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Wednesday, 19 April 1972
Page: 1247

The PRESIDENT - Order! I do not think that Senator Devitt requires any advice. I have listened to him many times and he is quite capable of advancing his own ideas in his own way.

Senator DEVITT - Thank you, Mr President; that is quite true. I am advancing my ideas now. I believe that there is a need for me to say what 1 want to say about this matter because a lamentable lack of understanding seems to have been shown by honourable senators on the other side of the chamber in relation to the full implications of what is happening at the present time. 1 return to what I was saying. Undoubtedly Senator Bishop covered very ably, as he always does, that aspect of the aircraft manufacturing industry in this country which relates to the more active areas of aircraft manufacture. I am concerned now for the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd and the Government Aircraft Factories where activity has been going on in the fulfilment of defence orders, in the manufacture of Mirage and various other types of aircraft, in the manufacture of components for civil aircraft and, of course, the very interesting Project N which has recently come to virtual fulfilment.

For the moment I turn my attention to 2 very serious deficiences, very serious omissions, on the part of the Government. An opportunity was provided for it to assist the development of the light aircraft industry. On 6th January 1967 as a consequence of a reference by the Government to the Tariff Board a report was tabled in Parliament advising against the granting of assistance to the Victor Aircraft Company which had developed a very splendid light aircraft. There is no doubt that our defence system has a requirement for light aircraft. This has been demonstrated in recent years. As I have indicated, the Tariff Board advised the Government against providing any assistance towards the cost of manufacturing the Victa Air Cruiser or the Victa Air Tourer. That judgment must have been made in a very cold and abstract way lithout giving very much consideration to the interests of Australia. I repeat that the report was against granting any assistance towards the development of this industry which would have enabled a very sound basis to have been built up for the manufacture of light aircraft in Australia. Ultimately Australia was forced to rely on light aircraft produced overseas.

It is interesting to reflect that in competition with its counterparts from other parts of the world the Victa aircraft was judged to be the winner. The contest determined the merits of these sorts of aircraft. Her in Australia, a young country, a small country, lacking a lot of the resources which other countries have, it appears that we were prepred merely to accept without any further consideration, the judgment of the Tariff Board which said that on the basis of pure economics alone the airacraft was not a goer. Of course it waw a goer. The only problem we had was that we did not have enough money to get behind the company to make sure that the aircraft was a goer. Functionally that aircraft was at the top of its class. We saw the project dies. What did the company do? It shifted to New Zeland, a country with about a quarter of our population. New Zeland was able to support the manufacture of the aircraft; it was able to give the subvention necessary to carry on this project.

On 21st June 1968 another Tariff Board Report on a magnificent little aircraft came down. I flew in this aircraft and I saw the value of it immediately. It has been demonstrated since that my judgment was not wrong. As a crop duster and pest spray aircraft in rural areas this aircraft was top in its class. It has a most interesting history which time will not allow me to go into now. The point is that the company, Transavia Corporation Pty Ltd which is a wholly Australian company, wanted some assistance with the first 85 aircraft manufactured. On the basis of its economics it judged that when it reached the figure of 85 it would no longer need a government subvention. The company asked the Government to help it. Here was a revolutionary type of aircraft incorporating some quite novel devices which we had not seen anywhere else in the world prior to this time.

Here was an opportunity for the Government to pick up the ball where it had dropped it on the first occasion and to give some financial support to this organisation. The company had proved itself in all its ventures up to this time. It is to be highly commended in a number of other directions which, again, I cannot go into because of the lack of time. But again the Tariff Board reported against any assistance being given towards the manufacture and development of an aircraft by this important and essential industry. There is no far-sightedness on the part of the Government. There is absolutely no vision. There seems to be no ability to make any judgment on the merits of some project which may be of tremendous benefit to the defence of this country and in the production and development of the necessary skills for the manufacture of both light and other forms of aircraft. The more of these organisations we have scattered about the country the less will be the impact of any fluctuations in the fortunes of the various sections of the industry. Instead of people working in a particular section of the industry losing their jobs and going to some other form of employment where the full range of their skills cannot be employed, they could move to some other section of the industry. The greater the diversification and proliferation of industries engaged in aircraft manufacture or the manufacture of components the less will be the impact of the fluctuating fortunes of the industry and the less will be the disastrous social and economic effect on the people who are working in that industry. It is of no good for us to go on like this.

We are prepared to waste hundreds of millions of dollars purchasing aircraft from overseas. All we have ever seen of some of these aircraft in this country are models. They are beautiful things with wings which move backwards and forwards but they will not fly. Ultimately the companies are bound to make them fly because we are not restricting the amount of finance which they will receive. Every time they ask for a few more tens of millions of dollars we say: 'OK. We will receive the aircraft in due time.' The purpose for which some of these aircraft were ordered has never come about anyway. They were to be used to fight the Indonesians or somebody else but this never came to pass; so they will be spare. We are prepared to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on aircraft manufactured overseas which have never been proved. We bought the Fill aircraft when it was on the drawing board and as far as I am concerned it ought to stay on the drawing board. But here we have an opportunity to provide about $lm to the Victa Aircraft Co. lo give it financial support and, in the case of the Air Truk, we have an opportunity to provide $480,000 or $490,000. Is this too much to ask, when we can spend approximately $300m on a very sophisticated wartime aircraft? We say that we do not have enough money to provide $1,500,000 to support a light aircraft industry in this country. I think that we should be ashamed of ourselves for letting that state of affairs come about.

We should be doing everything we can to retain the skills of these highly trained personnel in the industry. We should be doing everything we can to provide the educational opportunities to develop these higher skills. We should be underwriting those people who are prepared to give their time, energy, initiative and imagination to the designing of aircraft suitable for Australian conditions. But we are not doing that. In the circumstances I have no option but to support with all the strength that I possibly can the motion moved by Senator Bishop.

The PRESIDENT - Order! The time allowed for discussion of the motion has expired.

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