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Thursday, 15 October 1964

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) .- This debate this afternoon has degenerated, in my opinion, to a level of personal abuse which I feel is quite unwarranted in this context. To me the concern of honorable members in relation to this matter should be the constitutional issues involved. There is no need for any reference to any individuals involved in this affair and I feel that the references that have been made this afternoon against an individual are only indicative of the vindictiveness of the type of action exemplified by that taken in the New South Wales Parliament by introducing a bill containing penalties so severe that they are without parallel. Particularly when they are compared with penalties under the New South Wales industrial arbitration legislation do we realise how vindictive they are.

Much mention has been made this afternoon of the statement made by a member of the New South Wales Parliament from my area, Mr. Chaffey, M.L.A. His argument is based on his belief that constitutional aviation powers should be retained by the States. I understand that Mr. Renshaw, the Premier of New South Wales, is of that opinion. If we look at one of the letters that were tabled in the House recently, we see that Mr. Reece, the Premier of Tasmania, is also of that opinion. How does that tie in with the opinion expressed by members of the Federal Parliamentary Labour Party today? The amendment that we are currently discussing, as I understand it, states expressly that the members of the Federal Parliamentary Labour Party agree that the Commonwealth should regulate all air navigation within Australian territory.

It has been stated on a number of occasions today that no-one in this House believes that the constitutional power should not be assumed by the Commonwealth. Let me say here and now that I am of that opinion. I believe that the sovereign rights of the States should be preserved. But I do not believe that those sovereign rights should be preserved without the attendant obligations. Those obligations should go concurrently with the exercise of those rights. I believe that those obligations should include at least the payment of all subsidies to intrastate services to rural and developmental areas which for so long have been supported by the Commonwealth Government. If the State Governments are as genuine in their claims as I am in my belief that the States should retain their constitutional rights, then I suggest that in the future they should display a little of their sincerity. If their powers are returned, as I would like them to be, the State Governments should display their sincerity by agreeing at least to pay subsidies in order to develop rural areas.

As the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston) said this afternoon, in the past there has been no display by many of the State Premiers of any intent to exercise their sovereign rights and there certainly has been no display by any Premier of any intent to exercise his sovereign responsi bilities. In my opinion, it is of no use to have one without the other. Sovereign responsibilities are equally a liability of the States. The States must be prepared to bear those responsibilities if they wish to exercise those rights. That is the basis on which I say that in this instance the Commonwealth should not assume these powers. I believe that the Commonwealth should be prepared to let the States retain the right to coordinate intrastate transport.

It has been said this afternoon that " transport " does not mean only air transport. I quite agree. The member for Tamworth in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, in a statement which he made on 9th October and which has been referred to in this debate this afternoon, said -

Let me make my own position perfectly clear. Military defence is a Federal responsibility; civil defence is a State responsibility. This has been acknowledged over the years by both Federal and State governments, irrespective of parly political persuasion.

There has to be within the whole ambit of Civil Aviation some degree of government influence that will ensure that the Government in its planning can be certain that there are aircraft available to fit into any mobilisation plan in time of military emergency.

He went on to refer to the fact that civil defence does not relate only to a military emergency. Civil defence relates also to floods and fires, for instance. On many occasions in recent years the New South Wales civil defence organisation has operated very efficiently when it has been called upon to provide help and succour in times of floods and other civil emergencies. That is the sphere in which I believe the constitutional rights should be retained by the sovereign States. It is in that context that I believe the Commonwealth in this instance is intruding upon a jurisdiction which should be retained by the States.

I regret that the correspondence has taken place and that action has been taken by the Commonwealth in this regard. But, if we are to debate the procedures that have been undertaken by the Commonwealth, as we are doing this afternoon, let us look at the matter factually and let us not condemn the correspondence because of the intrusion of the name of an individual company, as is done in the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). To me, that is quite obnoxious. In fact, this fairy tale that has been told this afternoon reminds me of the Noddy books of which we heard recently. It is a fairy tale that might well have been written by Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen.

The only problem about it is that we have the ogre of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. and I presume that the good fairy - I am afraid that I would not classify him as such - is the Premier of New South Wales, the Honorable Jack Renshaw. What a good fairy! I wonder. This afternoon the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) has mentioned the efforts that have been made by the Premier of New South Wales on behalf of East-West Airlines Ltd. Let us look back and see just what happened at the time of the AnsettButler negotiations. What was done by the Premier of New South Wales - not Mr. Renshaw, but his predecessor - at that time to help Butler, the underdog? Was anything done?

If we look at the text of the Bill that has been introduced into the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, once again we see that this pseudo good fairy is preparing to introduce a bill which is intended directly to prejudice the operations of one individual company. That one individual company will be penalised outrageously if it continues to operate under what it presumes to be the laws of the country for the time being. That is most obnoxious. I do not think that this matter should be reduced to a sordid personal battle. The Commonwealth already has undertaken to look into the problems of East-West Airlines Ltd., and I have no doubt that that company will receive an equitable share of air transport within New South Wales.

In fact, the Director-General of Civil Aviation stated only recently - prior to his having discussions with the representatives of East-West Airlines Ltd. and prior to his having similar discussions with the representatives of Airlines of New South Wales Pty. Ltd. - that some consideration would be given to placing New South Wales air transport operations on a reasonable basis. The need for a redistribution has been long acknowledged. In fact, in the letter from which the honorable member for Phillip quoted - the letter written by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in October 1961 - there was mention of the need for some redistribution. I have no doubt that if the Premier of New South Wales at that time had been prepared to agree with the request, which was made very reasonably by the Prime Minister, that the matter be deferred until after the election which was then about to take place, some consideration would have been given to an equitable redistribution of the internal air routes of New South Wales.

The position which has arisen now is that the matter is being investigated. I have complete confidence in the impartiality of the Commonwealth Government and the impartiality of the representatives of the Department of Civil Aviation. I have no doubt that they will ensure that there will be an equitable redistribution. The Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn) mentioned the almost spider-like complex that appears when one looks at the present air routes in New South Wales. This afternoon mention has been made of the economics of the operations of individual companies. The honorable member for Phillip mentioned that the dividend paid by East-West Airlines Ltd. this year was more than the dividend paid by TransAustralia Airlines. But let us consider how this dividend was made up and how the profits were determined. If we look at the profit figures of East-West Airlines, we see that in the financial year up to 30th June 1964, whilst before tax it had a profit of £45,311, it actually incurred a loss of £17,474 on airline operations and this was after a subsidy payment of £27,400.

These are the figures that quite equitably and correctly the Department of Civil Aviation is examining to determine how it can make the position better not only in terms of service to the public but also in terms of costs to the taxpayers. As I have just said, the subsidy payment to the company was £27,400. This is the only way in which a private aircraft operator in New South Wales can hope to operate economically. If these subsidies are to continue to be a big burden on the Australian taxpayers, there is a very good and sound reason why there should be an investigation of route re-allocations and more sense used in the allocation of routes and the way in which they ate run.

This afternoon I find myself in a little difficulty because we are debating an amendment moved by the Opposition which at one point agrees that the Commonwealth should regulate all air navigation - I completely disagree with this - and at another point deplores the Government's misuse of its new legislation. I have no truck with the rider that follows this, and that is that the Government gives preferential treatment to Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. I completely disagree with this assertion. However, I regret, as the Leader of the Opposition said in his amendment, that the Government has misused its new legislation. I regret that the Commonwealth has taken these powers by regulation. Personally, I think, if the Commonwealth decided that this was a constitutional issue that properly fell within the ambit of a legal decision brought down in the High Court, it should have moved by way of an act and not by way of a regulation to which the only remedy is the moving of a motion of disallowance. I am afraid I do not agree with this action of the Government.

I think it would have been far better, if action were necessary, for the Commonwealth to have used the direct means of legislative action and not an indirect means. To me, introducing a power in this way by a regulation is not a direct attack on the matter. Nonetheless, let me assure the House that I do not agree that the Commonwealth should have assumed this power. However, if it intended to do so, it would have been far better if the Government had done it by way of an enactment. There would not then have been the same public criticism as there currently has been of the action of the Government.

I think the real issues have been very much clouded by the actions of Opposition members and by some of the publicity that has been centred on unfortunate aspects of the takeover of these powers by the Commonwealth. We, the community, the public of Australia, would have been far better served if a conference between the Prime Minister and the Premiers had been held following the correspondence. This is a supplemental argument that I would like to put about the introduction of the regulations at this stage. Once the correspondence had been entered into, it was a pity that there could not have been some conference, not at the level of the Attorneys-General but at the level of the Prime Minister and the Premiers, to discuss the way in which it was intended to take over and to operate intrastate air transport. At the time of the correspondence in 1961, a statement was made showing that Mr. Borthwick, the person who was appointed by the New South Wales Government to look into the co-ordination of air transport, thought it would be essential for the Commonwealth and the States to act together, that the States would not be able to operate entirely on their own. The Prime Minister said -

Mr. Borthwickconcluded that the concurrence and assistance of the Commonwealth would be necessary to carry out effectively any plan adopted by the New South Wales Government.

This argument, which was put by the Prime Minister at the time of his letter to the Premier of New South Wales on 31st October 1961, illustrates the necessity for the Commonwealth and the States to continue to co-operate on the ways and means of operating aircraft routes within New South Wales or within any other State. This is another reason why, if the Commonwealth intended to take over the powers and to do so by regulation rather than by enactment, there should have first been a conference between the Prime Minister and the Premiers to determine in what way there should be a route re-allocation, in what way greater economies could have been effected and in what way the people of New South Wales and the rest of Australia could best be served. To me, this should have been done before the regulations were introduced.

I would restate my case. I cannot agree with the amendment that has been moved this afternoon. On the other hand, I think that the procedures that have been adopted by the Commonwealth have been fair and equitable, that they have shown no undue preference for Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. but that it would have been far preferable for the Commonwealth to have acted after consultation between the Prime Minister and the Premiers. If such a conference had been held and the regulations then introduced, much of the adverse criticism that has presently been aroused would have been silenced. Let me finally assure Opposition members, who seem to think that I am not prepared to support the case of East-West Airlines, that I believe that the impartiality of the Department of Civil Aviation and the Commonwealth Government will ensure that there will be an equitable distribution of airline routes within New South Wales and that whatever the final arbitral body is, whether it be the Commonwealth or the State, the Department of Civil Aviation will ensure the continued viable existence of this decentralised airline that operates in northern New South Wales.

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