are good and cogent reasons why the Government will ask the Senate not to support them. We appreciate that overall the contribution of the Opposition to the debate on these three Bills was one of general support. As regards the Qantas Airways Limited (Loan Guarantee) Bill, we are continuing the practices and processes by which not only Qantas and other public operators but also sometimes private operators in the aviation industry are given government guarantees in respect of the important acquisitions that they make from time to time to modernise their fleets. We appreciate that generally speaking there is very little opposition to those annual pieces of legislation.

In the Air Navigation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1984 the Government is seeking to give itself regulatory powers which already exist in other countries with similar economies and similar aviation industries. We are proceeding not unusually in these matters but in accordance with established practices and procedures which are acceptable in developed countries. However, as far as the two amendments are concerned, I think it has to be said and stressed that the Government, in seeking to impose some penalties in respect of charges in the airline industry, has been more than patient and more than conciliatory and has placed a great deal of its endeavours towards solving the difficulties, which difficulties have not accrued since March 1983 but have been with us for a considerable number of years. I refer to the failure of some operators to fulfil their proper financial obligations. When using Commonwealth services and resources they clearly have an obligation to pay, as do other commercial enterprises and citizens in this country who use such services. A small section of the aviation industry is not playing the game, and some steps need to be taken.

When the overwhelming majority of operators, large or small, are co-operating with government, playing their part in the industry correctly and paying their way with respect to charges, it is pretty clear that it is unfair to those who are co-operating, are reasonable and are paying that sections of the industry are not co-operating and therefore creating difficulties with respect to their payments to the Commonwealth. After extensive consultations and acting, I believe, with the support of the majority of operators in the industry, having taken the matter to the advisory committee of the airline industry, we have taken steps to impose penalties which the Government believes and which I think any reasonable person would believe are fair, just and equitable. I do not know of any commercial enterprise which would be as lenient as the Government is with respect to the penalties suggested in the legislation. For example, if a commercial enterprise or a person falls behind in payments, they suffer greatly from penalties by way of higher interest rates. If finally they do not fulfil their obligations, they default and the goods in respect of which they have failed to meet their obligations are often repossessed. We know, of course, that banking institutions and other lending authorities do not take kindly to the inability of persons, companies or groups to fulfil their obligations. In difficult economic times we see that the extreme step of bankruptcy is finally applied to solve the problems of those who do not meet their proper financial commitments. I think the legislation is very generous insofar as it will impose only a rate of interest that is less than the commercial rates charged by the trading banks. Therefore there ought to be no opposition and no long debate about the need for the Government to have these regulations and penalties imposed. As the legislation has the general support of the industry I urge the Senate to reject the amendment.

The only other matter with which I take issue is the second amendment which will be moved by Senator Messner. Of course we will deal with it at the Committee stage. Overall the Government is putting itself in a secure position with those who have debt liabilities. It should not be argued in any way that the Government is acting injudiciously or unfairly. Therefore I urge honourable senators to support the legislation and reject the amendments.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bills read a second time.