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Thursday, 9 May 1957

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Leader of the House) .- I move -

That the House do now adjourn.

I take this opportunity to indicate to honorable members the programme, as the Government sees it, between now and the end of the session. I do not propose at this stage to fill in all the details; I propose rather to give honorable members an indication of the sitting days so that they can make their plans accordingly. lt is proposed to conclude these sittings, if practicable, by 22nd May. As will be known, 1 think, to most honorable members, some Premiers have been asking the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) for an early meeting of the Australian Loan Council, and it is now proposed to commence a meeting of the Loan Council on 23rd May. That would indicate that we may be required to sit on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the week after next. Whether it will be necessary to do so will depend upon the progress we make with the business which it is proposed to put through in the remainder of the session. I am not suggesting to honorable gentlemen at this stage that there necessarily will be a sitting of the House on Monday week, but I do suggest to them that they keep that possibility in mind in making their own arrangements.

Mr Curtin - You are not standing over us?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Not at all. The Government has no wish to stifle discussion on the measures which will be coming up, and it may be found desirable to sit beyond the date I have mentioned. As has been the practice throughout the earlier part of the year, I shall be in touch with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), who no doubt will indicate to me the wishes of honorable gentlemen opposite in this regard; but for immediate planning purposes I suggest that honorable members have in mind the possibility of the House rising on 22nd May, and the further possibility of a sitting on the Monday of that week.

Mr. CLYDECAMERON (Hindmarsh) no doubt, for many other, if not all other, honorable members, I should like to thank the Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt), who has extended to us a courtesy to which we have yet to become accustomed, in telling us, in advance, the Government's proposals for the sittings of the House. We should have been told about these matters in years gone by, but we have never received that courtesy. It is of great convenience to honorable members to be given some idea of the duration of the sittings.

Before I deal with the principal matter upon which I rose to speak, I want to correct an insinuation that was contained in a question which I asked the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) last week concerning tax evasion in South Australia. 1 asked whether it was a fact that one or two persons had been gaoled for malpractice in that State, and that these persons had, to use an Australianism, " squealed " to the police! giving the names of colleagues who had been allegedly involved in the same practices.

I have since found that three persons were gaoled, and have discovered to my regret that what I suggested is certainly not true, at any rate of one person, a Mr. Gentle, whose particular case has come to my notice. He has asked that his name be mentioned in the House in order to make it quite clear that he did not give any information at all. He is still serving his prison term and wants it to be made clear that, whatever else he has done, he has not " squealed " on his mates. From my special knowledge of the case, I have every reason to believe that that is absolutely correct and I wish to say so for the benefit of this man's feelings.

I pass now to an important matter to which reference was made in several newspapers, and I shall quote from a comment in the "Adelaide News" of 7th May. It followed a previous report in the fairly well-informed privately circulated newsletter, " Inside Canberra ", written by Don Whitington. In the issue of the 14th March he forecast that the Government was shortly to make some move towards either selling Trans-Australia Airlines - though he did not seriously suggest this - or merging it with Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, which is fast becoming bankrupt. Since that forecast was made, events have taken a more definite turn.

The Government has been in private consultation with representatives of A.N.A. The discussions have been surrounded with the kind of secrecy as accompanied the ultimate sale of the Commonwealth's share in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and of the whaling enterprise, as well as the proposed sale of the Commonwealth Engineering Company Limited. This newspaper makes some rather serious insinuations which the Government has not yet seen fit to deny. 1 hope now to give it the opportunity to deny them categorically, if it is in position to do so.

The report states that these discussions, which have been informal and private, are based on a plan to achieve further rationalization. This, we are told, may result in more sharing of services, such as accommodation at airports, and transport to and from airports, and a further reduction - this is important, coming from a government that claims to believe in healthy competition - in competition. I know that newspaper reports cannot always be relied upon, but very often where there is smoke there is fire. I want to know whether it is correct that A.N.A. is again having difficulty in making its services pay, but is unwilling to sink its identity in a single airline corporation owned jointly by itself and the Government. The insinuation is that it would be quite prepared to join if it retained its identity. The purpose of the proposed plan to share transport and accommodation is further to reduce costs. That is a laudable objective if it does not interfere with the convenience of passengers, but I cannot see how inconvenience can be avoided if transport is to be shared. Timetables would have to be exactly the same or passengers catching later planes than other passengers would have to leave the terminal at the same time.

Any attempt to reduce competition in this field is not likely to result in reduced fares and freights. One must remember that when, in 1955, A.N.A. increased its fares and freights T.A.A. did likewise. T.A.A. did not seek the increase. It had just shown a large profit for the year; but under the agreement between the Government, T.A.A. and A.N.A. in 1952, T.A.A. had to increase its fares if A.N.A. did so. Clause 7 of the agreement provided that if T.A.A. did not increase its fares in such circumstances the matter should go to arbitration. If, then, A.N.A. could show that it was losing money, the arbitrator would undoubtedly decide in favour of increased fares. Conversely, T.A.A. may not reduce fares without first obtaining the approval of A.N.A.

I would like the Minister to tell me whether it is, indeed, proposed to form a jointly owned company, and also, whether any conversations, official or unofficial, have taken place in connexion with this matter. It is noteworthy that shortly we shall have before us a bill dealing with the relationship of A.N.A. and T.A.A. This seems to suggest that there might be a nigger in the woodpile somewhere, and that the bill might be part of the softening-up process for the eventual merging of these two organizations. The Government could later sell out its share in the new merger to private enterprise - probably to the private half of the new company. We should then be left completely at the mercy of the privately owned airways, just as we were left at the mercy of the oil companies because C.O.R. was no longer operating as a semigovernmental undertaking. But for that, we would not have had the spectacle of the Queensland Government being obliged to bow to the dictates of a private oil company.

I want to remind the Government of some of the things that were said in this House when the agreement was ratified. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) told us that, from the Government point of view, one of the most important things was to maintain healthy competition between A.N.A. and T.A.A. I am prepared to say that competition is a good thing, provided that it is healthy and real. There is no healthy competition between such undertakings as the trading banks, and we shall not have it in our airways either unless we see that T.A.A. remains a separate entity. T.A.A. is pushing A.N.A. out of the air simply because it is more efficiently run. A.N.A. enjoys advantages that T.A.A. does not. For example, from 1947 to 1952, when T.A.A. was paying the prescribed landing fees, A.N.A. refused to do so and the Chifley Government had to begin litigation in the High Court for the recovery of nearly £1,000,000 in landing fees.

Mr.SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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