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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2962

Senator BESSELL (Tasmania) -Yes, I second the amendment. I think Senator Sim in his speech tonight has outlined the difficulties and problems that are facing civil aviation today. I wish to localise the problem somewhat, refer to the situation on the north-west coast of Tasmania and use that as an example of the sort of thing that is happening in civil aviation. A number of use who are associated with the position have seen in recent weeks a certain amount of guestimation as to whether either or both of the airports at Wynyard and Devonport may be closed. It has been said that the suggestion has come from the Department of Transport. This is not so. The policy of this Government, which is to recover 80 per cent of the charges, as outlined in this Bill, has made it nearly impossible for these sorts of charges to be passed on to the passenger traffic. I think it is fairly obvious that if we expect the passengers to pay for at least 80 per cent of the charges, as outlined in the Bill, sooner or later we must reach the point where it is no longer possible for the industry to carry the increased charges.

Senator Simsaid that, according to the Government, the industry is set up to cater just for the silvertails, that it is a luxury industry. Of course it will be a luxury industry if the industry itself is forced to carry these sorts of charges. We will see this reflected in the cost of air fares between various cities. I suppose, because of the geographic nature of Australia, that we suffer a disadvantage. We have large concentrations of people who live very great distances apart from each other. I suppose that Australia pro rata is probably one of the most air-minded of all countries in the world. If we destroy this inustry we will destroy an industry that is extremely valuable, not only from the point of view of moving traffic from point A to point B but also from the point of view of the light aircraft industry in Australia. If aircraft are not being used because the costs of use are too high the manufacturing and design side of the light aircraft industry will be destroyed purely because there is insufficient incentive to maintain it. Light aviation, or in other words the third tier of aviation- the small airlines, the various charter aircraft companies of which we see so many and which form such an important part of Australian aviation today- is finding, with the increased cost of hangar rental, landing charges and other navigation charges, that it is fast becoming virtually impossible to continue to operate with any reasonable degree of efficiency within this framework of costs and still be able to attract the numbers of people that they would wish to attract.

I will return to the situation in Tasmania. I think a quote from the 'Examiner' newspaper in northern Tasmania clearly demonstrates the sort of problem that we have throughout Australia. This quote applies to one part of Tasmania, but I think it applies generally also. The article states:

The efforts of Mr Duthie, M.H.R., and others to persuade the Federal Department of Transport to accept its rightful responsibility for Devonport and Wynyard airports seem likely to founder in the sea of Federal Government indifference. Canberra has made it clear that it wishes to shrug off these 2 airports as quickly and as cheaply as it possibly can. Its first, transparently, dishonest move was to offer the airports as profitable enterprises to the councils in whose territory they lay. The councils saw the trap at once: If running an airport was so profitable, they argued, why did the Commonwealth wish to dispose of them?

They saw several other valid arguments against the proposal. The people of the 2 municipalities concerned (Wynyard and Latrobe) are not the principal users of the airports. They as ratepayers would have to undertake a big responsibility and the distinct possibility of heavy losses on behalf of residents of other municipalities. Moreover, all airline passengers and users of air-freight services pay for the facilities that the Commonwealth provides. Savage taxes on aviation fuel and burdensome air-navigation charges are paid by the airlines which naturally pass on the cost to their customers. Nobody has suggested that users of KingsfordSmith or Tullamarine airports should pay a tax for the privilege -

Senator Grimes - They make a profit.

Senator BESSELL -That may well be, but I think one must look at this in a rather more realistic way.

Senator Grimes - Who wants to close Wynyard and Devonport?

Senator BESSELL - I do not know who wants to close them, but it has been reported that the airlines wish to close them basically because they cannot afford to keep the rate that they charge their passengers down to a competitive level. The rates are already quite a significant percentage higher than the rates for equivalent distances in other areas. I continue to quote: why should users of Wynyard or Devonport have to do so?

Now the Federal Government has adopted a new attack. Having failed to tempt the councils into taking the airports as business' propositions yielding income from passengers and from parking and concessions, the Department of Transport has announced that it will withdraw all firefighting services from the airports- a move that could convert an incident into a catastrophe. Warden Stewart of Latrobe said that the action was shocking. He perceived it as pressure tactics to compel local authorities to take over the airports. Warden Smith of Wynyard was equally firm in rejecting the stratagem. Mr Bonncy, M.H.A., commented that the cost of maintaining the services would be trifling compared with the costs at Tullamarine, for example which the Federal Government meets without a question.

Senator Grimes - What Party does he belong to?

Senator BESSELL - He is a member of the Liberal Party, a very enlightened Party. He tells a good story that I would like to tell the honourable senator sometime. I do not wish to take the time of the Senate by telling it here, but it is something to do with Mr Hawke and some kittens. If the honourable senator wishes, I will tell it now.

Senator Poyser - They used to tell the same story about Bob Menzies too. It is an old one.

Senator BESSELL - I know, but he woke up too. The article continues:

Though more than 170,000 passengers used the airports last year--

This figure has been increased because of the greater use and the figure is now currently approximately 200,000 -

The Commonwealth may argue that nowhere else in Australia does it maintain three first class airports in a distance of 150-odd km. True, but nowhere else in Australia's settled areas are people so dependent on air transport for passenger and freight movement. A North-West airport handling more than 100,000 passengers a year is to be treated as a bush strip to be managed by the local residents.

Even worse is the plight of the people of King and Flinders Islands whose commercial services are being withdrawn. These people are to be graded as second-class Tasmanians who in turn are second-class Australians. To the centralist Federal Government, the people of the NorthWest and the islands, like other Tasmanians and, indeed, like all who don 't live in Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne, are bumpkins, conveniently to be ignored if they are not actively persecuted for the crime of decentralisation or of trying to make a living from a farm.

I think it can be fairly clearly seen from that, notwithstanding the interjections from the other side, that there is a need for rationalisation and a commonsense attitude in this matter. Admittedly it was the policy of the previous Government to recover a certain amount of the air navigation charges from the users of the airports. We have heard talk, when it has been convenient for the Government to so talk, about flexibility in policy formulation. This is a situation in which there is a need for flexibility in policy formulation because the policy which was appropriate 3 months ago is not necessarily appropriate today. Due to inept economic management Australia at present is paying out something like $3m a week in unemployment relief. If we were to use just a portion of that amount it would be very easy to maintain these airports in the standard that has applied to date. It also would be relatively easy to give to these people the service and consideration which their very isolation demands we should give them.

It is all very well for Senator Grimes who is seeking to interject. He lives near Launceston, one of the prettiest and most efficient airports in Australia. He has jet aircraft available to him; we have something else. The service we have is very good and we want to maintain it. The people in both towns want to maintain it. Theoretically it may well be that it is difficult to justify 3 airports within such a short distance, but I think the situation in north-west Tasmania has to be appreciated and understood before people can make a judgment on it. It is very difficult for anybody other than people who live in the area to do so. Honourable senators should not forget that we cannot catch a train or drive a car across Bass Strait. It is a very difficult proposition.

Senator Poyser - You could walk across it.

Senator BESSELL -No. There is only one person, and he is on your side of politics and in the other House, who is supposed to be able to walk across water. I cannot.

Senator Cavanagh - If it was a valley of death with hot coals in it you could.

Senator BESSELL - No. I have never tried to walk on hot coals. I believe people do so in Fiji.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Order! The honourable senator will address the chair and ignore interjections. He will get on much better by doing so.

Senator BESSELL -Walking on hot coals certainly puts callouses on your feet. Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, for your protection. Another feature not noted by the Government in the proposition before us is the use that agricultural aircraft make of the various airports throughout Tasmania. They have to go somewhere for servicing and maintenance. Agricultural aircraft are becoming more noticeable in the field of agriculture and are being used for the distribution of fertiliser, insecticide and weedicide. It is important that we consider this aspect as well. All of these aspects are terribly important today. Twelve months ago rural industry was riding on the crest of a wave. Typical of rural industry, some aspects of it currently are in a trough, I say some aspects advisedly because I realise that in the hard grain and the ordinary grain areas, and in sugar benefit is accruing to the people fortunate enough to be engaged in them. The meat industry is not one of those. Tasmania, like other places, relies heavily on agricultural aircraft for top dressing where cattle and other stock are run. From the very important point of view of the agricultural aircraft industry, this severe impost is going to make it extremely difficult for people to maintain the service at a cost that is relatively competitive with that already provided.

Senator Milliner - What would you have done?

Senator BESSELL - I do not think that is the point. It is not what 1 would have done, it is what we are being asked to do at the present moment.

Senator Milliner - What would your Government have done?

Senator BESSELL - I think we would have looked a good deal more realistically at the situation. Firstly, we would not have let the economy get into the situation it is in now. We would not have let inflation explode to the point at which money is fast becoming valueless. We would not have implemented policies that it was suggested would not work and which now have cost the Commonwealth Government, or the Australian Government, whichever you like to call it, an awful lot of money in the form of unemployment payments. We would have used that money so saved -

Senator Poyser - I have never known money to be awful.

Senator BESSELL -The value of it is rather awful at the moment.

Senator Milliner - You would put value back into the pound like you did before.

Senator BESSELL -That is right. The whole crux of this matter is whether the Bill before us adequately meets the situation. I do not think it does. We do not oppose it but we support the amendment- suggested by Senator Sim. The Government has made great play, as I mentioned earlier, on flexibility in policy formulation. It is not too late for the Government to admit it has made a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes. People who do not do anything do not make mistakes. This Government does plenty. I do not say that it makes plenty of mistakes. It tries hard but it finishes up with a lot of policies that appear to be mistakes. The ratings in the various surveys that are taken indicate this pretty clearly.

Senator Milliner - What about the one relating to Mr Snedden?

Senator BESSELL - I do not think I will bother about that. The honourable senator's version of that story would be far more interesting and probably far more entertaining that any I would tell. I believe in loyalty to my leader and I do not mind saying so and I do not mind being recorded as having said so. I want to get back to the question of King Island. Because of the withdrawal of the subsidy towards air fares or the cost of running the services into that area, the people of King Island and Flinders Island are now without a regular Fokker service, an ordinary commercial service. The area has been reasonably well catered for by small aircraft but unfortunately they have a disadvantage. They do not have toilet facilities on them, they are not readily available and not readily adaptable to cater for people who are ill or who need to lie down. The subsidy was costing the Commonwealth $6 a person, roughly the same as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) said in his second reading speech, it was costing everybody in Australia to maintain the services at the level they were. I think Senator Sim pretty clearly demonstrated that no transport service in Australia is running without some assistance from the taxpayer. Surely we can rationalise the cost and keep it down to a level where the service can be made available to everybody at a reasonable figure. Surely the best way to offset the cost is to encourage more people to use the service. One way to diminish the profit margin is to make the cost of usage so great that people no longer are able to afford to travel by this method.

Those basically are the points I wish to make in this debate. I hope that the Government will look more objectively at this Bill than it has in the past. It is all very well to have a theory about recovering 80 per cent, 90 per cent or 100 per cent, but with costs and prices moving with the rapidity with which they are at present I do not think anybody will growl or be terribly upset if the Government looks at the question and says: We feel we are moving too quickly in this direction. We are prepared to look at the matter and to provide those areas which are not so populated as are others with a reasonably well protected service. We are prepared to try to make civil aviation the type of transport system that Australia and Australians can be proud of.

I think we are all proud of the wonderful record of the Department of Civil Aviation and of civil aviation generally in Australia. If we are to be forced by reason of costs to try to cut corners, we could well fall into the trap that a lot of people overseas have fallen into and allow aircraft maintenance to fall below the line. I think that DCA regulations are very stringent and I doubt that that would happen. However it is a temptation and it may happen. It is a temptation that may be yielded to. We have seen generally in the employment field throughout Australia in recent weeks that the only way in which business people can keep ahead or maintain themselves at the level they were at is by retrenching so that the profit margin is maintained. We must make an effort to encourage people to employ more and to develop more. We want to see in this country the development of civil aviation to its fullest possible extent. We have a proud record in civil aviation. Do not let us destroy it by pricing it completely out of the market of the ordinary man in the street.

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