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Wednesday, 16 February 1977
Page: 152

Mr NEIL (St George) -This is a short Bill but it has vast implications which apprently are not obvious to all members of the House. It has 3 main components. Firstly, it deals with an extremely important aspect of the morale and efficiency of the defence forces. It is a tribute to the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) not only in relation to the efficient running of the forces but to his meticulous attention throughout the past year to matters of morale. The morale of the forces is the most important initial task of the Government in the reconstitution of a proper defence force structure for this country. When we came into office it was apparent that there had been serious dints in the morale of the defence forces. It was public knowledge and a number of former members of the defence forces, including the present Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman), publicly stated that their political ambitions were prompted by their concern for the country and the neglect of the defence forces in which they were serving.

This Bill arises from the direct request by the Chief of Air Staff that a confusion be avoided. I make it plain to the House that the confusion has arisen not only in respect of persons believing that the air regulations apply to civil aviation but also in respect of the content of some of the instructions. Although it is not expressly stated in the second reading speech, it can be clearly seen that one of the areas of concern must have been the area of defence procurement. Obviously, as we have at present a fairly complicated system of defence procurement it is important to avoid confusion. In order to contract with the Government to provide defence equipment it is necessary for a prospective contractor to deal with a large number of government departments or organisations within the government including the Air Force.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!I congratulate the honourable member on his ability to expand one sentence and make a speech of great capacity. However, I point out that in the first sentence of the second reading speech the Minister for Defence said that this was a small procedural Bill which seeks to amend the Defence Act and that it arises from a suggestion made. Perhaps we should consider this Bill within that very limited framework and should restrict the debate simply to the alteration of the wording to avoid a confusion in relationship between one department and another, not to avoid a confusion within the Air Force itself.

Mr NEIL - Of course, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am subject to your rulings and I do not canvass them. The point I am making firstly is that this is a small Bill. Secondly, it is a procedural Bill but that does not derogate from the fact that it is a procedural Bill with considerable implications. It seeks to avoid confusion between the Air Force and civil aviation in the minds of persons dealing with either the Air Force or the Department of Transport. It is important to outline the history of the confusion for the House to understand fully the purport of the Bill and its implications. I shall take a simple example. If a contractor has to deal with the Department of Defence, the Air Office, the Purchasing Office, the Department of Industry and Commerce and now the Department of Productivity- the problem has arisen particularly with regard to the Air Force- he may have a processing of paper work over many months, often in circumstances in which that contractor's business may well founder if the contract is not proceeded with speedily. He may have contracted through a civil agency by error, by confusion or by being misled by the title of the government department. History may show that contracts have been held up and that there has been detriment to the persons concerned. As I understand it, that is one of the implications of this Bill although it does not appear on the face of the Bill.

In removing such confusion the Minister has produced not only more efficiency but a much greater boost to the morale of the defence forces, in particular the Air Force, so that people know with whom they are dealing. If the Air Force itself can be dealt with by a member of the public or other persons then we avoid difficulties.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock -I point out to the honourable member for St George that one can give an illustration on almost any Bill that comes before the House if one desires. He has been a member of the Parliament for a sufficient length of time to know that many members make passing references to certain factors which perhaps have no relevance to the Bill. I accept the fact that this is a Bill which concerns the Royal Australian Air Force. Therefore passing references may be a little faster, particularly as we now have Fills and Mirages. But even at that speed passing references, implications and so forth are still not relevant to the actual subject matter of the Bill before the House. I point out again the difficulty that confronts the Chair and the House. We are now running into the grave danger of this debate being widened into a debate on defence. That is something that certainly must not be allowed to happen. The honourable member for St George should restrict his remarks to the very limited Bill and the very limited subject which is being debated.

Mr NEIL -The thrust of the Bill is clear from the Minister's speech but that is not the end of it. I will not seek to widen the debate and turn it into a debate on civil aviation which is a topic that could be dealt with if one were to take the wider implications of the Bill. We know that there was in the recent past a combination of departments and that we do not now have a separate Department of Civil Aviation. If we had a separate Department of Civil Aviation some of the confusion that has arisen might not have occurred. The difficulty is that we do not have a separate Department of Civil Aviation; we have a number of different departments with which people have to deal. The term '(Air)' at the end of 'Defence Instructions' can also cause confusion within the Defence Department itself not only in relation to Air Force matters but also in relation to other Services, particularly when they deal with air. As the Minister said, it is clear that the problem has arisen because of the amalgamation of the Department of Civil Aviation with the major Transport portfolio and the failure of the former instructions to carry the full words (Air Force)' after the words 'Defence Instructions'. That is the thrust of the Bill. But that ought to be sufficient to point out the implications of the Bill and to enable a consideration of the history of the Bill, particularly as it relates to confusion between civil aviation and defence and what is required to deal with the matter from now on.

Having put that point to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not seek to widen the debate further in the face of any ruling that you may give, other than to put it on the basis of the indulgence that was given, I thought quite properly, to the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). Apparently it was considered by the Chair that he was properly directing himself to the Bill when he talked about aeroplanes in Tasmania. All I have talked about is civil aviation, the Department of Defence and the confusion that has been caused by contractors who might want to contract to the Department of Civil Aviation, which no longer exists, or who might want to contract to the Air Force, which is not properly described, but whose contract documents may be held up. Difficulties may arise in the processing of the contract, and that may cause undue reflections. If that should happen- I do not give to the House any particular instance of that happening; I do not have any such information- and then, of course, if a prospective contractor complains subsequently it could tend to bring the Air Force into the situation of having questions asked about its position and its having to defend its position. That raises a morale problem and efficiency problem. I simply ask: Why is it that the Chief of the Air Staff -

Mr Fitzpatrick - I raise on a point of order. The honourable member has been ruled out of order 3 times because he is following that line. If he is allowed to pursue it, are you going to allow other speakers to broaden this debate under the same conditions, Mr Deputy Speaker?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond)Order!The point of order is well taken. The Deputy Speaker who was in charge of the House before I took the Chair obviously made rulings on this matter and warned the honourable member for St George in regard to the debate. We know that the Bill being debated is very narrow in its provisions. I remind the honourable member for St George once again of the forms of the House and his obligation to comply with them in this debate.

Mr NEIL -I was not ruled out of order, as the honourable member suggested. Since Mr Deputy Speaker Lucock gave his rulings I have sought meticulously to observe the forms of the House. I have outlined the position. If you consider that I have exhausted the narrow scope of the Bill and if I am not able to obtain from you the same indulgence as the honourable member for Denison received previously, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have already said that I would be content, having made the point, to conclude my remarks. So I am in no way exceeding the forms of the House. I am putting the position clearly to you. I welcome your ruling as to whether I may proceed further in the manner in which the honourable member for Denison proceeded or whether I may not.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! I was not present in the chamber when the honourable member for Denison was speaking. I would have to rule on this occasion that if you enlarge the debate you will be out of order.

Mr NEIL - Then I do not seek to enlarge the debate.

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