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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1578

Mr WHITE(1.21) —I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this matter. It is essential, particularly from a tourism point of view, to get it sorted out as quickly as possible. I do not intend to indulge in some juvenile point-scoring debate with the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Martin) or anyone else. He asked why certain things had been done in the past, and I think that that is a fairly juvenile approach to take to problems we have now. We are not looking back; we are looking forward. I would have thought that the sensible approach to this enormous problem was not to keep mouthing what the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) and the Minister for Transport and Minister for Aviation (Mr Peter Morris) have been saying, but to look at the problems as they exist and try to agree on some way to overcome them. We will not overcome them by spending a bit here and a bit there or by saying how good Perth is. We know where the problems are, and the Government knows where the problems are. They are basically in Sydney. There is a solution to them and I just fail to understand why the honourable member, his Party and his Government do not embrace those solutions.

The reality is that some international airports in Australia are in a crisis situation and the worst one is Sydney, where well over 50 per cent of our international tourists arrive and depart. In degrees of inadequacy to cope with the demands of aviation and tourists in this country, Sydney is followed by Brisbane and Darwin. There are problems with Customs facilities and a lack of staff; in some areas there are problems with space; or there may simply be a problem with the number of chairs. There is nowhere to sit down at Sydney Airport. There is the problem of providing information for incoming tourists; the problem of inadequate facilities for older people, tired people or handicapped people; and the problem of inadequate reception areas. None of these, it seems to me from a visit I made to Sydney last week, is really being addressed in a proper fashion.

We are being told continuously by the Government that next year, in 1988, something like two million tourists will come into Australia. We all welcome that; we very much hope that those predictions come true. Tourism is going to play an enormous part in the economic future and the economic recovery, we hope, of this country. But the problem is: How can we handle these visitors when something like 99 per cent of our tourists now come by air? Over 50 per cent come in through Sydney. How will we handle this problem? It is no use saying that the situation is under control, because, as the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) has already indicated, as late as 19 February this year the Chief Executive of Qantas Airways Ltd, Mr Menadue, in an article by John Spiers in the Australian, said that tourist industry development throughout Australia would be curtailed unless a new international air terminal was built. It is no use saying that these remarks are old hat. That comment was made last month by the Chief Executive of Qantas. If we are going to start quoting authorities, no less an authority than the Premier of New South Wales said exactly the same thing-that Sydney Airport facilities are hopeless and it is about time that the Federal Government got off its tail and provided some solutions.

Mr Lloyd —He is in favour of private money, too, isn't he?

Mr WHITE —He is. The Labor Premier of New South Wales-a good friend of the Federal Government, except where his own interests are concerned-wants to see the private sector involved. So, it is not just a political exercise that we are indulging in here. We have a real problem which concerns the future of Australia. The Government is aware of these problems of space and inadequate facilities, the shortage of Customs staff and other staff at airports to assist in reception arrangements. The Government keeps saying that there is not enough money to upgrade these airports, and we agree with that. It is a bit like education-there will never be enough money to do all the things we want to do. We agree with the Government's assessment that there is not unlimited money to spend on airport terminals. In a moment, I will suggest a solution to that.

The other problem for the Government seems to be its lack of any capacity to forward plan. It has taken four years to get around to spending some $23m on Sydney Airport. A couple of weeks ago when I was there, to the best of my knowledge-from what I could see-work had not even started. The Government has been talking about that $23m for over 12 months. It is no use saying, day after day, `Wait for the Federal Airports Corporation to get going', because that Federal Airports Corporation will have real problems facing up to all these things we are talking about.

Firstly, will it be able to borrow enough money? It will have to go, I presume, to the Australian Loans Council, so its capacity to borrow the sort of money that it wants will be severely limited. It will also be limited by ministerial interference, or ministerial supervision. It is not a free agent to just go and do what it wants to do. It is already limited by the fact that it has no real planning staff, and if we are talking about a new or extended terminal in Sydney it should be planning now because even with the best will in the world we will not see any improvements in Sydney Airport before, say, the beginning of 1989. It is just not possible. Yet every time the question of developments or airport improvements comes up, the Government says: `Wait till the Federal Airports Corporation is in place'. So people go off to the Federal Airports Corporation, which is not yet working, and it says: `We are sorry; we would like to help you but you had better go back to the Department'. So there is this hopeless, endless circle of people who are trying to do something in terms of airport facilities but are getting nowhere.

When these matters are brought up here in the House and in other public venues, the Minister says: `It is all the fault of the last Government'. I remind the Minister that this Government has been in power for four years. How long will it keep on saying it is the fault of the previous Government?

Mr Lloyd —We were under way with the parallel runway for Sydney, which they stopped.

Mr WHITE —The parallel runway was under way, as the honourable member for Murray says, but it was stopped when Labor came into office. There are some solutions to these problems. The first one is to start planning now in the Department of Aviation so that when the Federal Airports Corporation really gets going that planning can be handed over as a going concern.

The second solution is to let the FAC borrow the money and build our new or extended airport. As I have already pointed out, there is considerable doubt as to whether the FAC will be allowed to borrow sufficient money, be allowed to operate freely in a commercial sense and have the capacity even to have the airports. As I understand the suggestion that is floating around now, some of the terminals and some of the airports as a whole are to be sold out from underneath it. Will it have the resources to do the planning that is required? The answer to all those questions is either no, or at least that it is doubtful. The Federal Airport Corporation is a step ahead, but it is not our solution to these problems. We are not here to criticise it; we are here really to sympathise with it because we do not believe it will have the muscle to be able to do the job that is expected of it.

So the second solution to the problem is to let the private sector get involved in the development of facilities for which the Government, or the FAC, will never have sufficient money. The Minister comes into this House time and again and says: `I have no proposal in front of me'. That in itself is a bit careless with the truth because we know of proposals that have been put to him, some of them not in a formal sense but nevertheless proposals to do a lot of this work involving airports. He rejects them. He says: `There is no proposal in front of me'. Of course there are no proposals in front of him, because some he has rejected and he has made it quite clear that others he will not entertain. I believe that sort of attitude is the absolute height of political hypocrisy. Qantas has made proposals to him. A consortium in Brisbane made a proposal to him. He objected to Sir Francis Moore being in that consortium because he felt that he was too closely allied with the Queensland Government and the Queensland Premier. Frank Moore withdrew and they put it up again. It still was not adequate. In Darwin, as the honourable member for Murray has said, a consortium has come up with a plan to improve that ghastly airport, but it has been knocked back. The Australian Federation of Construction Contractors has offered to get involved in Sydney and in Brisbane. The Federation was referred to the Federal Airports Corporation. It went to that corporation only to be told that the corporation had not the resources or authority and they should go back to the Department. The Department said: `I am sorry; you will have to wait for the Federal Airports Corporation to deal with it'.

Mr Millar —That was straight from Sir Humphrey.

Mr WHITE —It was absolutely. The problem that we, as Australians, face is getting the private sector involved, welcoming its involvement, rather than taking some ideological socialist stand that we should not allow the private sector to get involved in airports. What a lot of nonsense, as anyone who has been through Cairns recently will tell honourable members. The airport is run by a business group organised, as I understand it, around the Cairns Harbour Board. It is an enormously successful airport. So let us not have this nonsense that the private sector should not get involved in something like Australian airports. It is doing it around this country every day of the week, and doing it very successfully.

Mr Deputy Speaker, the reason I am so concerned about the state of our international airports, particularly, is that we have one growth industry in this country-tourism. I very much hope that it is not going to be the only growth industry that we have. We cannot expect any future for this country if we are to rely on one industry, but at the moment that is it. This year overseas tourists are expected to bring in something like four billion dollars. It will be our second largest export industry. It has an enormous potential to redress our balance of trade, but we cannot keep talking about a growing tourism industry if the facilities to get these people into the country and make them welcome are just not there. I get very concerned when I see the dithering that is going on, the buck passing and hypocrisy that is involved in the construction of these new facilities. For God's sake, let us put some of that petty stuff aside and acknowledge that we have a real problem. Let the Government stop claiming that the $23m that it is going to spend on Sydney Airport will solve the problems; it is not even going to solve the backlog of problems. Let us take a realistic view of the enormous potential of our tourist industry, the enormous economic benefits that it can bring to all Australians and, putting ideological and fixed ideas to one side, get the private sector involved in the development of airports around Australia, get this country and this industry moving again.