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Wednesday, 19 April 1972
Page: 1229

Senator POYSER (Victoria) - I rise to support the urgency motion moved by Senator Bishop this afternoon, which relates to the failure of the Government to safeguard the future of the Australian aircraft industry. A similar debate to this was held some 2i years ago when the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson), then the Minister for Supply, replied on behalf of the Government. One could say that the speech which he made on that occasion has been re-read on this occasion. We have heard the old cliches about the Government expressing the intention of establishing a viable aircraft industry in this country. The troughs that have been spoken of over the last 2i years have become deeper and deeper. They are becoming so deep now that we on this side of the Senate are gravely concerned that there will not be a proper recovery of the industry unless some drastic action is taken in the very near future.

When one examines the histories of countries that have been able to establish viable aircraft industries, large and small, one sees that the experts in those industries have a formula upon which a viable aircraft industry can and should be established. I refer to an article which appeared in 'Flight International' on 28th October 1971 and which was written by a gentleman named J. M. Ramsden. The article was entitled France's Aircraft Industry'. A number of experts have been quoted in this article in relation to the methods by which the French aircraft industry was re-established as from 1945. A statement by M. Adenot is reported in the article, which reads:

One of the secrets of success is long term planning. All budgets for the next five years, project by project, are published. 'Because of the long development cycles in aerospace it is very beneficial for the industry to have the discipline of the long term plan. It has produced good aircraft'. The priorities and budgets are settled in consultation with the industry, the Services and the workers. Everyone knows what is expected of him, and - just as important - 'the industry knows that the money is prescribed in the law'.

This is a basic condition which should be applied by the Australian Government to ensure that this viable industry has some continuity of development rather than the system we have adopted over the last 8 to 10 years or more, in which we get peak production and employ up to 8,000 or 9,000 people in the industry, as we did during the Mirage project, and then halve that figure within 2 years of that project being ceased. We went to the great trouble of sending people to the United Kingdom to recruit top grade artisans in the field of aircraft production who were told verbally by the recruiters, on behalf of the Department of Supply, that they would have continuity of employment in this country if they chose to leave the aircraft industry in England and come here as migrants and work within the industry in this country.

What do we find? After the Mirage project was completed these persons received their dismissal notices. Those who were at Avalon in Victoria have had to sell the homes they purchased in the Lara district and move, perhaps, to Melbourne or Sydney to try to obtain some other employment in the industry they know. Many to whom I have talked have said that, irrespective of the future of the industry and irrespective of the undertakings they get from the present Government, they have no intention of returning to the industry in this country. So, what will we do if we reach the stage where we have another project such as the Mirage aircraft or, belatedly, move into production on Project N? Will we again be going to the United Kingdom and seeking recruits in order to establish again an industry that we have established on at least 4 occasions - an industry that is skilful and capable of high class work? Will we again be in the same position of having the expense and the trials and tribulations of going to the United Kingdom and seeking recruits? So, we have had this lack of continuity throughout the ' history of the industry since the Second World War. In the article to which I referred earlier there is another very brief comment from another expert in relation to the French industry, which is very pertinent to the subject we are discussing today. The article reports M. Ravaud as saying:

Above all you must have the political will and the technical and industrial policy. Everything else is pure speech.

This statement underlines the remarks that I have made so far. We tire of hearing the Government talk about the future when we have the ability right now to establish an industry which could become viable and have some continuity. The offset orders which the Minister mentioned are valuable indeed, but, as he predicted, we say that they are insufficient to give the kind of continuity and the kinds of skills that we must maintain in this country if the industry is to be kept on a profitable footing.

I turn now lo the question of Project N which has been discussed previously in this debate by Senator Bishop and the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman). Because of the procrastination on the part of the Government in relation to this venture we could well find that within 12 months another country - perhaps France, perhaps Canada - will beat us to the world markets, although we have a product that everybody is completely confident can be sold on world markets. Already .some investigations and approaches have been made, I believe from France, to purchase some of these aircraft. There have been inquiries from Indonesia and there have been inquiries from at least one South American country. Does the Government think that these countries will order a plane which is at the testing stage, as this plane is at the moment, when the Commonwealth Government has not shown sufficient confidence in it to place any orders at all. The Minister has indicated that some S4m already has been invested in the development of this aircraft. Another $4m could pui it into production, and sufficient aircraft could be produced to enable the price at which it can be sold on the world markets to be ascertained clearly and properly. 1 am absolutely confident that we can do it. In any event, if the Government has been prepared to gamble $4m on its development, why will it not, if necessary, gamble another $4m to try to establish the industry on a proper basis. I believe we have an aircraft that could be sold in many countries because of its characteristics which are suitable for STOL activities. This type of aircraft would be ideal in New Guinea where there are short runways in many areas. It may be that we even could give the Papua New Guinea Administration 4 or 5 of these aircraft as an example of the type of production that we have in this country. These aircraft could be most useful in this field. This type of aircraft could be used by the District Commissioners in their work. It could be used as a small passenger aircraft or as a small freight aircraft. 1 have seen the aircraft in action and I have seen it tested at Avalon in conditions under which it had not been tested before. It was tested in very heavy grass after severe rain, and on that occasion the aircraft came through the test with flying colours. At that time, which was in February, it had done more than 300 hours in test flights. No doubt it has done many more hours since.

I think if we examine this whole matter properly we will find that one of the major reasons why the Services have not as yet placed any orders for the aircraft is that there is an internal battle being waged within the Service departments. Perhaps the battle is not in relation to their requirements, because I understand that the Army would be happy with this type of aircraft, but it is in relation to whether the Royal Australian Air Force or the Army will fly it. It is not a matter of whether it is a suitable aircraft; it is an internal argument. So we have this procrastination, this bickering, and an industry may go down the drain simply because once again we are' too late. By the time the Government takes any action the world markets will not be open to us because we will have been beaten to them. As Senator Bishop indicated earlier, even if an order is placed today it will be 12 months before the aircraft can go into production, and that 12 months is very valuable time. I have spoken to the top men we have in the industry and they have shown grave concern about the fact that we may be beaten to the markets of the world with an aircraft which they believe will be readily saleable.

I shall now deal with the matter that was discussed in the latter part of the Minister's speech; that is, rationalisation of the industry. It is contemplated that the Government Aircraft Factories and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd will amalgamate. We on this side of the House believe that if there is to be a rationalisation of the industry in that manner the Government must have the predominant say in the industry on matters concerned with defence, because, as I understand the situation, GAF owns something like 70 per cent of the total assets of the industry and CAC owns 30 per cent. One can be excused for thinking perhaps that the troughs in production by the industry - this relates particularly to GAF - are designed to ensure that when this amalgamation does take place we will be about even steven and the value of our industry will have dropped. Indeed, I saw a short article quite recently in the 'Financial Review' which seemed to indicate that overseas interests are interested in an amalgamation of the 2 sections of Australia's aircraft industry. No doubt CAC at least has been talking to overseas interests about buying it out so that these overseas interests can enter the aircraft industry in this country.

Associated with that was a suggestion which would be of some value to the industry if carried out by the Government, that is, to transfer the whole of the industry to an area such as Avalon. In the short term it may seem to be a very expensive operation but in long term the industry would be in an area close to an excellent airfield. In fact, it is a top grade airfield. It would be in an area where it should receive plenty of work. Indeed, it could become a very modern industry in its own right. This is a long term proposition which may be looked at, but I do not believe that the interests of the Australian people, the interests of the industry itself or the interests of the defence of this country can be served if we have the kind of amalgamation which is suggested, namely, that it would be on the basis that a private industry would have at least equal say in its operation. This type of situation is not good for the defences of this country. So I ask the Senate to carry the motion as an expression of the dissatisfaction of the Senate in the manner in which the Government has procrastinated in the development of this industry. It is not true to say, as has been indicated by the Minister, that everything in the garden will be rosy in the future, unless we have in full production an aircraft of our own. We have the aircraft. It has been tested. We have the ability to produce it and we should go ahead with it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

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