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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 628


Senator GRIMES(10.34) —I join with Senator Baume in congratulating the Australian Air League, and particularly what he describes as his squadron, the Marrickville Squadron, on its fiftieth anniversary. I hope the Mount Pritchard Air League solves its problems. I will pass on Senator Baume's remarks to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Willis, to see whether we cannot get a reply for him, which I expect he should have had by now.

Senator Townley raised two subjects. I will certainly bring to the attention of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) his erudite words on the deficit. I think I am the only person in the whole Parliament who does not claim to be an economist, but I might suggest that the presentation of raw figures, in the way Senator Townley did tonight, without making a distinction between public and private borrowing, does not mean a lot. One wonders, in the developmental stages of some larger countries, what the overseas debt would have been at the time they were borrowing money to develop the country. I will leave that to the Treasurer and others to respond to.

I was interested to hear Senator Townley again speaking about the VIP fleet. I thought he had forgotten about it while we were in government, but he has brought it up again. Senator Button was asked to go to Mr Chernenko's funeral by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). It was impossible at the time, as I well remember, to get a commercial flight to Moscow, and it was decided that he would go on a 707-the planes Senator Townley does not like, and which we did not like once, but they seem to be all right now. I understand Senator Townley's anxiety about the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers. I know that he took over from ex-Senator Turnbull in this place in making a hobby horse of this issue. Firstly, I must point out that it is not only Ministers who travel in the VIP flights. A gentleman at Government House also uses the VIP flights, as do senior officers in the forces, and they are used for training and other purposes. Secondly, the thought that I, as Minister for Community Services, or Senator Messner when he was Minister for Veterans' Affairs, or Senator Baume when he was Minister for Education, could go out to Fairbairn and say 'I do not want that little Mystere or that 748, I want that BAC-111' is an interesting thought, but I can assure Senator Townley that it is not what happens. Usually, when I go out there I end up in one of the propeller-driven aircraft, although I must admit that one night I went out there to get on a plane and I was embarrassed to find I had been given a BAC-111. I felt a little like Senator Button in a 707.

The first thing to decide is whether we need a VIP flight at all. Governments in this country, since the time of Sir Robert Menzies, have suggested that we do. I must say that it is very convenient at times when one needs it, although it is hard to get on them these days. If Senator Townley believes we do not need a VIP fleet, that is his judgment, but a lot of other people have a different judgment. Secondly, if we are going to have a VIP fleet, the question is whether we should not have more modern aircraft. The present aircraft are highly fuel inefficient, have a poor range--


Senator Townley —Are you suggesting better ones?


Senator GRIMES —No, I would not dare suggest that. Anyone who has heard what the pilots think of them would wonder whether we should not, perhaps, change to smaller, faster, more efficient planes. I dare say that nothing will convince Senator Townley one way or the other. I think it is time we all went home to bed, so I will leave my remarks there.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 10.38 p.m.