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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2932


Senator MacGIBBON(9.31) —What is the Department doing with respect to safety, and particularly with respect to air hostesses? Passengers on Australian airlines have been harassed for the last four years at least with respect to hand luggage. If a passenger sits behind the bulkhead in the front row, he cannot carry any hand luggage at all. In the last six months or so there have been checks made on passengers as they are leaving the waiting rooms to board the aircraft. They are forced to put their bags through all sorts of mechanical devices to see that they do not exceed certain dimensions. This seems to have been initiated by the stewards and stewardesses and it is certainly causing a lot of harassment for air travellers, as the Minister would know. I do not doubt that he has been the object of this on various occasions, as we all have. This also has very real significance for the tourist industry, particularly if tourists from overseas buy first class tickets. They cannot understand why they are abused by some mere employee of a company when all they do is seek to go from Sydney to Melbourne. What is the Department's position? Does it support and encourage the air hostesses and stewards along this path? Why does the Department not recognise that the root cause of the problem is the inability of the airline to look after people's baggage? People will not carry baggage on board an aircraft if they have a safe and secure way of putting it in the aircraft hold. It is because the airline companies lose baggage, break baggage and do other sorts of infuriating things to baggage that people choose to carry it on board. The solution is not to harass the passengers but to harass the airline companies, if one is going to be in the business of harassing them.

I want to get back to the subject of the stewards and stewardesses because it seems to me that we are the victims of some sort of political pressure game to pay them more and more money on the ground of safety. There is no question that the cabin attendants do have a safety role, but it is a limited role. I am interested in what the Department is doing with respect to emergency procedures. When I was in England some years ago I was told that one of the contributing factors to the loss of life from that tragic incident at Manchester when a Boeing 737 caught fire and when so many passengers lost their lives was the fact that the stewardesses told the passengers, when the aborted take-off had been completed and the aircraft had come to rest, to stay in their seats with the seat belts done up. Consequently a period of time was lost when, if the evacuation procedures had been initiated, a large number of lives, or all the lives in that aircraft, could have been saved.

I have twice been on board an Australian aircraft when an aborted take-off has occurred. I want to know whether the Department has considered the procedures that presently apply. On both those occasions of aborted take-off the passengers were told to stay in their seats with their seat belts done up. The reason for aborting the take-off on these occasions was simply a compressor stall in high cross wind conditions, but had we had a fire or something like that it would have been a different matter. It seems elementary that if take-off is aborted the instantaneous response should be to evacuate the aircraft.