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Friday, 10 December 1965

Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes (CHISHOLM, VICTORIA) . - I have no desire to enter into an argument about Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. and what percentage it ought to pay, or anything of that nature. I should like, however, to congratulate the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) on the thoughtful and clear analysis he has made of this Bill with regard to the state of the entire transport industry in Australia. I know that he has other work to do, but I regret that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) is not here, because I believe he is the Minister on whom the responsibility falls in the matters that were discussed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. About four or five years after the war, when I was Minister for Transport in Victoria, the Chifley Government appointed Sir Harold Clapp as chairman of a Federal transport council that was established. We had regular meetings and we made detailed investigations into the co-ordination of transport and the cost of the various forms of transport. At that time all our efforts - particularly under the guidance of the late honorable member for East Sydney, Mr. E. J. Ward, who was then Federal Minister for Transport - were concentrated on the coordination, regulating and rationalising, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition described it, of all forms of transport.

This Bill provides for a slight increase in air navigation charges. In my view our air transport system is equal to, if not better than, any air transport system in the world. Ours is a magnificent service, whether it is run by Trans-Australia Airlines, Ansett-A.N.A., Qantas or any of the other airlines. We should congratulate the airline companies on the achievements. Nevertheless, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has clearly pointed out, the Federal Government, with its unlimited finances, is subsidising air transport out of all proportion to its treatment of other forms of transport in Australia. I approve of subsidies for air transport, particularly in country districts. This is wise and proper. Air transport has enabled our outback areas to be served by a modern, efficient and fast form of transport. Certain aspects of subsidies are clearly to be approved. But on the other hand the Government has not given any estimate of what this subsidy has done to increase the deficits of the State railway systems, particularly in interstate trade.

There is no doubt the railways cannot compete with air transport as long as air transport is subsidised. Almost all of our railways are run by State Governments. They must pay for their stations, their signalling equipment, their bridges and so on. Aviation is a Federal responsibility, and, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, airline operators are now subsidised by the Commonwealth to the extent of £4 per passenger. The effect of this, as I remember from my days as Minister for Transport in Victoria - the effect would be more pronounced now - is that the Federal Government becomes richer and richer while the State Governments become poorer and poorer.

I do not think any estimate has been made of how much should be granted to the States to offset the losses incurred by their railway systems due to the Commonwealth's heavy subsidising of airlines. The difficulty is that the airline operators do not pay for the facilities that they use. They pay only a small part of the cost of aerodromes, navigational aids and meterological services. I strongly urge the Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn), who represents in this chamber the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty), to discuss with his colleague, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth), the matter of the proper co-ordination and rationalisation of all forms of transport in Australia. This is an important matter from the view points of State and Commonwealth financial relations and national development. It is a long time since we have heard anything about this matter. I do not know whether the committee to which I earlier referred is still in existence. I do know that the research or expert team formed by Sir Harold Clapp was dispersed. Its members were sent to other jobs. As far as I know, the result of the committee's researches was taken over by the Commonwealth Railways, which has never since bothered to do anything about them. This happened at a time when there was considerable jealousy between the Commissioner for Commonwealth Railways and the committee. I do not know where the committee's records are-. They were taken over very rapidly by some men in a van and placed somewhere in the archives of the Commonwealth Railways.

The Commonwealth Railways in my view has done an excellent job. The last financial report of the Commonwealth Railways was very satisfactory. I have no criticism to offer of this organisation. But I do not think that the Commonwealth Railways is more efficiently run in any repec t than are any of the State Railways. The Commonwealth Railways gets a better financial result because it is hot handicapped in the way that State Railways are.

Mr Whitlam - It is all through traffic.

Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes (CHISHOLM, VICTORIA) - That is so. So I strongly support the arguments that have been put forward by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition this morning. While we have good seasons and there is plenty of money around, the only people suffering hardships are the State Governments. It was said yesterday in the House that the New South Wales Government - I will not be too parochial and refer always to Victoria- had to postpone £4 million worth of school building projects.

Mr Jones - Did the honorable member show this sympathetic understanding 12 months ago?

Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes (CHISHOLM, VICTORIA) - Why 12 months ago? I was in the Victorian Parliament for 22i years and I know more about State parliamentary finances than does the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones). If the honorable member does not understand what I am talking about, at least his deputy leader does. I am pointing out why the State Governments get into difficulties with the financing of schools, universities and other projects. They have to meet increased deficits in their railway systems, largely contributed to by the Commonwealth's subsidising of air transport.

I rose to speak as somebody who has had a long experience as a State Minister for Transport; as somebody who participated in the early negotiations, under the late Sir Harold Clapp, with the late honorable honorable member for East Sydney, who was then Commonwealth Minister for Transport. I -have always regretted that the initial work done by that brilliant team of experts under Sir Harold Clapp was apparently all thrown into the waste paper basket later because somebody was not interested - because the Federal government collects all the finance and the more you can screw down the State Governments the better. These things are not taken into account at Premier's Conferences. I remember sitting in on these conferences. I remember the Premiers, Labour and Liberal, putting up a certain suggestion and the late Prime Minister Chifley saying: " Gentlemen, the vote is in the affirmative; the answer is in the negative". The same thing could happen under this Government.

I do not think we in this House give sufficient thought to the financial problems of the States brought about by the present financial agreement. The transport problem referred to this morning by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is one of the biggest headaches in State finances. It is one of the main reasons why the States are short of money for education and for many other purposes. In discussions on Commonwealth and State finances the effect of the Commonwealth activities on the State transport systems has never been properly analysed or even recognised. I hope that these things will be done in the future and that effect will be given to the suggestions of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. This is most important for the future of this country.

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