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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1604

Senator DURACK —I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Aviation: Will he now confirm that he has received a letter dated 27 March 1987 from Skywest Airlines Ltd informing him that, when the airline was awarded the coastal surveillance contract in 1982, it had been in business for 20 years, employed 59 pilots, operated 20 aircraft and was one of the biggest aviation operators in Australia? Does the Minister recall telling the Senate last week that as a result of his investigations he had determined that Skywest was `at a similar stage of establishment' as Amman is today? Given the falsity of that statement revealed by the Skywest letter, why did the Minister so blatantly mislead the Senate last week in the answer he gave me?

Senator GIETZELT —I find it somewhat incredible that Senator Durack is continuing his line of questioning in respect of a matter that has been properly handled by the Minister with respect to a tender which has saved the Commonwealth something like $2.5m. An Opposition which claims to have a weight watchers or waste watchers committee is seeking to save public funds and a Minister of the Crown in the Labor Government has accepted a tender which saved the Commonwealth some $2.5m-and we have persistent questioning by Senator Durack, one of the leading members of the Opposition, who is allegedly concerned about saving taxpayers' money.

It is true that Skywest, after hours on Friday evening, sent a fax to my office. As the Senate will be aware, I was absent with two of my senior officers all day on Monday attending two functions in Sydney. At the time I answered the question yesterday, that correspondence had not been placed before me. The correspondence establishes that Skywest, which is the losing party in a tender for air surveillance around the coast of Australia has put before me evidence which I accept in good faith.

There is no doubt that the organisation is well established and I had no intention, nor have I now, of reflecting upon it. In response to a question asked of me about a week ago by Senator Durack I said that there were establishment problems when Skywest's tender was accepted during the period in which the Opposition was in government. I stand by that statement. There is no dispute that Skywest was a large established company at that time but it is also true that it had no aircraft specifically fitted out for the task in which it was successful in 1982 nor did it have the complete complement of specialised staff required to undertake the task as it was required in the tender at that time. I am informed that it took Skywest some 3 1/2 months from the date the contract was accepted to get the five aircraft on line. This is a similar state of circumstances which existed in respect of Amman Pty Ltd, the successful tenderer accepted by the Government after the due processes of tendering had been followed.

In no way have I sought or desired to mislead the Parliament or Senator Durack. I said on the first occasion I mentioned this matter that I knew very little about the issue, only what I had read in the Canberra Times just a few minutes before I came into the chamber. I know sufficient about Mr Morris's integrity to know that the correct tendering processes would be carried out, were carried out and will continue to be carried out by this Government. The reason why Skywest's tender was not acceptable in this case was that it was $2 1/2m above the successful tenderer. It was not even second on the list; it was third below the tender price. Therefore in those circumstances the Government acted properly, the Minister acted properly and the Minister in this place, in responding to the question, also acted properly.

Senator DURACK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. On this occasion my question to the Minister was not directed at whether the Government had acted properly but whether he had acted properly when giving answers in the Senate. I draw the attention of the Minister to another paragraph in the letter that he now admits having received from Skywest which points out that Skywest originally established the coastal surveillance contracts in Western Australia in 1978 and had had as much experience in coastal surveillance work as any other operator at the time of the 1982 tender. I ask: How does the Minister again maintain in his answer this afternoon that Skywest was in exactly the same position in 1982 as Amman airlines is today which does not have any aircraft in this country fitted for the purpose?

Senator GIETZELT —I do not know whether that is a supplementary question. The brief, which has been provided to me by the Department of Transport and the Minister, states and I repeat:

. . . I am informed that it took Skywest some 3 and a half months from the date of contract acceptance to get five aircraft on line.