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Thursday, 12 November 1959

Mr MAKIN (Bonython) .- The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) has given no adequate explanation or justification of the deterioration that has taken place in the airline services. The Opposition has every justification for bringing to the notice of the House this morning this all-important matter because two of the important aspects of public service to the Australian community are surely those of communication and transportation. We have the right to challenge the actions of those responsible for a lack of consideration to the travelling public and a general lowering of the standards of service which are being given to airline travellers. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) is to be warmly commended for bringing to the notice of the House this particular question because there is an upsurge of feeling in the public mind against those who are responsible for providing this service in return for the fares paid.

It has been said that we are governed by a system of rationalization. If this new policy accomplishes anything, it will be an effective retardation of the progress of the government airline, Trans-Australia Airlines. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) suggested that Ansett-A.N.A. had been given no advantage over T.A.A. Let me tell the Minister that the manner in which government approval was given to airlines to order new aircraft was in itself prejudicial to T.A.A., preventing it from giving the service it desired to give with the most efficient machines that could be secured. In addition, the Government imposed a tax upon kerosene fuel, which at that time was being used only by T.A.A. This meant that T.A.A. had to pay 61/2d. extra on every gallon of fuel that it used, while the excise duty on the particular kind of aviation spirit being used by AnsettA.N.A. was reduced. Can the Government say that this did not help AnsettA.N.A. in its competition with T.A.A.?

Trans-Australia Airlines is placed at a further disadvantage by the legislation at present in operation dealing with the conduct of airlines, because it is precluded from operating any intra-state services, except in Queensland. In all the other States it is denied the right to do what its competitors do. Notwithstanding these facts, honorable members opposite seek to suggest that there is fair competition. I say that the principle of free enterprise and competition in the airlines business is completely dead, and it is about time that some earnest protest was made, such as we are making in this House this morning, against the treatment that has been meted out to the government airline, as compared with the private organization.

It seems to me that since this Mr. Ansett came into the business there has been a continuous attempt to whittle down the standards of service, of comfort and of facilities for those who use the airlines. We have had a good standard in the past and it is most desirable that we should do nothing to lower that standard. It has been suggested that our standard is higher than that which is accepted in other parts of the world. I say that whatever we have set as a standard we should retain and increase, rather than whittle away and eventually destroy.

I was at the head-quarters in Phillipstreet, Sydney, of one of our major airlines yesterday, and I saw something of the wrath of a member of the travelling public at the new imposition of a charge for bus fare to the airport. Quite rightly, the lady concerned said, " Here is my ticket, and I am justified in expecting you to take me from here to the airport, as well as from the airport to the destination specified on the ticket". However, if she had not finally paid the extra 5s., she would have been left standing upon the footpath. I believe that if a person is required to pay for his transportation to the airport, then that is where the ticket should be issued. If it is issued at an office in a city area, the person concerned has a right to expect to be transported from that office to the airport.

In these circumstances I believe that people are justified in complaining at the way that they are being treated. It seems to me that the public are the last to be considered in connexion with these activities. I suggest that the Government should take heed to the fact that the people of Australia are not at all appreciative of the deterioration in standards, particularly when they are aware of the profits being made by the airlines. In the case of T.A.A. an amount of £243,500 was paid from last year's profits into the Treasury. I am sure Mr. Ansett would not give such a liberal share of his profits to the Treasury of this country. Besides that contribution, about £400,000 was added to the Government's revenues as a result of the fuel tax. Having these things in mind, I suggest that I am justified in joining in the protest voiced this morning by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). Our airlines are capable of giving the best service possible, and their financial position certainly does not warrant any whittling down of the facilities and conveniences provided.

I am also afraid that as a consequence of this policy of paring down our standards, ultimately it will be found that maintenance and servicing will also be reduced to a minimum.

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