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Thursday, 12 November 1959

Mr ANDERSON (Hume) .- My friendship with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) prevents me from saying other than that his attack in this urgency debate started off and ended halfbaked. That is the kindest way that I can put it. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) took up the point that the £400,000 profit had been lost by T.A.A. because Ansett-A.N.A. had Lockheed Electra aircraft in service first. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition depended for his case mainly upon promptings from his own side. However, I am afraid that those promptings did very little to aid his speech. He said that this Government was putting shackles on TransAustralia Airlines. His very word was "shackles". Shortly after that, he said that the public was not being protected because of the fierce competition over the departure times of aircraft. You cannot shackle one competitor and, at the same time, create fierce competition. It does not make sense.

In much the same way, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) tried to drag a red herring across the trail by talking about Butler Air Transport Limited. That company does not come into the terms of the proposal at present before the House, which relates to the raising of fares and the lowering of standards of service. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) took each point in turn and gave a devastating answer to the Opposition's case.

We now have the honorable member for Werriwa asking why air services are subsidized by the Commonwealth Government and saying that no other government subsidizes any other form of transport. We know of the big losses on the railways owned by the State governments. We know that, each year, the New South Wales railways lose about £6,000,000. The loss has to be made up out of government revenue. Is not that a subsidy? The tram and bus services in New South Wales lose about £2,000,000 a year, and that loss has to be made up. Is not that a subsidy? It just does not make sense to say that no government other than the Commonwealth subsidizes any form of transport.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition talked about Ansett-A.N.A. declaring a 17 per cent, dividend although the company was under-capitalized. That would not represent 17 per cent, on shareholders' funds. In the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition we have seen a typical misuse of commercial terms by socialists in an effort to mislead the public. Does the Opposition want our air services to be run at a loss? That is the point. Opposition speakers have said that nobody on the Government side of the House had put any argument to substantiate the increasing of fares. We know that costs have risen enormously. The recent basic wage increase alone will cost T.A.A. £155,000 a year. Increased salaries for pilots will cost £87,000 a year, and increased salaries for clerks and other employees, £117,000 a year. Increased post and telegraph charges will cost this airline another £40,000 a year. Increased interest charges will cost it an additional £175,000 a year, and increased insurance charges will cost it another £100,000 a year. So that, for T.A.A. alone, costs have increased by nearly £700,000 a year. Yet Opposition members say that the airline is not entitled to increase its fares. To me, it seems that the Australian Labour Party has adopted a subtle plan to try to make us run T.A.A. at a loss so that Opposition members can then criticize us as being poor custodians of government property.

I turn now to the proposal to impose a charge for transport by road between city terminals and airports. A similar charge is imposed in every other country. This proposal will increase the revenue of TransAustralia Airlines by £100,000 a year, and the reduction of meal services will save it £80,000 a year. To me, it is extraordinary that the egalitarian party - and Opposition members boast that the Australian Labour Party is the egalitarian party - wants luxury travel only on one form of transport. Why do Opposition members not ask for tea services on the buses and trams in Sydney? One of the reasons for cutting down meal services is the increased speed of modern air transport. What the travelling public all over the world want, on both international and internal air services, is cheaper air travel. It is unfortunate that increased costs over which the airline companies have no control have caused fares to rise. However, the cutting down of luxury travel will enable the airlines to reduce fares instead of increasing them.

The honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin), in a contribution which I think may have been most misleading, and which, certainly, was moderately misleading, accused the Government of imposing a tax on kerosene fuel because a number of the aircraft operated by Trans-Australia Airlines used that kind of fuel. The private company was paying over £600,000 a year more than its competitor in petrol tax. Yet the honorable member seems to think it was unfair to impose a tax on kerosene fuel, because the private company's competitor used a good deal of kerosene fuel. I remind the honorable member that, in this very House, he voted in support of the introduction of a tax on diesel fuel which made it harder for road transport to compete with the railways. How does the honorable member reconcile his attitude on that occasion with his present attitude? He considered that it was unfair of road transport to compete with the railways and he supported the introduction of a tax which made it more difficult for road transport to compete with the railways. But now he says that what was good for private road transport operators is not good for the government airline operator.

I feel, Mr. Speaker, that the Opposition's attack is directed against private enterprise entirely - against Ansett-A.N.A. Let us look more closely at this company. It has 6,000 employees - good Australians who provide excellent service, as do the employees of Trans-Australia Airlines. However, Opposition members, who are supposed to represent the workers, are anxious to destroy Ansett-A.N.A. The jobs of 6,000 workers apparently mean nothing to them, because they want all workers to be under government control. Ansett-A.N.A. has 13,500 shareholders. Many of them are ordinary thrifty people who have put their savings into this company for the benefit of Australia.

Mr Curtin - The widow's mite.

Mr ANDERSON - The honorable member considers that these shareholders are not worthy of protection. At least 2,500 of the shareholders are employees of the company. It means nothing to Opposition members that 2,500 of the company's employees have put their money into the company in order to support a fine endeavour. The Opposition does not want them to be protected.

My own view, Mr. Speaker, is that the proposal of this matter for discussion represents a half-baked attack on a very well run airline - one of the finest in the world. Such an attack carries no weight whatever. In airline operation in Australia, we have a wonderful record of safety. All our airline operators have a wonderful record of service. This Government is encouraging reasonable competition, and I feel that the Government's case is a very strong one. I am sure that anybody who judges the issue on the discussion that has taken place today will see that the Opposition's case has been badly founded and that the Opposition has been entirely motivated by its desire to criticize and destroy a fine privately owned airline.

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