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Thursday, 12 November 1959

Mr TOWNLEY (Denison) (Minister for Defence) . - It is a great pity that my time is so limited, as was that of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. (Calwell), because I should like to have answered more fully than I shall be able to do some of the extraordinary arguments he used. I should like to take him up on his statement about the obsolescence of the Electra, which is really, of course, the greatest money-spinning aircraft that has ever operated in this country. I should also like to know how he reconciles his references to £9,000,000 for airports and navigation aids with his plea for the introduction of pure jets, which would increase the cost of all those things, and other things, enormously. However, I shall confine myself to four elements of the subject now before us. I shall take the last one first, because there is an implication here that somehow under this Government T.A.A. has not had a fair go, that there has been hostility to it on the part of the Government. This was the theme running through the whole of the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He used extraordinary terms like " hobbles ", " shackles " and " no fair opportunity to compete ". This sort of implication, Mr. Speaker, has been made in this House over the last ten years, and I think it is about time that the record was put straight.

Yesterday, I laid on the table the fourteenth annual report of T.A.A. That airline was run by the Labour Government for four of those fourteen years, and has been run by this Government over the last ten years. I will show, in a moment, how the progress and the achievement, the consolidation and the advances made by T.A.A. have been under this Government and not under the previous Labour Government. I do not want to bewilder the

House with figures, but I point out that when the Labour Government went out of office in 1949, the T.A.A. fleet totalled 35. To-day, it totals 54. In that fleet of 54 aircraft, there are no fewer than 23 turbo-props and 25 pressurized aircraft.

Mr Griffiths - Such aircraft did not exist when we were in government.

Mr TOWNLEY - Indeed, they did exist! The Convair 240, for example, existed, and the hostility of the socialist government to A.N.A. was such that when that airline wanted to buy Convairs the socialist government would not make available to it the necessary dollars. There was no fair competition about that. Under the Labour Government the annual turnover of T.A.A. was £3,800,000; to-day, it is £12,200,000. In 1949, under Labour, the wages and salaries bill of T.A.A. was £1,550,000; to-day, it is £4,608,000. The number of passengers carried annually by T.A.A. in the days of Labour was 455,000; to-day, it is 870,000.

Now let us have a look at the wages paid to the staff of T.A.A., taking aircrew alone. Under Labour, a hostess received £7 a week; to-day, she gets £17 a week and has immeasurably better conditions than she had under the Labour Government. To go into the top brackets, a first officer was paid £19 a week under Labour; to-day, he gets £40 a week, and again his conditions are infinitely better than they were under Labour. In addition, he enjoys the benefits of a superannuation scheme which is infinitely better than anything the Labour Government ever thought of.

Under Labour, a senior captain in 1949 received £1,500 a year; to-day, he receives £3,000-odd a year, and is covered by an insurance superannuation scheme that can give him as much as £15,000 when he retires.

Mr Calwell - Yes, their conditions are apparently so good that they went on strike over them.

Mr TOWNLEY - Nothing of the sort! The superannuation scheme was in existence long before the pilots went on strike. Their conditions are infinitely better than ever before. The end result of Labour's administration of T.A.A. was that that airline accumulated a loss of very nearly £1,000,000; but we are told that this Government is putting hobbles and shackles on it, and is giving it no opportunity to compete. Yet the airline's capital structure is better, its assets have been built up to £15,500,000, and in every way T.A.A. has benefited under this Government. If this Government has shown a lack of interest in T.A.A. and has hindered it in any way, that is not borne out by these figures.

Let me read to the House an extract from the latest advertisement published for this airline which, we are now told, this Government has hindered and hampered, hobbled and shackled, and ground into the dirt. And, speaking of advertisements, the customer is always right. This advertisement reads -

Jet flight is the fastest, smoothest way to fly. And only with T.A.A. can you be sure of jet flight whenever you fly interstate. Only T.A.A. operates over 100 jet flights - more than twice the number provided by any other airline.

This is an advertisement published by an airline that we are told is being ground into the dust. Of course, there is no substance of any sort in that allegation!

This Government's stated policy is that there shall be two major airlines. When it came into office the other airline, Australian National Airways Limited, was reeling from the shock of the blows it had received from the Labour Government. The Labour Government of those days was a socialist government and, in accordance with its policy, it decided to put A.N.A. out of business. I disagree with that policy, but I do not say that that Government was doing anything politically wrong by carrying out the policy which it advocated. But when this Government came into office it found A.N.A. reeling from those blows.

The years have gone by. There was a time when A.N.A. was almost moribund, but that airline to-day has been built up until it has 42 aircraft, whereas in 1949 it had 39. It has been suggested that A.N.A. was getting an advantage over T.A.A., but I point out that to-day Ansett-A.N.A. has only eight turbo-prop aircraft as against 23 run by T.A.A. But that same airline has come up from a turnover of £5,340,000 in 1949 to a turnover this year of £12,047,000. Its salaries have risen from £2,003,000 to £4,191,000. Honorable members do not want any more evidence of the success of this Government's policy of having two major airlines running in active and healthy competition.

I turn now to the other aspect of this matter which refers to the policy of the Government in relation to recent increases in airline fares. Here again, let us get the record straight. The Government never advocated a rise in fares at all. The two airlines got together and by mutual consent said that the airlines fares would have to be increased. At that stage they came to the Government for approval. The basis of their claim for an increase in fares was a pretty simple one. The recent basic wage rise would cost the two airlines £300,000 a year and, in addition, wages for aircrew would be another £150,000 a year. The new awards for clerical and other staff would total another £200,000 a year. There is no reference there to the cost of new aircraft which both airlines are introducing. The wages and salaries increases alone totalled at least £300,000 a year each. As the report showed, the profit made by T.A.A. last year was roughly £254,000 yet that airline had to face an increase of £300,000 in wages and salaries cost for this operating year. The same conditions applied to Ansett-A.N.A. So, in company with Ansett-A.N.A., T.A.A. applied to the Government for the right to increase air fares, and this was granted.

Even so, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has quite rightly pointed out, Australian airline fares are still the cheapest in the world. I do not know whether honorable members are aware of just how much cheaper fares are in this country compared with those on the other side of the world. Let us take a simple case that we know of. If one travels from Melbourne to Sydney the fare, first class, is £10 16s. That is a flight of 450 miles. If one travelled in Europe from London to Paris the distance is 230 miles, not much more than half the distance from Sydney to Melbourne for which we pay a fare of £10 16s. But for that 230 miles' flight from London to Paris the fare is £13 15s. The Australian fare for a flight twice that distance is £10 16s. and the tourist fare is £8 5s. The profit which T.A.A. made last year represents only 2.1 per cent, of its revenue, which is by no means high.

The third aspect of this matter is the imposition of a charge for transport to and from airports. There is no time to go into that in detail now. All I can say is that we are now coming into line with every other country. There is no country that I have visited or of which I have knowledge where the cost of transport to and from the airport is included in the cost of the airline ticket.

Mr Curtin - Does that justify the charge?

Mr TOWNLEY - I am taking a simple case. Transport charge to and from the airport has always been excluded from the air fare in other countries, and we are coming into line with them. I will say no more about that now. I wish to say one or two words about the meal standards, and in doing so I will go some of the way with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I think the airlines have gone from one extreme to the other in this matter, particularly with regard to breakfasts. We were faced one morning with cornflakes or something of that sort. This was quite a big change from the pretty hearty breakfasts that had been supplied and which people had been led to expect when they boarded the aircraft. It was too revolutionary a change. But let us remember that that position has been reviewed and the standard raised again. In my view the other meals served on the airlines are adequate, but there are lots of things I could say about them.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke about one of the services where passengers did not get even a drink of water. I remind him that when I first flew across Bass Strait passengers did not even get a drink of water and they were out for seven hours. Now, on the flight by Viscount from Launceston to Melbourne, which takes roughly 70 minutes' flying time, there is first of all a bar service. The hostesses have to go up and down askins the passengers if they want anything from the bar. When that mess is cleared away they then serve hot meals. Surely that is a contrast with the service provided when it took seven hours to come across the Strait in the small aircraft then operating and when passengers did not get even a drink of water. I would rather have the fares kept as low as possible and some of these unnecessary features of the catering service on airlines cut down. I would not advocate an increase in them if it meant raising the fares further.

I should like to draw some attention to the duties which the air hostesses perform. Taking a flight from Sydney to Melbourne as a example, they have to work terribly hard; and the bigger the aircraft, the more passengers on board and the faster the flight, the harder do the hostesses have to work. When they have to turn from the bar service to the serving of meals, it is bad enough when the weather is good; but if they strike a flight when there is a certain amount of turbulence, their job becomes a mild form of slavery, in my view.

Replying to the Opposition generally, the suggestion that T.A.A. has suffered under this Government cannot be substantiated. On the contrary, it can be shown that most of its increases, and certainly its consolidation and its re-equipment, have taken place during the life of this Government. Side by side with that, the former (A.N.A.) organization has come up from being hit almost out of existence by the Labour Government to its present healthy condition.

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