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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1873


Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - The standard of a government's administration is gauged best by the quality of the men who are responsible for the various departments. Tragically, decent enough fellow though the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) is, there has been a lamentable failure in the exercise of his responsibilities during the course of the transport strike which has brought the whole of the air services around the eastern seaboard, particularly those operating to and from Sydney and Canberra, to a halt. I think it is deplorable that a dispute that has gone on since 10 September, which has lasted 30 days, which has involved no more than 60 key personnel - members of the Professional Radio Employees Institute - and with only 2 airports concerned, has been permitted to continue without the Minister expressing any concern until about 10 days ago.

There is a very real problem in a country such as Australia with tremendous distances to traverse and with an increasing dependence upon communications and the availability of communications to ensure that airways and all other forms of transport are kept available to the community. In my opinion, the Minister for Transport has been grossly unfair to the community at large in his failure to call the people concerned together, in considering - with a measure of sympathy, I would suggest - the claim made by the unions concerned and in endeavouring to provide some resolution to this dispute. I believe that it is not satisfactory for a Minister to allow significant key personnel to disrupt the entire sinews of commerce and industry in this country and to bring them to a halt.

But of course, it is not just the. sinews of commerce that have come to a halt. East-West Airlines Ltd has its headquarters in my electorate and already 60 pilots and 100 mechanics have been laid off by that company. Tomorrow, some 400 personnel are expected to be laid off. I am told that there may be some resolution of the dispute tonight although, at the same time, there seems to be some parallel dispute which has broken out in the Australian Broadcasting Commission and I am not too sure of the permanence of the agreement that has been reached between management and the union concerned. It is of tremendous concern when we have not only the disruption of the essential services of the airlines but also significant sections of employment prejudiced, entirely because of the failure of the Minister for Transport to act in this situation.

I see it as most unfortunate that there has not been a preparedness by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) who was holidaying at Norah Head or somewhere, by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron), who is enjoying a jaunt to Japan and by the Minister for Transport who showed a complete inability to concern himself with the affairs of his portfolio, to try to consider in detail ways by which business could be brought into gear again. I believe that it is indicative of the way in which this Government is pursuing its administration of this country that its Ministers do not seem to be able in any way to try to resolve industrial disputes in such a way as to take account of the very genuine needs of the public and of the effect of such disputes on the community.

I understand that East-West Airlines already has lost in loss of revenue more than its net profit last year. There have been very serious discomforts and inconveniences for personnel employed by the airline and the only reason for this is the action - or inaction - of this man and the Labor Government. Of course there are other areas within these estimates which indicate how little concern this Government has for country services. I refer to the cessation of subsidies for country air services and the failure to provide funds for airport construction.

For example, again referring to my own electorate, at Tamworth in northern New South Wales, the headquarters of East-West Airlines Ltd, there is a very real need for an early commencement on the major reconstruction of the Tamworth Airport. This again has been deferred. This delay cannot go on indefinitely. It is essential that funds be provided by this Government to enable a reasonable forward construction program of airports, not at sites such as the one selected at Galston to the ill fare of the Government's candidate at the Parramatta by-election, but at sites where there is an acceptable community service, a need for airport construction and a need for these funds to be provided.

These estimates are gravely deficient in this respect. Of course this Minister is also responsible for a number of other areas of transport. I see the amalgamation of the Department of Shipping and Transport and the Department of Civil Aviation as a good thing. However, I find it rather paradoxical that a Prime Minister and Minister who have been so critical of General Motors-Holden's Pty Ltd and Chrysler Australia Ltd for their selection overseas of personnel to run their Australian operations, should now choose as the new permanent head of the Department a person from Canada who, I understand, is of British origin. I regard, and have always regarded, the selection of persons of competence as being essential if we are to maintain the high standard of service for which the Commonwealth Public Service has enjoyed a high reputation. I see this as being necessary. At the same time I do not believe that it reflects creditably on the Prime Minister or the members of this Government that they have so criticised others yet they themselves are prepared to go abroad in order to seek persons to head one of the senior policy and administrative departments of the Government.

A very important report on roads is shortly to be tendered to the Government. This is the report from the Commonwealth Aid Roads Authority. I am concerned at the manner in which this Government will consider the recommendations of the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads, which has a narrow, specialised and highly competent technical expertise. I believe that in considering the recommendations that come before the Parliament it is necessary that one should consider the social implications of roads and the necessity to provide the economic sinews that are so essential in the transport of goods and services around the community. Already the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) has played some part in intruding on freeway construction in the cities. Tragically there is a grave shortfall in the standard of roads throughout Australia. This, of course, is echoed in the standard of railway construction. There are very real problems in ensuring that the availability of funds and manpower is related in the best way to the needs of our society.

The Commonwealth Aid Roads Authority report of course will .provide the basis on which funds will be allocated by this Parliament for the next 5 years. I believe that any reduction in funds for the construction of roads in country areas would be a tragedy. There is a real necessity for arterial roads, national highways, urban expressways and country roads throughout Australia to be provided with adequate finance to enable the progressive extension of bitumen surfacing and to provide roads which minimise the risk of accidents to the users of motor vehicles so that we may be able to sustain the rate of our past development. The total road program represented by the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement which is currently in operation was the first occasion on which such a total perspective had been introduced into the provision of money by the Commonwealth Government in this area. I trust that in the new Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement there will be a similar recognition of the problems of each of the areas of the community. It is necessary now that there should be no further reduction in the percentage of money allocated to the country sector.

I want to speak very briefly on shipping. In this area there are tremendous problems involved in pursuing the policies which the Minister has set himself. These are policies which he has not originated. I refer to his claim for a 40 per cent share of the available tonnage in each of our overseas trades to be operated by Australian flag vessels. That was a policy long since enunciated by my predecessor in the portfolio, the Honourable Gordon Freeth, who at the time of his negotiations with the Japanese and at the beginnings of the Eastern Searoad Service followed just that policy. I pursued an identical policy in our original negotiations with respect to the British trades. I see it as necessary to extend the use of Australian flag vessels, but it is no use our pursuing any policies for Australian ownership unless we are cognisant of the cost to those who are using the vessels.

It is necessary that we provide efficient forms of transport and that costs to users and the service to the community remain paramount in pursuing what are legitimate and laudable national objectives. I see in the extension of our shipping policies a real need for us to participate in further extensions of our overseas trade, but we should not ignore the cost to domestic consumers and domestic transporters in Australia, be they in the overseas trades or the coastal trades. The shipping services - indeed all our transport services - need to be integrated for the benefit of the Australian community. A tremendous challenge faces us in the transport sector. Tragically, I believe that the failure of the Minister to intervene in the airline dispute demonstrates how little real concern he has for the average Australian. I trust that this will not be echoed elsewhere.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Luchetti) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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