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Thursday, 12 November 1959

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,I regret that you had to end the speech of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) at that stage because he seemed about to make a point. One almost hoped that it would be a happy landing.

This debate does not concern the Government's policy of competition in the air, as the Government calls it, or its policy of competition between two selected and subsidized operators, as it in fact is. It does not concern questions of private enterprise but of governmental responsibility. It concerns the concerted rise in fares and the concerted reduction in standards this month by the two permitted and subsidized operators. I think we must all be disappointed at the fact that the two Ministers who have spoken in this debate have not dealt with that issue. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) is acknowledged as a person who for many years has had a keen personal interest in the technical side of aviation. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) is well known - to put it favorably - as a spokesman for business in this House. Neither of them attempted to point out that it was necessary, or even desirable, in the interests of the Australian taxpayer to raise these fares or diminish these standards, nor that it was necessary or desirable to do so in the interests of the air travelling public.

The Commonwealth - that is, the Australian taxpayer - has a very large stake in civil aviation. Civil aviation is subsidized and supported by the Commonwealth Government more than any other form of transport is subsidized by any government or by all governments combined. In order to give the picture in proportion, I shall quote from a publication of the Department of Shipping and Transport, " Transport Costs in Australia ", which was published last March. At page 101, the department proves that in the financial year 1956-57, government authorities paid 14.6 per cent, of rail transport costs in Australia, 7.2 per cent, of road transport costs, 6.1 per cent, of shipping costs, and 17.7 per cent, of civil aviation costs.

As a result of legislation passed by this Parliament in 1958, and again this year, there is no question that the amount which governments pay for civil aviation, proportionately, has once again risen above that paid for every other form of transport. We constantly hear about the losses incurred by State railways and by metropolitan transport services, but the Commonwealth subsidizes civil aviation more than any other form of transport in Australia is subsidized, and twice as much in some cases. The Commonwealth provides for its chosen air operators a staff of 4,900 men and women, 168 aerodromes, 50 aeradio stations, 28 air traffic control stations, 52 airport lighting systems, 33 radio ranges, 108 non-directional beacons and 70 distance measuring stations. The Commonwealth has expended £60,000,000 of capital in providing services for the airlines of Australia.

Mr Pearce - There is nothing wrong with that.

Mr WHITLAM - Of course, there is not. But we should consider whether the Commonwealth is getting a proper return from air travellers for that capital expenditure of £60,000,000 and for the annual maintenance and operating expenditure of £10,000,000. I hope that the honorable gentleman, who I believe is on the list to speak on this subject, will say why the Commonwealth should continue to subsidize civil aviation much more than all Australian governments subsidize other forms of transport in Australia. Was it necessary to raise fares to do it? I would think that an argument could be made for raising air fares in order to make airlines pay increased air navigation charges. It is reasonable, I would think, to say that people who use civil aviation should pay just as much towards the cost of operating it, proportionately, as people who travel by rail or who send freight by sea are required to pay for those services.

The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) gave his only argument for the increase in air fares on the 28th of last month in answer to a question by the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler). Referring to new aircraft, he said -

But the rise in fares has nothing to do with their introduction. Ignoring the total cost of those aircraft, we find that last year T.A.A. made a profit of about £250,000, but increases in salaries and other expenses, quite apart from the purchase of new aircraft, this year will total £300,000. There is, therefore, a difference of £50,000, and something has to be done about it.

If those were the whole facts, we could all agree that fares had to be increased and that ancillary services had to be reduced. But yesterday the Minister tabled the report of T.A.A. for the last financial year, from which it is quite obvious that T.A.A.'s profit was only £250,000 last year for two reasons. The first is that for the last four months in the year Ansett-A.N.A. had, and T.A.A. was prevented from having, two new Electra aircraft. The statements about the Electra have been correct on both sides of the House. It is the most popular aircraft in Australia. It is still not the most modern aircraft which Australia could have bought.

If the Government had permitted competition between the Caravelles which T.A.A. sought and the Electras which A.N.A. sought there is no doubt that Caravelles would have proved more popular than Electras. For four months after the Electras were introduced Ansett-A.N.A. had an advantage over T.A.A. By the end of the year T.A.A. had overtaken the advantage by using its remaining prop jet fleet.

The other reason why T.A.A.'s profit was only £250,000 is that it is debarred from operating within any State except Queensland because the Commonwealth cannot operate aircraft within a State without the permission of that State. Earlier this year, the Opposition tried to amend the last bill on this subject to permit T.A.A. to operate in any State whose government asked it to do so. It is well known that New South Wales wanted T.A.A. to operate in that State when Butler was absorbed by A.N.A. I believe that one Country Party member will speak in this debate. It is significant that he does not live in an area in which there are many aerodromes or in which there are aerodromes which were served by Butler.

Country Party members who represent electorates that Butler did serve know quite well that the standard of service there has not been improved by the absorption of Butler by Ansett-A.N.A. It would be improved if T.A.A. were permitted to operate within New South Wales, if the Commonwealth Government permitted intrastate as well as interstate competition between its chosen operators.

It is true that, if T.A.A.'s profit could not have been more than £250,000 last year, it would have been necessary to increase fares. But T.A.A.'s report which was tabled yesterday makes it quite clear that if T.A.A. had been permitted to compete on equal terms - if it had got one of the Electras and Ansett-A.N.A. the other at the same time - T.A.A.'s profit would have been very much greater. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has certain sources of information. He is frank in disclosing the information, although he does not disclose its sources. He said that the extra profit that T.A.A. would have made last year would have been about another £400,000. If it had been able to operate in the States and thus secure on-carriage traffic beyond the originating State, the profit would have been greater still. If T.A.A. had been able to compete on equal terms with Ansett-A.N.A.'s routes and aircraft last year, T.A.A.'s profit would have been, not just £250,000, but £650,000 or more. Therefore the increase in fares cannot be justified on the ground of T.A.A.'s operating record last year, which was exceptional and will not be repeated this year.

Can the increase in fares be justified on the ground of A.N.A.'s operating record last year? The Minister for Labour and National Service mentioned what we would find if we looked at the profit and loss accounts of the two airline operators. But one thing that Parliament is never given and never has been given is the profit and loss account of Ansett-A.N.A.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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