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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr CHRESBY (Griffith) .- For some time now, I have been asking questions and making statements in this House in connexion with the hovercraft. I should like to direct attention to the fact that on 1 st September this year I asked a question without notice relating to the possibility of establishing a joint parliamentary committee to inquire into the development of the hovercraft and to make periodic reports upon the possible impact of this craft upon

Australia's economy and transport system. On 13 th October last, I was advised by the then Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) that this craft was in such early stages of development that it might be some years before commercial models would be available. On 26th October, I made a statement in this House giving all the facts relating to the development of the hovercraft to date. In that statement I also mentioned the dates on which it was expected that the various commercial models would be available. T am in a position to announce to-day that at the end of this month Mr. D. Hennessy, of the British hovercraft company, will be visiting Australia to study the Australian position. Because of that, I should like to direct the Government's attention to certain most important factors connected with the development of this craft.

First, I point out that the burning question exercising the minds of those in this country who are interested in the commercial development of the hovercraft and such other things as the cushioncraft, the hoverscooter, the hover-truck and so on, is the question of jurisdiction. They are concerned to know who will have constitutional control of the operations of these groundeffects machines, as they are called. Will they be under the control of the States? My understanding from a study of their technical development is that the skill and knowledge required to operate one of these machines are no greater than the skill and knowledge required to operate an ordinary freighter truck. That being so, I should like to know whether these machines will come under the control of the States. If they are to be controlled by the States, will they come under the jurisdiction of the State Minister who administers traffic regulations, or will they be under the control of the State Ministers for Harbours and Marine if they are to be operated purely as watercraft on the waterways of the State and up and down the coast of the State? Or will they come under the overall control of the Commonwealth? I submit that all these questions must be answered with the greatest possible speed because I can assure honorable members that in Western Australia and Queensland there are persons who are interested in investing money in the development of a machine to be operated on the same principle as the hovercraft because the hovercraft itself has been patented. These people want to get going on the development of these machines and a speedy decision is important.

I know that one member of the New South Wales Parliament is interested in operating one on Sydney Harbour because, as honorable members will know, a 68- passenger craft capable of travelling at 70 knots will be available towards the end of next year. In Brisbane at the moment, one company is considering negotiating for the purchase of a cushion-craft which operates on a similar principle to the hovercraft, but as yet nobody knows in whose hands constitutional control will lie. In those circumstances, I suggest that it is expedient that these questions be decided now.

The second aspect with which I wish to deal is the impact of these machines upon Australia's economy and transport system. In a speech which I made during the adjournment debate on 26th October last, I said that it was possible that within a very short time - three or four years - we would see operating on the Australian mainland, especially in the outback areas, this type of craft weighing 400 tons and capable of carrying a pay-load of 160 tons and moving across the country at something like 90 knots. We all know the tremendous problems associated with transport in the outback. Almost daily we hear references - some expressing satisfaction and others dissatisfaction - to the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States in connexion with roads. We know that in 1965 that agreement will be reviewed, and I feel that even at this early stage we must adjust our thinking to an anticipation of the probable effects of the operation of such big craft in the hinterland of Australia and of what will be necessary to cater for them. The development of major roads throughout Australia, especially in the hinterland, will cost many hundreds of millions of pounds, if we are to build roads of the type expected at the moment. If we are able to ascertain that craft of the type of the hovercraft can be operated satisfactorily over roads with perhaps only a light seal, great saving could be effected for the economy. We know already that these craft can be operated over swamps, bogs, sand and so on, and that floods make no difference to them because they create their own cushion of air. We also know that they do not destroy the land or blow it away. They can surmount all the obstacles I have mentioned because they create their own cushion of air. At the moment, the Minister for Transport in Great Britain, Mr. Marples, is considering a plan for a hovertrain which will travel at something like 100 miles an hour, using the existing railway permanent way. At first, it will probably consist of a number of hovercraft linked together, as it were. These are all portents of what we may see in the immediate future. We cannot set them aside and say that the matter is not worth looking at now because it may be several years before these craft are available. In the fields of science and technocracy, what is deemed to be improbable on Monday is an accomplished fact by Friday. We cannot afford to ignore the position.

In the interests of being on-side and well in advance of developments, I again make the plea that we should give very serious consideration to this question, on a Commonwealth basis. From what I know - and I have given years of study to the hovercraft and have done years of research work on it - I can foresee that in Great Britain and on the continent of Europe the demand for this type of craft, when it comes into operation on a commercial basis, will be sufficient to keep the factories of Great Britain busy. Any hope of our getting that type of craft will therefore have to be forgotten for some time.

We must put our constitutional situation with respect to these craft in order. We must decide where the operational control will lie and then encourage development and experiment in Australia. We must invite the British hovercraft people to negotiate with Australian companies for the manufacture of these craft in Australia, so as to let us get on with this thing. It is a very important subject, and one of the first and most important and most essential tasks in connexion with it is to decide where the control of these craft will lie. Will it lie with the States or with the Commonwealth? If the control lies with the Commonwealth, where will the jurisdiction rest? Will it rest with the Department of Shipping and Transport, or with the Department of Civil

Aviation? I do not wish to cast any reflection on the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Paltridge), but I hope and trust, because of what this type of craft will mean to Australia, that the jurisdiction will not lie with the Department of Civil Aviation. I believe this is a machine that is properly a ground effect machine. It is not an aircraft and will not compete with aircraft in any way. It will compete with certain types of road transport and on the coast it can compete with certain types of coastal vessels. It can be used, on harbour-ways, to compete with various types of vessels.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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