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Thursday, 6 December 1973
Page: 2612

Senator SIM (Western Australia) -I support the views of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Withers) regarding the Air Navigation (Charges) Bill. I was somewhat critical of the increases in air navigation charges when the Liberal-Country Party was in Government. I believe that while it is fair that airlines and those who use them should pay a proportion of the costs of maintaining airports and facilities, I think it becomes counterproductive when the costs rise too high. I urge the Government to have a good look at these charges not only in relation to the tourist trade but also in relation to increasing costs of air travel which will be eventually, as I say, counterproductive. It is all very well to want to claim 80 per cent or whatever the figure is of the costs of the facilities, but I do not think that that is the approach we should be using. I ask honourable senators not to forget that air services and the facilities at airports are also important to defence. They are not just for the carrying of passengers. They have importance in other areas.

The real reason why I rose is to refer again to the entry of Trans-Australia Airlines into Western Australia. Last session I spoke on the problems of maintaining the positions of highly trained pilots who are employed by MacRobertson Miller Airline Services. I said then that we could not afford to lose these people either overseas or elsewhere because we will need them. I notice that the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) in a Press release gave a very qualified assurance regarding the maintenance of the pilots' position and also of other people employed by MacRobertson Miller Airline Services. He referred to Air Niugini and patted himself on the back. I suggest that Air Niugini has no relationship to the position in Western Australia.

The Minister referred to the Commonwealth Government's proposed takeover of the operations of State railways and the assurance that any employee who was transferred would do so on terms no less favourable than his current conditions. Having patted himself on the back with regard to that he then came to the position of the employees of MacRobertson Miller Airline Services and started to qualify the position. The Press release states:

.   . he was confident that, with the expansion of traffic and services in Western Australia-

I do not quite know on what he based that- any problem of surplus staff would be minimal, even if there were some staff redundancies brought about by TAA's operations, and TAA could not absorb the people concerned, the Australian Government would look sympathetically at proposals to correct the situation.

Of course that is entirely different from the position in regard to the railways. I express a fear that if TAA operates, a number of pilots will no longer be required. If the Minister is sincere in what he has said, before this happens the Government should look sympathetically at the position to ensure that these pilots are not lost. There are various ways in which this may be achieved. I spoke of those ways before. I do not know whether anything has been done about it or whether it has been thought about. Nevertheless, I assure the Minister that unless this matter is looked at there could be some trouble. The other matter concerns the spending of $ 1.3m to upgrade some airports for DC9 operations. I am reminded that when the previous Minister for Civil Aviation, Senator Cotton, announced that TAA would be allowed to operate on the PerthDarwin flight, in a letter dated 6 October 1972 to both airlines he stated:

In this regard, the Government's decision on the Perth-Port Hedland-Darwin route is on the basis that there is no commitment on the Commonwealth to upgrade airport facilities on any proposed intermediate stopping place to cater for any proposed aircraft type.

In other words the airlines would have to use the type of aircraft which suited the runway conditions. I felt that this was a sound proposal because there are fast, modern jet aircraft which meet these conditions. A Treasury statement- I take it that it was put out by the present Treasurer (Mr Crean) stated:

We have decided that all future proposals for investment in civil aviation projects should be subject to economic evaluation.

I ask the Minister whether this project has been subject to economic evaluation. He made some fairly extraordinary statements in reply to Mr Nixon. At one stage he said that by some means there would be a saving of some $800,000. 1 am not quite sure how he arrived at that figure because he did not explain. He just said:

The increased revenue from the use of the DC9 aircraft plus the great saving to the people of Western Australia.

That was not explained- more than balances out the increased cost.

Mr Nixonsaid:

Very strange economics I must say.

Mr CharlesJones replied:

To me it appears to be pretty good economics.

To me it seems like political accounting, not financial accounting. The Minister went on to cite a saving of something like $800,000 to the people of Western Australia if TAA were to come into operation on the Perth to Darwin service and the intrastate services in Western Australia. I would like an explanation from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) of how the Minister for Transport arrived at that figure of $800,000. It may be that we can obtain that in some detail. There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. The Minister made a statement which is completely untrue. He referred to the problems of freight in Western Australia. Mr Nixon said that perfectly good aircraft in the form of the F28 were operating very satisfactorily in Western Australia without any increased cost for airport construction. He asked why the DC9s should operate. The Minister replied:

.   . the F2 8 is leaving behind a considerable amount of freight each trip. This was one of the major complaints that was made to me- that whereas the rest of Australia could send freight at the average freight rate, in Western Australia in order to ensure delivery it has to be sent as express freight, which means an increased charge. This is as a result of the F28 not being big enough and not providing a service for the people of Western Australia. The DC9 aircraft will provide them with a service.

That statement is not correct. I have checked the figures and the express freight carried by MacRobertson Miller Airline Services represents 1 6 per cent of its total freight while that carried by TAA, I understand, represents 22 per cent of its freight. I do not say this in a critical fashion; it is a fact of life. It is also interesting to note that Ward's Freight Services Pty Ltd, which apparently is a big freight company, has a contract with MacRobertson Miller Airlines to cart freight to the north west and has expressed the view that it is more than satisfied with the service provided. Again I say to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs so that he can pass the information on to his colleague the Minister for Transport, that because of MacRobertson Millers capacity to carry express freight it is looking for more freight. It is constantly seeking greater freight loads. I do not know where the information in the statement ofthe Minister for Transport came from but in fairness to MacRobertson Miller he should correct it. Therefore while I am not opposing this Bill, I believe that the Government has a responsibility to the people concerned- the pilots and others employed by MacRobertson Miller Airlines. On the basis of fairness and fair play it has a responsibility to ensure that the pilots employed by MacRobertson Miller Airlines are not disadvantaged. I seek some assurance from the Minister on this matter.

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