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Friday, 5 June 1970

Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle) - What sparked the raising of the present matter of public importance by the Opposition was the decision of the Government to cancel the order which it placed with the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the British Aircraft Corporation to design an advanced trainer-ground attack aircraft to the requirements of the Royal Australian Air Force. The RAAF, through the Department of Air, laid down the major requirements and said: 'This is the type of aircraft we would like you to design'. So this Australian organisation which has been in existence for some 35 years went to work on it as a joint defence project with the British Aircraft Corporation. Now all of a sudden, as a bolt from the blue, a decision is made that it does not meet our requirements and the Government wants to cancel the order.

The Government has talked about what it is doing for the aircraft industry and what it has done for it, but the general attitude of the Government over the years has been typical of Conservative governments in this country for the past 70 years. In the early 1900s when the Australian Labor Party was moving and working for the establishment of an Australian Navy, a Royal Australian Air Force and an Australian Army, it was the people who occupy the benches opposite today - the Conservative element, whether it was the United Australia Party, the Liberal Party or the Conservatives; the anti-Labor force in this country - who at all times decried the efforts and the capacity of the Australian worker and Australian industry to produce these things. The same thing was said about the shipbuilding industry in the period from 1900 to 1930, and the shipbuilding industry was finally closed down. I do not have to remind honourable members of the criticism that was levelled at the Labor Prime Minister, Mr Ben Chifley, when he and his Government were responsible for the establishment of the automobile industry in Australia. Today it is one of the largest employers of labour in Australia. I acknowledge that it is over capitalised. We have too many motor cars being produced in Australia today, but honourable members cannot deny that it is a first class industry and is able to compete. If it were not so heavily over capitalised with so many different types of motor cars being produced, it would be in a much stronger position.

That brings me to the point I would like to make here. The Government has talked for some considerable time about rationalising the Australian aircraft industry. What has it done about it? It has talked about it, but we have never got down to anything practical on this point. To me it appears to be running a commentary by various Ministers for Defence and various Ministers for Supply who make a statement and think that that will tide us over for the next 6 months. They think: That will shut them up. We have got them out of our hair'. The former Minister for Defence, Mr A. Fairhall, made a statement in Newcastle on 7th February. In it he said:

The major contract, which could amount to $13m, has been signed with the General Aircraft Corporation of California, US, for the Australian manufacture of 100 wing sets and engine nacelles for a 36-seat feeder-route airline (known as the GAC-100).

What has happened to it? That contract was signed 18 months ago. They have not driven a rivet yet. They have not cut a plate. No work has been done by the Government Aircraft Factory for that aircraft. The contract being signed shut the industry up for 6 months. That quietened the spokesmen for the industry. That got them out of the Minister's hair. We have had rationalisation statements made by the Minister for Supply (Senator Anderson). We have heard the Minister talk about what the Government is going to do and how it is going to rationalise the Australian aircraft industry. We have heard talk but have seen no progress. Then there was a statement recently by the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in which he said:

The Government is to set up new machinery to work closely with Australian industry in a programme to achieve increased sales to the American and other overseas defence industries as an offset against Australian purchases of defence equipment.

What has been the result? This was an excellent opportunity for the Government to develop an aircraft and use the knowledge and know-bow of one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world today, the British Aircraft Corporation. That organisation has produced some of the best aircraft in the recent decade or the last 20 years, aircraft comparable with any produced throughout the world. Its BACIII, is comparable in size, performance and capacity with the DC9. The Royal Australian Air Force saw fit to buy two BACH ls for its VIP flight in preference to the DC9. That again was an excellent opportunity to work in close collaboration with that large organisation which has the know-how and could transfer to the Australian industry the capacity to design aircraft, or to work towards that end. If this had cost a few million dollars then so what? The American Government recently lost $600m in grants to the Boeing company in an endeavour to design a swing wing supersonic transport. It is now a dead project Boeing finally advised the American Government that as far as it was concerned that could not be done at economic rates which would enable the aircraft to compete with the Concorde or some of the other aircraft which may be designed.

The Opposition is trying to get this Government to assist an industry which is ' not a minor one of insignificant consequence. The aircraft industry is a major industry. Over the years it has employed 18,000 or 19,000 men and women. The peak level of employment at the various establishments operated by de Havilland is about 5,000. But at present, in round figures, it is employing about 2,500 employees, only about 66% of the company's capacity and only 60% of those people are working on aircraft. The remainder are working on other things merely so that the company can retain them. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation today is employing some 2,700 men and women. This is about 80% of its capacity. The same thing can be said about the Government Aircraft Factories. They have a capacity of about 3,000 but are employing now only about 2,070. The aircraft industry has the ability to produce, yet the Government is doing nothing about it.

A lot can be said about the defence requirements of the Australian forces but I want to talk about commercial aircraft requirements. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard a table of figures compiled by the Parliamentary Library Research Service relating to imports of commercial aircraft.


The figures relate to aircraft imports in the period 1964-65 to 1968-69. The table discloses that in the case of aircraft with an empty weight exceeding 5,000 lb, there were 314 imported in that 5-year period at a value of $196,698,000. In the case of aircraft with an empty weight of less than 5,000 lb there were 1,493 imported at a total value of $29,086,000. The value of all commercial aircraft imported in that period, together with spares, was $535,857,000.

I think the Australian aircraft industry needs support. We should be forcing the airline operators and aviation organisations generally to do something to ensure that the Australian industry is preserved. One cannot deal with all these things in the short time available in this debate. I say that there should be a 4-point policy for this industry. Firstly, military aircraft manufacture should be in accordance with a clear cut Government policy and funding procedure. Secondly, the Government should be planning a light aircraft industry based on the requirements of general aviation and commuter airlines. Thirdly, the Government should aid the aircraft industry with substantial offset payments from overseas. Fourthly, the Services and the commercial airline operators should be forced to make early decisions about the type of aircraft they require so that the Australian aircraft manufacturing industry will be in a position to approach the companies concerned in order to sub-contract the work and to offset payments with a view to Australian industry getting its share. The Opposition accepts the fact that we cannot build 747s and Fills but we could at least build a lot of other aircraft.

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