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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator HENTY (Tasmania) (Minister for Civil Aviation) . - in reply - I thank the Senate for the interest it has shown in this ministerial statement and for the suggestions that various honorable senators have put forward during the course of the debate. It is only natural that when a subject such as airports comes before us the Senate becomes a States House. The representatives of the States press the claims of the States they represent. They have done so in this debate, both forcibly and well. On the other hand, the Department of Civil Aviation and the Government are concerned with this matter from the national point of view. We have to assess the priorities of importance which we can give to the various areas, and this is not an easy task. No doubt, we may make a mistake or two at times, but by and large the priorities are well examined before a decision is made.

I want to thank Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin and Senator Morris who dealt with the position in Queensland. Last weekend I flew to Winton, which is a town in western Queensland. I was very pleased to find in that area that a number of local government bodies have adopted the airport ownership scheme, which has contributed towards the great development that has taken place in the area. I was interested to note - and perhaps this may be of interest to Senator Sir Walter Cooper - that Winton was the birth place of Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. In 1921 the local council made land available for a landing strip at Winton. I do not know whether it was Senator Sir Walter Cooper or a relative of his, but I noted that a Councillor Cooper had moved that Qantas be granted a piece of land for a landing strip at Winton. I thought I would mention that fact because I know that Senator Sir Walter Cooper comes from that area.

I thank Senator Morris for pointing out the interest that the Department of Civil Aviation has in the question of safety. That is its prime consideration. Whilst I shall certainly have a look at the Shaw River airstrip, which was referred to by Senator Scott, I am certain that if an officer of my Department said that operations must cease there because something had to be done, it was because he was worried about the immediate safety of passengers and crew of aircraft using the airstrip. He would not have allowed an aircraft to land there if the risk of an accident existed. I have no first hand knowledge of the matter, but I should say that that was probably the reason why the officer demanded that an alteration be made to the airstrip. Safety is our prime interest.

Senator Morrissaid he feels confident that because safety is the first concern of civil aviation in Australia, our domestic airports and our international airports are safe. I was very pleased to see in the " Sydney Morning Herald " of 22nd May a letter written by Captain R. J. Ritchie, the Deputy Chief Executive of Qantas. Apparently, there has been doubt in the minds of some people, particularly in Sydney, as to the position at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport. Captain Ritchie said -

Qantas is quite satisfied that the runways at Sydney Airport are long enough for the operations it conducts there.

The Department has satisfied me that, with the loads which can be taken off and landed at Sydney, there is no question about safety. If there was, I do not think that the Department would wait for somebody else to raise it. It would at once bring the matter to my attention.

In the statement which I presented to the Senate perhaps I did not make clear enough the purpose of the statement. I had inherited from my predecessor a very comprehensive programme of development over a period of five years. The examination of that programme started in 1960. The development from 1960 on was planned on the statistics available over the previous 10 years. The programme which was evolved was expected to entail the expenditure of £30 million on various projects throughout the Commonwealth. It was built upon a statistical basis which was sound as it applied over the previous 1 0 years. But as I said in the statement, the development in the last two or three years has shown such an enormous increase in both international and domestic traffic that those statistics were no longer tenable. 1 had to re-examine the £30 million programme and the projects within it. The first thing that was obvious was that the domestic airport at Melbourne and the international airport at Sydney had to be doubled in size if they were to deal with the projected traffic, which was based on statistics for the last few years. I had to re-examine the whole programme and again submit it to the Government. The expected expenditure has increased from £30 million to £474 million.

In its examination of the programme the Government said that the immediate urgency of Sydney and Tullamarine was obvious; Sydney because of its international importance and Tullamarine because of its domestic importance. This is the point which, apparently, I have never yet been able to make clear. The urgent problem at Tullamarine relates to its domestic use. Essendon is no longer available for proper use by the jet aircraft which will be used for domestic purposes. Therefore, it is Tullamarine which has a domestic problem and, in dealing with that, we are also developing its international requirements at the same time. But Mascot's great problem is in relation to its international facilities. The Government has said that work on both of these projects, costing in the region of £16 million each, should proceed and it has authorised the spending of the total of £32 million. The rest of the programme has not been developed. It has been submitted to an inter-departmental committee, on which the Department of Civil Aviation has a member, for a close and methodical examination. That committee is to advise the Government as to the priorities of the other aspects of this programme which will run into an expenditure of £15.5 million.

I mentioned in my statement some of the areas which are referred to in this programme. Senator Laught rightly underlined the fact that Adelaide is included. The interdepartmental committee will submit its report to the Government in time for inclusion in the next Budget of the proposals that it recommends and the Government accepts. Apparently I have not made this point clear in my statement and in anything I have said on this matter. The programme of works totalling £30 million which I inherited had to be reviewed because of increased passenger traffic. I have reviewed this programme and it will now cost £47.5 million. Two of the projects have been adopted by the Government for immediate development and continuance. The rest of the programme has been submitted to this inter-departmental committee which will make a close, a meticulous examination of it - I repeat again that my Department has a member on this Committee - so that the Government will have a proper idea of priorities for inclusion in the coming Budget.

I would not like honorable senators to think that this programme has been abandoned. The balance of this programme will come. But at this stage I am not able to say when that will be. These recommendations have to come before the Government. The Government will examine the position and will decide what priority will be given to the balance of this programme. I am unable at this stage to give any specific reply to any member of the Senate who has spoken in this debate, but I thank Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin and Senator Morris for what they have said and how they have underlined the aviation development in Queensland. Queensland is one of the most decentralised States in the Commonwealth. Throughout Queensland, there are many great cities which have airports.

I do not try to hide the fact that we have not a suitable international airport at Brisbane. I do not think anybody could say that Brisbane has a suitable international airport. The difficulty is that we have had to spread throughout Queensland the amount of cream, so to speak, what we have had available for that State.

Queensland is an immense State with a large aviation development. It is only when one goes outback as I did last weekend that one appreciates this fact. I went into the drought areas last weekend and saw what the development of all weather airstrips means to those areas. When the rains come there, the roads are closed for some time and it is then that the operators of charter aircraft are able to provide for the needs of the outlying properties. People can go to them by aircraft. I was greatly interested to see the enormous increase in the light aircraft industry, particularly at Winton. I think there were some 20-odd light aircraft lined up at that airport for the opening of the new terminal. It is only when one sees this that one appreciates the tremendous importance of light aircraft to the outback areas. These are the areas which must never be forgotten. Although we have great capital cities and large congregations of people in them, I do not think anyone would say that the airports and terminals in all those areas have not received reasonable recognition. We must bear in mind that there are

I I million people in Australia and we have, as Senator Morris pointed out, five international airports to look after. Most countries have only one or two international airports. But the Department of Civil Aviation has the responsibility for five international airports because of the immensity of this country. This is not an easy problem.

In regard to funds for these developments, the penny is dropped in the slot in competition with the requirements for defence and all the other great expenditures which the Commonwealth has. I will never cease to press, because it is my duty to do so, for every penny I can get to develop every airport within Australia. But, at the same time, we must always remember that the priorities are peculiarly for the judgment of the departments of the Commonwealth. In saying that, I finish where I began. Each State, and the representative of each State in this Parliament, will be fighting, naturally enough, to have more and more money spent in their areas. The Commonwealth has the predominant duty to look at the overall picture.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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