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Wednesday, 3 April 1957

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- One must concede to the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) a very wide and deep knowledge of aeronautical matters, and I think that we in this Parliament should offer congratulations to him for a most informative speech, in which he dealt with the relative merits of various aircraft. However, I feel that that, perhaps, is not the business of the Parliament to-day. 1 think the business of the Parliament to-day is to decide whether or not it is wise and prudent for it to approve the borrowing of the money needed to enable Qantas Empire Airways Limited to proceed along the lines it believes are the best lines for the development of an airline that has served this nation faithfully and well. One might say that the suggestion that this House might interfere with the attitude of Qantas in this matter would be bordering on what we often hear anti-Labour parliamentarians throughout Australia term " political interference ".

Usually we give a charter to an organization to do a job, and if the organization successfully discharges its duties, if it is capable of rendering the services expected of it and of balancing its accounts, then we leave control generally to the organization itself, and express either our pleasure or our displeasure with the results.

I should like to-night to offer congratulations to Qantas on the very fine services given by it to the people of Australia. 1 should like also to say that it has kept Australia's name before the peoples of the world. It should be remembered, too, that Qantas Empire Airways Limited, in seeking to borrow money for the purchase of what it believes to be the speediest, best and most commodious aircraft for its services, must act so as to enable it to meet competition from the airlines of other nations. So if Qantas thinks the Boeing 707 the right type of aircraft to put it in a position to meet the competition of Pan American Airways, K.L.M., Air France, Air India and all the other lines, then I do not think that this House should quibble over the financial aspects. I should think that honorable members would be prone to be more indulgent on this score on this occasion, because on other occasions when the Parliament is called upon to consider the borrowing of money abroad for " blanket " purposes the specific purpose is not made known to the Parliament. Instead, we are given some vague generalization to the effect that the money will be required for plant, development or something else. In such cases we are without the specific information we should have, but in this case we are being asked to approve of the borrowing of money : for Qantas Empire Airways Limited for the specific purpose of purchasing Boeing aircraft to enable the company to compete with other airlines. I think that is a reasonable proposition. Qantas has made the position clear and has promised to repay this money. That is not the case with other borrowings, in connexion with which there is no promise that the money borrowed wil! be repaid, lt may well be that sometimes we are borrowing money from abroad merely to repatriate loans made by other American companies. I think that if we failed to approve this legislation we would be unjust, unreasonable and unfair. In any event, I believe that Qantas is entitled to be in a position to give the service it gave in the past and to improve that service, and to continue to earn for Australia not only dollars but also a good reputation for air transport overseas.

Perhaps the rate of interest is not as favourable as it might be. and that is a point that we might consider. Another point worthy of criticism is the fact that Qantas has been obliged to dredge the bottom of the barrel in order to borrow money from private sources.

I think this country would have made very substantial strides in the way of progress if we were able to say in this House this afternoon that we were borrowing money to give Australia a shipping line run like our national airlines. I think the possession of such a line by the Australian Government is fundamental. However, we have an overseas airline. Let us develop it and please, under no circumstances, interfere in the wise leadership and generalship which is being directed to keeping it in the forefront of the airlines of the world.

Mr. WENTWORTH(Mackellar) [4.351. - Like the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock) I do not wish to traverse the ground covered by the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn), but I do want to support his contention that this House is not being given sufficient information. What he said must have aroused disquiet in the minds of a number of honorable members. There may be answers to these points. As the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) said a moment ago. Qantas is a very efficient airline, which enjoys a very high and deserved reputation not only here but beyond Australia also.

There may be good reasons for the decision i hat has been made, but if so, this House is not acquainted with them. 1 put it to the Government that when a matter of this character is before the House the Government does owe to honorable members a greater amount of technical information. This need not be given in the form of a second-reading speech. Very often we do not have a chance to assimilate the figures as they are given in the course of a second-reading speech and have to look at them in " Hansard " the next day. Perhaps, when the Government brings forward a matter which involves the expenditure of large amounts of money and has technical implications, a paper showing the salient facts should be presented also.

The arguments put forward by the honorable member for Farrer seem, on the face of them, to be convincing. There may be another side. If so, 1 have not heard it. Nor do I think that other honorable members of this House have heard it, and it is not reasonable to ask us to vote large amounts of money unless we know a little more of the technical background. It might not be unwise for the Government to postpone further consideration of the matter until honorable members have had a chance to look at the relevant papers, which it might feel inclined to table in the Library, if not in this House. These could set out the reasons which have impelled Qantas to make this decision.

The House should direct special attention to one aspect. The honorable member for Farrer referred to the necessity for enlarged airports, including Mascot. What is likely to happen is this: We will be committed to these jets and then we will be told that because we are so committed, we are also committed to the expenditure of many millions of pounds to bring Mascot up to standard. So, the House is being asked to vote a great deal more money than would appear on the surface. This expenditure on aircraft may entail further expenditure. I do not feel that government departments should do this kind of thing to the House, or that a government should acquiesce in their doing so.

I do not share the view of the honorable member for Macquarie that it is not the business of this House to question these things. I do not think that it is in the least unfair or improper to expect to be satisfied on these technical details before voting large sums of money that may lead to further commitments. It may be that the Minister can tell us that Mascot, with perhaps a little, or no, expenditure can be made suitable for these Boeing aeroplanes. If that is so, his opinion is diametrically the opposite to that expressed in the authoritative journal " Flight " as late as 4th May last. It may be that the journal is wrong. If so, I would like to hear the details from the Minister. I feel that more consideration is due to this bill on the technical aspects which the honorable member for Farrer has raised.

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