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Friday, 5 June 1970

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) - The aircraft industry, by its very nature, is subject to violent fluctuations not only in Australia but throughout the world. When the

Royal Australian Air Force needs an aircraft it needs it quickly. These aircraft cannot be produced at the rate of a few each year over a period of 10 or 15 years. The RAAF wants an aircraft quickly and hopes, when it buys it, that it will last a decade or even longer. There always will be periods of stress in the aircraft manufacturing industry when inadequate numbers of skilled workmen are available and there always will be periods of excess workmen when there is a drop in activity after orders are completed.

Why do we need an aircraft industry in Australia? There are number of reasons. I suppose the first is that it helps to provide employment. We are told that something like 7,000 people are employed in this industry. Quite a number of them are employed on civilian work and not on aircraft production. We need an industry to provide a nucleus on which to expand in case it is necessary, particularly in wartime. However one cannot foresee the sort of expansion over a long 5-year period such as was the case in World War II because I do not believe that that type of global war will eventuate again. We need an aircraft industry to reduce the cost of purchases of both civilian and Service aircraft. When we say we are producing an aircraft in Australia people tend to think that we are fully producing it. We are not doing this. Although 60% of the basic Mirage aircraft is made in Australia, if we take into account all the avionics probably only about 30% of the final cost of an operational Mirage is incurred in Australia.

It has been said that we need an aircraft industry to earn money from exports. In this regard we have had some success in various fields. We would have had much greater success with the Jindivik had it not been for the United States policy that it would not purchase Australian made equipment as against American made equipment unless there was a vast difference in the cost. The Americans wanted to purchase the Jindivik years ago but succeeded in doing so only fairly recently because there was no doubt that it is much better than any alternative produced in the United States. We need an aircraft industry in order to produce spares quickly. When I was Minister for Air a Sabre would have had to be abandoned had we not had local production. It suffered a rather bad explosion. We were able to repair it and get it back into service because we had a local industry. The aircraft would not have been repaired if we had had to get most of the parts from overseas. We need to be able to produce modifications and to service aircraft. Then I suppose we need an aircraft industry in order to be independent of overseas supply and control. This is important, particularly since one or two European countries from whom we have purchased equipment have tried to direct us, in a most ham fisted way, about where that equipment should be used.

But there are drawbacks to this policy. The greatest drawback with local production is that you tend to get a set-up in which something designed in Australia almost inevitably turns out to be not as good as best aircraft designed and flying overseas. Then, by pressure of events, the RAAF is forced to take something which is second best. Australia has been particularly fortunate in this respect. I would say that plane for plane the RAAF matches or exceeds almost all air forces operating throughout the world because we have been able to go overseas and take our pick. I would hate us to get down to a state of affairs in which we were forced to use something other than the best, particularly in the important field of combat. Perhaps it is different in the case of transport aircraft or other aircraft of that sort. We have to decide whether we want the RAAF to be just a public relations show for Australian industry or whether we want it to be the best equipped air force in the world. I see that my colleague the honourable member for Northern Territory (Mr Calder) is in the chamber. At one stage he and I were operating in the same theatre. I know that we did not give a damn who made the aircraft we were flying in. All that we were worried about was whether it was better than the aircraft we were facing. At one unfortunate period when I was doing long range unarmed reconnaissance the aircraft I was in was not the best. There is a future for the industry in Australia. It lies in repairs, maintenance and modifications and in a number of projects such as the Jindivik, the Ikara, the Turana and others that are being looked at. It also lies in making components. I believe it is essential that when we place orders for defence equipment overseas we have an agreement that many of the components that can be made in Australia shall be made in Australia. This is not a debate on whether or not we have an aircraft industry but a debate on what is to be the level of activity in that industry.

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