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Thursday, 15 October 1964

Mr ASTON (Phillip) .- The attitude of the Government in relation to air transport is very well known and, I would say, is in direct contrast to the attitude of the Labour Party whose representatives sit opposite and in the State Parliaments. I listened to the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Connor), who said that Australian transport problems will ultimately be resolved," but he did not say how they will be resolved. Are we to take it from the tenor and tone of his speech today that he is suggesting, as many other members of the Labour Party have suggested, that transport should be nationalised? If he is suggesting that, why does he not tell the Australian people exactly where he stands.

Mr Calwell - He does not say that.

Mr ASTON - Of course he does. Here is a man who says straight out that the whole of the national transport system should be nationalised. I do not know whether the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) will defend the honorable member as he defended the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren) the other night, but I am sure that neither he nor any of the other members of the Opposition would be pleased at the fact that here we have the honorable member for Cunningham espousing the cause of nationalisation which the Opposition party has been trying to play down ever since the last two elections. But now the policy is quite out in the open again.

In the last 14 years this country has been provided with a very safe and efficient air transport service. Under the control of this Government air services have been expanded throughout the length and breadth of the land. Every man, woman and child in the community has received, directly or indirectly, great benefit from our efficient system of air transport. Our air transport system has greatly assisted this country's expansion and development. When discussing this subject it is well to remember that the Commonwealth has already spent about £60 million on aviation facilities and has created an air transport system covering more than 3 million square miles. Having regard to the expansion and growth of our airlines, Australia probably has a better record of safety in the air than any other country. In short, this Government has accepted its responsibility. Its acceptance of that responsibility has made possible the growth of airlines in this country.

It seems to me that some of the State Governments want all the rights in the matter of aviation without accepting any of the responsibilities. I do not think that the New South Wales Government is genuine in the interest that it has shown in this matter, as 1 shall show in a few moments. Similarly I shall show that some other States did not take any real interest in aviation until this subject became of political importance. I believe it is essential for Australia to have an effective single air transport control. This year about 31 million people will be carried by the airlines. Those people are entitled to an efficient and well planned service. Only last week the Department of Civil Aviation began a detailed study which will lead to the re-allocation of some air routes in New South Wales. The objects of the study have been clearly stated and I do not think any fair minded person will quarrel with those objects.

Dr Mackay - What were they?

Mr ASTON - First, the Government is anxious to provide the best possible service to rural areas. Secondly, it was concerned to secure the existence in New South Wales of two airlines, each of which is an independent and viable entity. Thirdly - this is important - the Commonwealth aims to decrease the amount of subsidy that it pays to airlines operating in New South Wales. It will be realised, of course, that subsidies are in reality paid by the taxpayers throughout the Commonwealth. Surely nobody can quibble about those objects. They are objects with which any honorable member, no matter what his politics may be, would agree if he were not obsessed with socialistic objectives.

It has been said that the Government has acted hastily in introducing these regulations. I point out that as far back as 1961 the New South Wales Government was aware that some re-allocation pf air routes was to be made. In fact, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) wrote to the then Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Heffron.

Dr Mackay - What was the date again?

Mr ASTON - October 1961. In his letter the Prime Minister said that he had learned of the decision of the New South Wales Government to make certain re-allocations. I think the Prime Minister was right in pointing out that out of common decency the New South Wales Government should have consulted the Commonwealth if it intended to re-allocate air routes because the)

Commonwealth is providing so much money for airport amenities and facilities and to train men to operate efficiently and safely our internal air lines. The New South Wales Government appointed a Mr. Borthwick to inquire into the re-allocation of air routes. Having made certain inquiries on behalf of the New South Wales Government, Mr. Borthwick reported that if New South Wales wished to put into effect any plan of reallocation, prior consultation with the Commonwealth would be necessary. The New South Wales Government did not take any notice of Mr. Borthwick. It did not accept his plan but went ahead haphazardly to reallocate air routes.

Dr Mackay - Was Mr. Borthwick a' T.A.A. man?

Mr ASTON - Of course he was. There can be no doubt that the Commonwealth should be responsible for looking after the affairs of our air transport system. As long ago as 1920 a resolution was passed at a Premiers' Conference that each State refer control of air navigation to the Commonwealth. The Constitutional Review Committee has said that the Commonwealth should have control of air services. We know that Commonwealth control of air services is Labour Party policy. I think it is wise for the Commonwealth to have this control because in this way we will get a more efficient and co-ordinated air transport service.

The Labour Party has been consistent in its policy on air transport. It states that the needs of the community are best served by a monopoly system of . air -transport. The Labour Party further states that it should be a socialistic monopoly. The Labour Party has never made any bones about its policy. The Government, on the other hand, has made it quite plain that it considers an aviation monopoly, whether it be a Government monopoly or a private monopoly, to be undesirable. The Government has. established a competitive airlines system. Our system has attracted the interest and has been the envy of many countries where the public has found that the elimination of the spur of competition hardens the hide of a transport monopoly to public protests and demands. The Airlines Agreement Act passed by this Parliament a few years ago provides that there will be two airlines in equal competition on the trunk routes and that one of those airlines will be TransAustralia Airlines. The legislation makes no mention of which will be the other airline. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has claimed that preference has been given to Ansett-A.N.A. His colleagues on the other side of the House have frequently claimed that the Government is out to kill T.A.A. This is a ridiculous assertion. T.A.A. was formed three years before this Government came to office and in the last 14 years it has expanded and prospered. It is now being re-equipped with the bestand most expensive domestic airliners available. If the intention ever was to kill T.A.A., surely the Government has gone about its task in a peculiar way. The Government has allowed T.A.A. to prosper, to expand and to make record profits.

I firmly believe that in the air transport system there is a real place for individuals' arid private enterprise. The Labour Party seems to take great delight in attacking the Ansett group, which in my opinion has played a notable part in the progress of aviation in this country. Listening to the Labour attack on the Ansett group one would think that Ansett-A.N.A. was a monopoly. Some honorable members opposite have even claimed in this debate that Ansett-A.N.A. is a monopoly. I cannot' think of one field of endeavour in which Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. has a monopoly. In fact, most of the company's activities are in some of Australia's most competitive fields - air transport, road transport, hotels, tourism and manufacturing. Ansett employs thousands of Australians and serves millions of others. I have an admiration for this company which started with very little capital and which has created and developed a great air transport industry in the face of very successful and keen competition from Trans-Australia Airlines. I have an unqualified admiration, too, for the contributions of T.A.A., but, unlike the Opposition I do not look upon it as a shining jewel of socialism, nor do I make all who compete against it targets for socialistic shafts.

It is a matter for regret that many members on the other side of the House look upon T.A.A. as a monopoly weapon with which to achieve socialism. They know very well the provisions of the Airlines Agreement Act. They know very well, too, that the airlines are guaranteed not equal traffic but equal access to traffic. It is only the use of initiative and by giving service that airlines can compete successfully, and honorable members opposite know very well that one aspect of competition from which both airlines have been saved is that of overcapacity, which has proved so ruinous to so many airlines throughout the world.

I have said that the aims of the Labour Party in air transport are well known. This makes the situation in New South Wales all the more surprising. Certainly, the future of East-West Airlines Ltd. under a Labour Government in Canberra would be very uncertain. One could understand the motives of the Labour Party of New South Wales, no matter how one deplored them, if that party were deliberately planning the re-allocation of air routes in New South Wales in an effort to advance a socialistic objective through T.A.A. In this case, the Labour Party's aim seems to have been to take assets from a large group of private shareholders and to present them to a small group of private shareholders. It was a remarkable decision and all the more remarkable because it was the first evidence of any aviation interests by the New South Wales Government. That Government has always been quite happy to let the Commonwealth find the money, to provide the facilities, and to provide the trained staff to operate and maintain those facilities and to provide the subsidies to make many of the services possible. My understanding is that East-West Airlines Ltd. is take-over proof and this is very important from the Labour Party's viewpoint. No shares can be disposed of without the approval of the company's board of directors. This is not so with Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. whose shares are freely available and are listed on the stock exchange. This leaves that company open to a potential take-over by any person or by any organisation.

Labour's concern for East-West Airlines Ltd. is like the concern of the cat for the canary. It is not the New South Wales Government or the Labour Party that has helped this decentralised and efficient airline to become an efficient industry and, I might add, a profitable one which gives good service, and it should be a somewhat sobering thought for members of the Opposition that

East-West Airlines Ltd. finds it is capable of paying a higher dividend than T.A.A. pays. Without the assistance of this Government, it is doubtful whether East-West Airlines Ltd. could have continued. The Minister has pointed out that this Government assisted that company in the early days by making available aircraft on charter from T.A.A. and, in addition, aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force when one of the company's planes crashed into the lake near Kensington. Indeed, the Government virtually gave the aircraft to the company because the company bought it at what might be called a give-away price. It can be seen, therefore, that the Government wants to ensure the existence in New South Wales of at least two independent airlines, but it has a responsibility to see to it that air routes that overlap and that are unprofitable are cut to a minimum, in an endeavour to decrease the subsidy payments which the Government makes.

It seems rather strange that the Federal Labour Party which, with its known element of left wing members, unanimously agrees that control of air transport should be in the hands of the Commonwealth, should now be supporting the right wing Labour Party in New South Wales in its socalistic objectives and its desire to retain control of intrastate routes, which are being pursued at this time purely for political purposes.

Mr Reynolds - Make up your mind.

Mr ASTON - It is being used for both purposes. Perhaps this can best be illustrated by the Opposition's intention, through its socialistic dogma, to assume partial or complete control of any industry to further its objectives. It is interesting to examine the attitude of the various States towards this matter. Many of the States have taken a new interest in the air navigation licensing system. In South Australia, an airline operator is required to hold only a Federal licence. In Tasmania, the obligation to obtain a licence from both Federal and State authorities is concurrent, but the requirements of the two sets of regulations may be satisfied in any order. When we examine the position in Western Australia we find that section 46 of the relevant act provides that the Transport Board of that State may grant a licence, provided all the laws or regulations of the Commonwealth have been complied with. It is interesting to note, too, as the Minister pointed out this morning, that in 1956 the aircraft licensing provisions of Victoria were repealed, and at the present time only a Federal licence is required in that State.

I come now to Queensland. The State authority there is empowered under the Queensland Air Navigation Act to declare that the Commonwealth Air Navigation Regulations do not apply to intrastate aviation. This power has never been exercised. What is the position in New South Wales? Here we find that the Premier, seeking the help of his Federal colleagues, has come out as a great State righter, without even having the decency to consult with the Commonwealth Government which pays the piper by way of granting subsidies and providing facilities. Without having the decency to consult this Government on his reallocation proposals, he accuses this Government of making a hasty decision. It is a ridiculous proposition which has been put to the House, especially when we realise that his advisers had said to him: "You cannot do this. Before a scheme can be practicable it should be considered in consultation with the Commonwealth and must have the concurrence of the Commonwealth." The Premier of New South Wales did not comply with the suggestion made by his advisers.

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

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