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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1990

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) (Minister for Supply) - The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) has raised, under 2 headings, matters to which I would refer. The facts, as I heard them, in respect of the employee who has applied for provident fund membership are, I think, in the main correct. It is unfortunate that these papers were, as the honourable gentleman said, mislaid. I think it should be pointed out that once it was discovered that these papers had been lost the gentleman concerned was asked to apply again but he declined to do so. Unfortunately this matter has gone on from that day until this and, under the existing legislation, it would be simply not possible to back date his application. 1 am afraid that that position will continue until he submits an application. I give an assurance that as soon as he does so the matter will be immediately expedited.

I turn now to the matter raised in genera] concerning the defence aircraft industry. In order to put this matter in its proper context 1 shall, somewhat briefly in view of the time, repeat what I have said on occasions and what my predecessor, Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, has said in relation to this matter. It is the Government's stated policy to maintain a small, viable defence aircraft industry. My predecessor did make a fairly lengthy statement in the Senate in April of last year in which he covered the main circumstances in which the industry finds itself and alluded to the negotiations which were then and are still continuing in respect of rationalising that industry, particularly with respect to Fishermen's fiend. By its very nature the aircraft industry - the defence aspect of it in particular - is subject to a fluctuating work load. The recent retrenchments at both the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the Government Aircraft Factories have to be viewed in that context.

Clearly, each generation of defence aircraft lasts longer than the time taken to produce it. The next generation of aircraft is not yet determined. The current programmes are now ending, I refer to the programmes in relation to the Macchi and

Mirage aircraft, and the next major equipment project - that is, the replacement of those 2 aircraft - is not expected to be undertaken for several years. Consequently, the Government has been encouraging the industry to become more commercially oriented. At the same time it is looking at the possibilities of rationalisation in the areas I have mentioned. In answer to a question which was asked of me by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), who I know is interested in this matter and who I am glad to see is here this evening, I pointed out that plant at these 2 factories at Fishermen's Bend is very largely complementary and it is clearly in the long term interest of the industry, and the employees in it, for some merger and rationalisation to be achieved, if it can be achieved under the right conditions. I will not in the time at my disposal go into the work-load prospects. There are some. I think the honourable members who have taken an interest in this matter will be aware of them.

I- wish, to deal now with the questions which were specifically posed by the honourable member for Corio. There was a large number of 'them. I will endeavour to cover all the points he made. When I talked with him privately in my office some time ago - I hope on occasions like this it will never be necessary for me to have a stenographer present - I think I indicated that rationalisation discussions were continuing and that a number of working parties were looking at the position in the broadest way. I also indicated to him that- it was not entirely certain that Avalon would necessarily come into such a merger or such a rationalisation, whatever final proposition may be decided upon if indeed - let me emphasise this point - any final proposition were acceptable to both the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the Government.

The honourable member called on me this morning to clear up fully a number of questions. That simply would not be possible because these discussions are in their relatively early stages. I have indicated that these working parties are examining every aspect of the matter. Something in excess of 12 working parties are involved and I believe they are constituted approximately of equal numbers of representatives of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the Government Aircraft Factories. They are concerned with very many aspects, such as what the industry should be doing. Should it be in the field of assembly or part manufacture, or repair and overhaul? What facilities would it need for those operations? For example, would one machine shop and one tool room be sufficient? What will be the likely work load, as far as one can judge, in the future? An appreciation has to be made of that aspect. The work load would include the helicopters presently being constructed and the contract which has been made by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation with the Bell helicopters company. The Corporation is the principal sub-contractor for the Bell helicopter but a substantial part of the work will be done by the Government Aircraft Factories and by Hawker De Havilland Aust. Pty Ltd in New South Wales. An appreciation of major projects could be carried out. I am sure the honourable gentleman will agree that an important aspect to consider is what will be the rights, responsibilities and duties of all categories of employees in both the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the Government Aircraft Factories, and what, to approach a very difficult subject, would be their superannuation rights.

I emphasise that there is no certainty that the merger, to give it a name, will go on. The honourable member mentioned that the suggestion had been made that perhaps this ought to be arranged within one year, and it had been suggested to the Australian Council of Trade Unions that it might take place in 4 years. All of that is conjecture. It is quite impossible to say anything precise simply because the negotiations are in their early stages. The honourable member mentioned itemising plant and suggested that some plant might be due for replacement. Of course, this would be a necessary part of the review. I cannot be more specific at this stage. The Government believes that it is in the interests of the industry and the employees that this consideration go on. We believe that it is probable that some scheme may be forged. I repeat that it will have to be agreed to by the company and the Government before anything can proceed. The Government is sympathetic to the position of the staff affected, but 1 repeat that it is in the long term interests of that industry, if it is to survive, and its employees that some rationalisation - that word covers a wide scope - should take place.

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