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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1796

Senator BOSWELL(10.44) —I want to address my comments to the Australian Airlines plan to cease operating on western Queensland air routes and the decision by the Hawke Labor Government to remove a $2m a year subsidy from the western Queensland air routes. The decision has serious ramifications for the people of western Queensland who depend very much for their means of transport and the getting of parts, newspapers and bank papers on those services. The distances are so vast that the only way that people can practically travel is by having a relatively quick and regular airline service to these great outback areas.

Australian Airlines services out of the way places such as Birdsville, Windorah and Winton and important towns such as Charleville, Roma and Longreach; it even services Barcaldine. Without these regular airline services to Barcaldine, Senator Georges would be unable to make his annual pilgrimage to the Tree of Knowledge. It is said that the Australian Labor Party was founded in Barcaldine. Now the Labor Party will have to find some other means of transport to Barcaldine.

The facts remain that so much of the nation's wealth is created in the outback areas of Queensland, by mining, wheat, wool and cattle, and yet this Government has once again demonstrated its absolute cavalier attitude to the primary producers of this nation. It has reduced the airline subsidy by $5m from $7m to $2m and only a couple of months ago it reduced the $2m to nothing, thereby inflicting a decision upon Australian Airlines to no longer continue the routes into western Queensland. It is acknowledged that the services run at a loss and have been subsidised for many years. Last year there was a loss of $4m. This financial year, losses on western Queensland air routes are expected to be up to $9m.

This must be balanced by two factors: The first is the value of the service to the people of western Queensland which I have already spoken about; and the second factor is that Australian Airlines benefit from the two-airline agreement which gives it duopoly rights on many air routes in this country. Its annual report shows that total revenue from passengers last year was $758m with a net profit of $34m. Australian Airlines benefits enormously from the two-airline agreement and now wants to renege on its responsibilities to provide a full service to all Australians, which it has to give under the terms of the two-airline agreement. It is not on for it to say that it will not service an unprofitable route when it continues to reap the benefits of a two-airline agreement.

As we all know, currently there is vigorous debate in Australia about the deregulation of domestic airlines. I know that I will find it difficult to support a two-airline agreement when this debate comes up if the airlines that receive the benefits of the two-airline agreement are not prepared to accept their responsibilities and service the outback areas of Australia, not only of Queensland. I note that Senator Robertson, on the other side, nods in agreement. These airline companies are given a licence to print money. If they are not prepared to honour the agreement and service the outback areas, I for one will not be able to support a two-airline agreement.

I also point out that if Australian Airlines can spend $60m to change its name and image from Trans Australia Airlines it can afford the relatively small loss it suffers by operating the western Queensland air service when compared with its overall operation. Australian Airlines would impress many more Queenslanders by maintaining its western services than by expensive advertising and public relations campaigns. We are now faced with a situation in western Queensland where, in one month's time, with maybe an extension of two weeks, there will be no air services. A great number of people rely on those aeroplanes to go to hospital, to receive health benefits in the cities and to send their children to school. One of the fears that people in the outback areas of Queensland are expressing is that they will get an inferior service not only in the times that flights are scheduled but also in the type of plane that will be operating in those areas. People are concerned that unless in the summer months the aircraft are pressurised the trips will be terribly rough; and unless they can fly at something like 19,000 feet a great deal of sickness and disruption will be caused to the people who travel in them.

I call on Senator Georges, who is sitting in the chamber, to support me on this matter. I have travelled to western areas with Senator Georges and I have pointed out to him the great difficulties that are experienced by people in the Longreach, Barcaldine, Clermont and Hughenden area. Senator Georges, as a representative not only of city and metropolitan areas but of Queensland, should join me in this debate and stand up for the people of Queensland and ask the Government and Australian Airlines to continue their services because they enjoy the benefits of a two-airline policy and they have reneged on their responsibilities to service the outback areas of Queensland.