Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 19 April 1972
Page: 1236

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) - The Democratic Labor Party believes in principle that the motion which has been moved on behalf of the Opposition by Senator Bishop is entirely justified. We believe that there has been too much frustration and too much delay in the development of an Australian aircraft industry. Our attitude has been set out in debates upon the subject over several years, particularly by the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party, Sentor Gair. In every policy speech which he has made at election time for quite a few years he has set out the strong view of the Democratic Labor Party that Australia must have its own aircraft industry. We believe that from a defence point of view in particular it is vital. Britian can no longer assist us in our defence as it did to our advantage so many times in the past. The United States, particularly in view of what is happening at present, is a doubtful quantity. Australia, while seeking to retain those desirable alliances which have helped it in the past, faces the situation that realistically it has to be as self sufficient as possible in defence in future. If we base our defence on the prospect of supplies from overseas we have to face the fact that our sea routes may be cut. Britain has vacated the Indian Ocean. The Pacific is no longer safe from the point of view of our communications. One of the most significant things that we must bear in mind is that Soviet and Chinese submarine forces have been exercising for some time in the region of the Solomons, which covers the area across which our communications and defence supplies would have to come if we were not providing the bulk of our defences.

In those circumstances the Democratic Labor Party has firmly advocated a policy of Australia developing its own aircraft industry. All over the world today it has been demonstrated that there is uncertainty in any country relying upon supplies of weapons from elsewhere. Tank weapons which were freely available from Sweden suddenly became not freely available. While we were relying on the Mirage there was a period when France refused to supply the Mirage to certain countries with whose policies it disagreed. In Italy there has been trouble in regard to the supply of defence parts to certain countries. In those circumstances the DLP says that when a country cannot rely upon getting its aircraft or weapons from overseas *t is that country's duty to try to be as self sufficient as possible. That applies particularly to a country such as Australia which has 12 million people. Self sufficiency involves being able to supply to the highest degree that the country possibly can. We recognise the limitations of costs and the other limitations. Bearing all that in mind we say that ultimately it may be less costly to develop one's own industry than it would be to rely on overseas supplies which may not be freely available. Therefore the Democratic Labor Party has persisted in its altitude that Australia must be self sufficient in regard to aircraft, in the face of repeated sneers from critics and sections of the media which have always attempted to suggest that Australia's own aircraft industry would be too costly and that we cannot expect to be able to operate our own industry.

Our attitude has been reinforced by the views expressed by Senator Bishop about the people who are at present in the industry. Many are people who have given a large part of their lives to the Australian aircraft industry. Many are people who were attracted from other countries by the promise that Australia was developing its own aircraft industry and that there would be a career for them in that industry. Yet it must be admitted - I say this because I have had contact with these people and they have said it to me - that the people who have commited themselves to the development of an Australian aircraft industry and who have believed that Australia intended to offer them the opportunity of a career in that industry today are uncertain of the future and are contemplating leaving the industry permanently, as Senator Bishop said. They are people with special skills. If they go they will be very hard to replace. 1 believe that Australia will be very badly served if we permit all these delays and all this frustration in regard to the development of an Australian industry to drive out of the field people who will be essentia] particularly if the time comes when Australia is at war and is faced wilh the necessity perhaps of building aircraft but at the very least of providing maintenance for those aircraft - 'maintenance of the type which can be given only by highly skilled personnel.

What is disturbing these people at present is the uncertainty about the future of the industry. Like other people they have been told that a rationalisation is going to take place. But the Government for quite a considerable time has been uncertain as to what form that rationalisation will take. I can understand the Government's position. The future of an aircraft industry is not the kind of thing that one can resolve by the toss of a coin. It is not the kind of thing on which one can make decisions in a moment. The future of an aircraft industry is something which involves very careful study and inquiry; it is something which requires very careful decisions.

The people engaged in the industry are particularly concerned with the suggestions that private enterprise will take an increasing part in the industry in the future. They want to know whether this means that the Government will hand over to private industry the major control of the aircraft industry of the future. People working in the industry at the moment feel that experience abroad shows that a strong government interest in an aircraft industry is an essential if that industry is to succeed and operate as it should operate. Experience abroad has shown that private industry increasingly is being frozen out of the field and that governments more and more are being called on to exercise a controlling interest in the aircraft industries in country after country. They feel that it would be a bad day for the future of the Australian industry if the Government made a decision which would allow the main control to pass out of its hands. Some people concerned with the industry even have come to the conclusion that to hand the industry over largely to private enterprise would be the first step towards phasing out the Australian aircraft industry. Therefore I believe in the views that are expressed by people who are good Australians, some of whom have told me when I visited them that they were prepared to commit their future careers to this industry. I believe that these people have justifiable doubts.

I believe that the Government at a very early stage has to indicate to these people what it proposes to do so that they can make a decision as to their future. I had it said to me by one person engaged in the industry that 80 per cent of those who could be classed as top ranking aircraft experts will leave the industry if it passes substantially into private hands. They will do this because they consider that there will be no future for an Australian industry which is substantially in private hands. They feel that the Government would be abrogating its responsibilities if it acted in this way. I say bluntly that it will be a tragedy for the future of any aircraft industry in this country if these people, who are irreplaceable, decide to go into other fields because they feel that their future is not secure in the aircraft industry. What would be the position if a crisis occurred? What would happen if war broke out and it was essential that the services of these people be utilised? I believe that it would be a matter of the utmost difficulty to reassemble these people if such a situation arose. However, if we had a viable Australian aircraft industry these people would be there on the spot and available for action.

I think that one must pay a tribute to people working in the aircraft industry. I think anyone who has considered the record of the 'Ikara' and 'Turana' missiles and realises the intense interest that has been shown overseas in these weapons can only come to the conclusion that we are very fortunate to have in our aircraft industry men who are capable of developing those weapons. I agree with what has been said about the light aircraft. Surely this project deserves every support from the Australian Government. I realise, as has been said, that the Government has given millions of dollars towards the development of this aircraft. I have taken the trouble to visit the aircraft organisation in Melbourne which is concerned with this project. I feel that the Government is being too slow in making up its mind about this project and as a result is inducing a feeling of frustration in the minds of many of the expert personnel and this could well lead to their leaving the industry. This would have disastrous results to Australia's future. I think that we should be proud of what people in industry have done in regard to missiles. I think we should be proud of what they have done in regard to the light aircraft.

I suggest that one particular weapon which has been shown to be extremely important these days is the helicoper. I would hope that some opportunities will be given to the Australian aircraft industry to develop an Ausralian helicopter. It has been said to me that if one of the helicopters we have at present breaks down - and there are few enough in Australia - it has either to be discarded or sent to the United States of America to be put back into operation. If this is so I think that such a state of affairs is scandalous. I would think that the manufacture of helicopters would obviously be one field that Australia could enter in order to provide part of a future at any rate for our aircraft industry.

I hope that I am not being over-critical. Senator Gair, the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party, has said in every policy speech presented on behalf of my Party that the Democratic Labor Party stands for our own aircraft industry. We realise how costly this can be. We realise that a decision cannot be made in a day and that we have to examine and inquire into the whole matter very carefully. But we have examined this and inquired into it. We have come to the conclusion that whatever the potential disadvantages might be they are f"r outweighed by the obvious advantages that would accrue to this country from the possession of its own aircraft industry.

Australia by virtue of its bulk and climate is eminently suited to the operation of aircraft. It seems to me an amazing thing that we in Australia cannot yet say to the world that we have an aircraft industry worthy of our future. Therefore, as I have said, I feel that Senator Bishop's motion is justified in that it accuses the Government of a certain amount of frustration and delay. I hope that the frustration and delay will be eliminated. I hope that the many good people in the industry who have done so much to put it on a sound basis and who are now wondering whether there is any future for them in the industry will be given the assurances by the Government that are needed to retain their services. If that happens I believe that ultimately it will be good for the people of Australia.

Suggest corrections