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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17124

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (12:26 PM) —I take it from that that the Minister for Transport and Regional Services will not be attending and, therefore, that he is avoiding his responsibilities to the Main Committee. The first issue I go to is the Ansett ticket tax. I note that the government announced on 10 June that it was finally going to dump this con. Therefore, can the government advise how much it has collected to date and how much it expects to collect by 30 June? Can the minister also advise the amount it expects to collect from unsuspecting travellers who buy their tickets before 30 June, but will travel after that date and yet still pay the ticket tax of $10?

I also seek information as to how much the administrators have collected to date from the sale of Ansett assets. I appreciate, in dealing with this matter, that there is an outstanding superannuation case. That aside, can the minister advise what percentage of any residual net asset sale proceeds is expected by the Commonwealth—for example, after the superannuation costs and the costs of administration by the department? In essence, how much money does the government expect to receive from the administrators if everything goes according to plan? I also note that the government has said, including in the original debate about the Ansett ticket tax bill, that it would see any surplus being allocated to aviation and tourism related projects. Can I be advised as to what the potential breakdown of the surplus might be? How much will be attributable to each area? That might not be available in terms of the amount of direct money at this point in time, but it might be available in proportionate or percentage terms.

With that in mind, I seek information from the minister as to whether the department has had discussions with the Treasurer about what is going to happen to the surplus that is received from the tax beyond the date at which the full loan to the administrators is squared off. Has the department had discussions with the Treasurer, as against their own view, about how the surplus might be divided between aviation and tourism? Perhaps more importantly, what type of aviation activities might the department seek to spend this surplus on? For example, will it be going to regional aviation infrastructure? Will it, perhaps, be directed to something I regard as exceptionally important, at places such as Burnie, Devonport and Albury: the issue of security at regional airports? Australia, more than ever, is one of the No. 1 terrorism targets in the world.

I also go to the question of the very tough competitive environment that exists in the aviation industry internationally at the moment. I note this week reports in the media about members of parliament, their entitlement to frequent flyer points and special arrangements entered into by the government with Qantas. Minister, are you aware of media reports in relation to the deal brokered by the government with Qantas with respect to travel by members of parliament? Isn't it the case that this deal has gone nowhere near its original intent—that being to stop members of parliament earning frequent flyer points in the same vein as departmental employees across a range of departments no longer receive individual frequent flyer points? (Extension of time granted) We have Qantas knocking on the government's door on a regular basis seeking that the government and the opposition understand the tough competitive environment that it operates in at the moment; we have discussions about taxation, depreciation and issues of foreign ownership. I see speeches about reducing crew numbers, which the government finally ruled out recently as a result of a campaign by the opposition with respect to a number of flight attendants on planes.

I find it strange that, in this tough environment, Qantas suggests that it can afford a discount of five per cent to the government for travel by members of parliament whilst at the same time saying that it is prepared to keep in place a pseudo-life gold pass for members of parliament based on the continued accumulation of frequent flyer points. Obviously this accumulation of frequent flyer points is a cost to Qantas in a very tough competitive environment. In this very tough environment, I seek an indication from the department and the minister as to whether, based on an understanding of the aviation industry, it is appropriate that Qantas makes further special arrangements for members of parliament to enable them to double-dip and obtain free travel in accordance with the requirements to carry out their duties, resulting in a discount of five per cent to the government—and it is appropriate that we obtain these discounts—but with MPs continuing to be a special class, with no requirement for them to give up frequent flyer points.

So far as I am concerned personally, I regard this special arrangement to enable us to continue to double-dip on this front as an absolute disgrace on top of all the other entitlements, including what I regard as a very generous salary. As the shadow minister for transport, I would have thought that, in this tough competitive environment, Qantas should not be making these concessions to people in the community who are, I suppose, best regarded as being exceptionally well off.