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Friday, 10 December 1965

Mr JONES (Newcastle) . - I would like to join the unity ticket of Whitlam, Kent Hughes and now Jones, and express a few opinions on this Bill. I agree with everything that the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) said, notwithstanding my facetious interjection asking him whether he would have sympathised with the New South Wales Government 12 months ago when it was a Labour Government, not a Liberal Government. I support the Bill to increase air navigation charges but I believe the time is long overdue when this Government or some Australian Government should closely examine the general cost structure of our aviation system. The Government makes no financial assistance whatever available to the States for the operation of their railway systems. In another debate yesterday, I directed the attention of the House to the fact that the Commonwealth Railways are not called upon to pay payroll tax but the State Railways pay a total of £3.6 million to the Commonwealth in payroll tax. So not even in that direction are we prepared to give any relief to the State Railways. I am dealing with these matters very briefly. I turn to road transport. In the last nine years and this year, the Government will withhold more than £200 million of petrol tax. This year alone it will withhold more than £40 million. We do not in any way subsidise the construction of our national highways, although the cost of highways is a major factor in our price structure. We do not subsidise other forms of transport, but we extend to civil aviation this excellent subsidy, which last year amounted to £18.5 million.

The payment of this subsidy means that the airline operators meet only 10.7 per cent, of the total cost of our civil aviation system, including runways, meteorological services and navigational aids that are provided by the Department of Civil Aviation. I ask the Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn), who is now at the table, to try to explain in his reply to this debate why preferential treatment is extended to civil aviation, which is not fully controlled by the Government. TransAustralia Airline is possibly the largest airline operator in Australia, but we also have Ansett-A.N.A., East-West Airlines and numerous other privately operated airlines throughout the Commonwealth. Why is this preferential treatment extended to them? Why are these operators, including T.A.A., not required to meet a greater share of the cost of providing runways, navigational aids and other services? I agree with the honorable member for Chisholm that we can be proud of the system of civil aviation that we have. The airlines do an excellent job and I have no major criticism of the services, I have minor criticisms, but nothing of any consequence. We are fortunate to have the air services that are provided for us. I have already directed the attention of the House to the fact that the Government does not provide assistance to the State Railways and has withheld £200 million of petrol tax, which should be used for our road systems.

Mr Turnbull - Over what period?

Mr JONES - Over the last ten years. In this period the Government has withheld slightly more than £200 million of petrol tax. If the honorable member refers to the answer to a question on notice that I asked some weeks ago, he will be able to get the information for himself. This year alone, £40 million will be withheld in petrol tax. These are serious matters and the Government should offer some explanation for its action.

I want to deal with other phases of the legislation. The reply to a question I asked on notice, question No. 1439, reveals that there are 650 airport's in Australia today. The report of the Director-General of Civil Aviation shows that there are 122 Government operated airports in Australia. I ask to be given the reason for this difference. Why is preferential treatment given to some cities and not to others? The Commonwealth Government operates airports at Launceston, Hobart, Broken Hill, Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and numerous other places, but when the City of Newcastle asked that it be provided with a Government owned and constructed airport, it was told that the local council has the responsibility for providing the city with an airport. Newcastle is the sixth largest city in the Commonwealth. I do not want to give all the details of the exports that go through the port and all that goes to make up the city and the district. Three of the 20 largest cities in Australia are in the Hunter Valley. They are Cessnock, Maitland and Newcastle.

I ask the Minister to give me some information. I ask him to tell me why preferential treatment is given to some cities and not to others. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty), who is in another place, recently stated that the Government will spend £100 million on airport improvements over the next 10 years. What will Newcastle get? The construction of an airport at Newcastle would probably cost £1.25 million. Will Newcastle be given any of this sum? Will it participate in this Commonwealth subsidy for civil aviation, which last year amounted to £18.5 million? Will it receive any of the £100 million that the Commonwealth will spend over the next 10 years? If this amount is to be spent, obviously the Commonwealth Government intends to increase its subsidies to civil aviation. The reply I received yesterday to my question on notice discloses that in the last 20 years the Commonwealth Government has spent £70.333 million on airports. This is made up of land acquisition, £7.312 million; airport development, £32.487 million; navigational aids, communications, air traffic control centres, operational and other departmental buildings, etc., including airport lighting and power generation, £28.015 million; and airport terminal buildings, £2.519 million. In addition, £13.956 million has been spent on the maintenance of runways and other pavements. This is the amount that the Department of Civil Aviation has spent on certain privileged and selected areas, but the vast majority of airports receives very little assistance from the Commonwealth.

Since the inception of the aerodrome local ownership plan, which came into operation in 1957-58, State and local government authorities have spent £1.552 million on the capital work in aerodrome development and £408,000 on aerodrome maintenance. I know, Mr. Acting Speaker, that your severe expression means that you are wondering whether my remarks are in order. I am asking how we will finance all the work when, year by year, we levy such a paltry charge on the airline operators. I believe that a new scheme must be devised by the Government and the airline operators, and introduced, so that the Department of Civil Aviation will be able to accept its responsibility to provide airports where they are needed. I believe that that is a responsibility of the Department. Newcastle is not the only city that is affected. I noticed recently that the Dubbo City Council was in conflict with the Department of Civil Aviation over certain runway extension and improvements that were to be carried out on the airport at Dubbo. Dubbo is an important centre. It is just as much entitled to a free airport as any of the 122 centres that have Government owned and operated airports.

I have spoken very briefly in the time available to me this morning. I support the Bill, but I strongly urge the Government and the Department of Civil Aviation to confer with airline operators at an early date and devise a system that will allow every city of major consequence to have an airport built, not at their own expense, but at the expense of the Commonwealth Department of Civil Aviation. I ask the

Minister to examine this question and give me some explanation why preferential treatment is given to some cities and not to others, and also why the Government has not spent on roads the £200 million collected in road tax during the last 10 years.

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