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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 2997

Senator JACK EVANS(11.30) —I hold the previous speaker, Senator Peter Rae, in very high regard. I believe that what he has just said was said in genuine innocence of the impact that his words will have on the management and staff of Trans Australia Airlines. Prior to my election to the Senate I was a management consultant. The task of some management consultants is to endeavour to resolve the problems, usually long term problems, of companies, corporate bodies and organisations. I can tell this Senate and Senator Rae that there is no more destructive force in any organisation than uncertainty-of not knowing where the organisation is going, of not having a corporate goal, of not having a structure which everybody understands and within which everybody can work harmoniously so that people can see ahead opportunities for their advancement and their future livelihood.

Senator Rae has announced that the Opposition intends to keep TAA dangling between privatisation and its proposed status. Until an election several years hence, when the possibility looms of the Government changing, everybody in TAA will wonder what their future destiny will be. The threat that was made was not just an indication that the Opposition parties would have a look at it. To pretend that it was not put into ideological terms is complete nonsense. An analogy was drawn of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance vis-a-vis the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. If that was not an ideological concept I do not know what is. We are looking at TAA, an enterprise which, almost from the outset, or within five years of its commencement, had its arms and legs tied behind its back. It is an enterprise which had the faith and the confidence of the people of Australia. As Senator Rae has just said, it is one of the world's finest airlines, one of which we should be proud. But from 1951 on-bear in mind that it was only five years old then-steps were taken against it to ensure that it could never compete on its own terms with the transport industries around Australia, not just the other airlines but also other transport industries.

In 1951 the two-airlines policy was introduced by the Menzies Government-many of us know the politics of that-which ensured that the airline which was to become Ansett Airlines of Australia, one of the Menzies' Government's great support enterprises, was given every possible advantage over the airline which was owned by the Government and the people of Australia. I think that a balance was subsequently reached. I am not suggesting that we now have a situation where one airline has a competitive edge given to it by this Parliament over the other airline. What we have now is something a lot less satisfactory as far as the travellers, the consumers of Australia, are concerned. We have a two-airlines agreement which was reinforced only a couple of years ago by the Fraser Government and which is to continue for another 10 years--

Senator Peter Rae —Eight.

Senator JACK EVANS —I am sorry, to continue for another eight years. It will ensure that there will not be free and open competition. Incidentally, this threat of privatisation is not novel. It has been hanging over the heads of the management and staff of TAA since 1979 when back benchers of the Liberal Party of Australia started to put on the pressure for privatisation. In September 1980 , when the new airlines agreement was negotiated, it became evident that privatisation was not feasible. Legislation was prepared and introduced to this Parliament only hours before the Parliament was dissolved, as it happened, which could have given a degree of stability to TAA. Following the election and following the additional pressure that was put on by the back bench of the Liberal Party, legislation was introduced which was seen by TAA management and staff as the first step towards selling off Australia's national airline to the highest bidder. That highest bidder, of course, could have been an enterprise or an individual with very close links to the sole competitor that TAA has. This would have destroyed any possibility of reasonable competition in the airline industry in Australia probably for the next couple of decades. I know that Senator Rae will quote trade practices legislation to suggest that that could not happen but the things that happen, despite the trade practices legislation in this country, give one no confidence at all that it could not possibly happen when pressure is put on a political party in government by one of its strongest supporters.

This debate should have much more to do with the major Bill-the Australian National Airlines Commission Retention Bill 1984-which is before us. The upgrading of management through restructuring TAA, through giving TAA the sorts of guidelines and the sorts of freedoms which have been given to Australia's shipping and Australia's national railway enterprise, will enable it to compete more effectively and to become more efficient and profitable. It has already turned that profit corner to indicate that the enthusiasm is there under a government which has expressed overly its 100 per cent support for the enterprise as it now exists. The proposed restructuring will change the role of government in its powers over the airline and that changed role will ensure that the airline provides the Government with its plans, short and long term, its budgets, short and long term, and its corporate plans for restructuring and even for extending its corporate body or functions. It will be given more autonomy as a result of which it will be held to be more responsible for its actions and thus it will become more competitive out in the market-place. That is a very desirable thing from the point of view of Australia's travellers. Whether we like it or not, air travel is already a major part of our economic system as well as our communications and transportation systems. We rely on it heavily and we will rely on it much more in the future. It has to be improved and this legislation gives the potential for that improvement.

The sorts of improvements that can come about as a result of sound financial planning are the ability to set its own profit targets, its dividend targets and its own corporate plans. TAA will be given borrowing powers, powers which will enable the Government to provide guarantees and powers which will enable the new body to get the funds that it needs to build a substantial airline for this country's future. I believe the changes that will come about as a result of this legislation will result in a rejuvenated airline in TAA. I think that that will flow on to a more competitive Ansett, an airline for which I have great respect. Frankly, I think that Australians should be as proud of Ansett as they are of TAA because Ansett has proven to be one of the world's leading airlines. I think that Ansett and TAA are two enterprises for which all Australians should feel great pride. Sure, they let us down from time to time. That is inevitable with a major enterprise.

One of the fascinating things that have been revealed over the years is that the totally private enterprise airline-Ansett-makes as many little errors along the way and as many major blunders along the way as does the public enterprise TAA. When people in this country talk about the virtues of private enterprise vis-a-vis the virtues of public enterprise that usually wraps up the debate. One is able to demonstrate quite clearly that it is the size of the enterprise which interferes with its competence, not whether it is a private enterprise or a public enterprise. I am sure that the people who work with and even those who work for Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd are as conscious of the handicaps from which that enterprise suffers as are the people who work for the Public Service and other major employers suffering from those kinds of handicaps. However, TAA and Ansett are similar sized enterprises and comparisons can be made. I take my hat off to both of them. I think that despite their size they are both admirable enterprises. I do not believe that anybody is in a position to say that one is better than the other and as a result to argue that therefore private enterprise is better than public enterprise or that public enterprise is better than private enterprise. This country has the benefits of both. It is important that we retain those benefits and that the people of Australia-every man, woman and child in this country-do have shares in one of those airlines and that every man , woman and child in this country has the right to purchase shares in the other airline. What better blend could one have for a country which is a mixed economy country?

I support-I believe it has the support of the Australian Democrats-the Government not just for taking off some of the shackles from TAA with its new restructuring, with the new proposals that are coming through for TAA, but also for its endeavour today to take away the sword of Damocles that a lot of people see with TAA as the potential for privatisation. I guess we all know that if the Government changes in several years time that threat may be reintroduced because the legislation which is being repealed can be reintroduced at that time by a new government. However, that is something down the track; it is something that can be debated at that time. Do not let us leave that sword dangling for the next four years under the present Government, which has made it quite clear that it wants TAA to go along as it has up until now, unfettered and with the wholehearted support of whichever party is in government.