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Tuesday, 22 May 1973
Page: 2404

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - From the speeches made by honourable members on the other side of the House in the course of this debate, it seems to me that this piece of legislation is presented by the Government as though there was a dichotomy of views and that the Government was speaking for Trans-Australia Airlines and the Opposition for Ansett Transport

Industries Ltd. I want to make it abundantly clear that this is absolutely not the attitude of the Opposition. I do not believe it is the attitude of the Government, that is, that the Government supports TAA and the Opposition Ansett. The fact is that TAA is a fine airline and the fact is that Ansett Airlines of Australia is a fine airline. The fact is that we in Australia are extremely lucky that we have an internal airline system based on what is known as a 2-airline policy. It has given us a record of safety and a fleet of front line aeroplanes flying throughout this vast continent which we otherwise would not have had. As I understand the position, the Minister for Transport and Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Charles Jones) and the Government support the 2- airline policy as strongly as does the Opposition.

Mr Charles Jones - We will retain it on an even-handed basis.

Mr SNEDDEN - The Minister interjects kindly to say that it will be retained on an even-handed basis. This is the whole nub of the proposition. That is what we want to do - retain the 2-airline policy on an even-handed basis. That was the statement of policy which was made when we were in government by Sir Reginald Swartz, who was Minister for National Development representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. That is what we wanted and that is what the Minister has said is the purpose of this Bill. It is from that point we must pursue the argument and the debate. Three weeks ago the Minister for Transport introduced the Australian National Airlines Bill 1973, I believe, innocently. He said that he was anxious to implement Liberal Party promise. All that is proposed, he announced, was to implement what his predecessor, Senator Cotton, as explained in this House by Sir Reginald Swartz, promised of TAA. It was to be an innocuous little affair in which everybody could agree because the policy adopted by the Government and the Opposition was the same. I am afraid that it was not to be that innocuous little affair at all because it was not just a matter of the present Government updating legislation. It is clearly disclosed that that is not the intent of the Bill. One can only look at the Bill on the basis of the words used. That is how it would be interpreted by the courts and how it must be interpreted by the public. If that is all it was, the Bill would be agreed to.

In government the Liberal and Country Parties gave their firm commitment to provide TAA with extended powers to engage in activities closely related to its airline operations to enable it to compete on equal terms with Ansett Airlines. We stand by that commitment. The Opposition will support any Bill that puts into effect the decisions we took in government last year. The Minister is adamant that the Bill does no more than implement our promises. At least he was adamant until the statement he has just made, but 1 will deal with that in a moment. The reality of the Bill must be examined clause by clause. What are the new functions of the Australian National Airlines Commission. Proposed section 19E(2) deals with the new functions of the Commission. It reads as follows:

The power of the Commission . . . may be exercised (a) for the purposes of the efficient, competitive and profitable conduct of the business of the Commission in respect of its function under paragraph (a) of sub-section (1) of section 19 or otherwise as incidental to the carrying on of that business;

Proposed section 19c (1) provides -

The Commission may, to the extent provided by sub-section (2), transport passengers or goods for reward by air or by land, or partly by air and partly by land, between places in the one State.

What that amounts to is this : Under the terms of the Bill the Airlines Commission will be able to transport passengers and goods by land without statutory limit The Commission will be able to transport passengers and goods and provide accommodation and other undefined services and facilities without statutory limit The Commission will be able to provide land transport to the Commonwealth and such other services as can conveniently be provided by the use of the resources of the Commission without statutory limit. The financial resources of the Commission are not defined, but when the financial powers are examined the resources are seen to be immense.

Proposed section 19c provides that the Commission may transport passengers by land within a State. This function has been extended without any consultation with the States. The Bill will extend all the powers of the Commission to the full extent of the corporations power, as yet undefined by the courts. Proposed section 19d provides that the Commission may provide services that involve the use of aircraft without statutory limit. They will include general aviation, crop dust ing and all small plane charter operations. Proposed section 19e is a fascinating one. Under it the Commission may establish hotels without statutory limit. The Commission may operate enterprises providing recreation - whatever 'recreation' may mean in this context - without statutory limit. It may maintain entertainment establishments without statutory limit. There is no reason why it may not provide casinos, cinemas, theatres, live stage shows, night clubs, roulette wheels - anything it wishes. As the Bill is written, there is no statutory limit. The Commission will be able to make arrangements to operate establishments to provide other undefined services and facilities without statutory limit. The Commission's power to operate in each of these fields will be extended by the full backing of the corporations power.

Under proposed section 19g the Commission will be able to operate immediately road transport in Papua New Guinea. The Bill uses the words 'if Papua New Guinea becomes an independent country'. The Minister ought to know that his own Government has decided that it will become independent. There is no 'if about it. The Government is forcing independence upon Papua New Guinea. Not only does the Bill extend TAA's functions into new areas but also, with the financial powers it has under this legislation, the Commission - not TAA - will be able to monopolise every industry in which it engages. The Commission will be all-powerful and untouchable. The Commission will have power to do all things necessary or convenient to be done for the performance of its functions. It will be able to form companies, subscribe for or otherwise acquire shares in a company, take over or buy out competitors and drive them out of business - not just in the field of airlines but through the whole range of operations from entertainment, recreation and hotels to engineering services.

The Commission will be able to buy shares to the value of $250,000 or any higher amount which may be prescribed by regulation. In other words, after this Bill is passed, a regulation may come in substituting $250m for the $250,000. There is no statutory limit on that. It can be done just by regulation. The powers that are provided will be enhanced by strong financial backing. Under the proposed amendments to section 31 the Treasurer may approve borrowings in such amounts as he thinks necessary for the Commission to perform all its duties and functions. 'AH its duties and functions' are to provide hotels, recreation, engineering services, general aviation services, small plane services, etc. So, if it is to do that, the Treasurer may approve the borrowings. It can then borrow all the money it needs on the public credit of the Commonwealth for the purpose, if it wishes, of actually buying out Ansett Transport Industries Ltd or any of the major transport companies. There is no statutory limit. In all these borrowings it will have the full backing of the Commonwealth.

The Treasurer will be able to approve borrowings by the Commission of any amount and under any terms that he thinks fit. Where is the even-handed dealing there? The Commission can be lent money from the Commonwealth at no interest, but I would think that its competitor could not borrow money for commercial use at under 8 per cent or 9 per cent interest. The Commission can use the money to establish casinos, to build cinemas and theatres, to operate hotel chains or to construct any type of edifice with the profits earned from any type of service or any facility that it wishes to provide. It can be a monopoly. It will no longer be an airlines commission which is operating an airline service; it will be a commission that can operate in any or all of this wide variety of fields and in a totally monopolistic manner. This is the type of power that would be conferred on the Commission by this legislation. It would enable the Government to transform TAA, that very efficient organisation which we know as merely an airline operator - major airline operator though it may be - and make the Commission the operator of all these things, such as hotels and theatres, and on uneven terms. There is no even-handedness here.

Yet the Minister is adamant that this Bill does no more than implement the LiberalCountry Party Government's promise. That was never any part of our intention or promise. We must ask whether this is naivety or just a drafting catastrophe. Is the Minister being extraordinarily ignorant of the consequences of the Bill, or extraordinarily deceptive? He made a statement today to try to cure the situation. In a moment I will come to that and show that it goes nowhere near curing the situation. I think the truth is that the intention was to make this Bill do just what it says; that is, to create the opportunity for a giant monopoly vehicle to give effect to Labor Party policy to achieve the Party's socialistic aims. The functions of the Commission are limitless and the financial backing is immense. I believe that the intention is best expressed in the words taken out of the Labor Party's official platform which state clearly what the Government has in mind. This was not stated back in the 1920s or 1030s when Labor was responding to a socalled class war. This is from its very last conference at Launceston in 1971. It reads:

With the object of achieving Labor's socialist objectives, establish or extend public enterprise where appropriate by nationalisation, particularly, in tha fields of banking, consumer finance, insurance, marketing, housing, stevedoring, transport and in areas of anti-social private monopoly.

Of course, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has always said: 'Do not talk about nationalisation. We do not have the power to do it because section 92 of the Constitution will stop us'.

But the Government has found a convenient way to do it here; that is, by giving some innocent, efficient body like TAA these powers and then providing it with unlimited finance so that it can buy out its competitors and become a monopoly in a commercial manner. The Minister now says in an ingenuous way that during the Committee stage he will suggest some amendments which will put the Government's intentions beyond any reasonable doubt. He says that all our fears were unfounded. If they were unfounded, he would not be wanting to amend the Bill now. The fact is that they were well founded and he knows that he has to do something about it because this Bill does not respond to the second reading speech which was put to this House and to the public of Australia. He knows that he has to try to get himself out of it the best way he can. He has made an admission that he did not understand the significance of the Bill which he himself introduced into this Parliament, and that is why he wants to amend it. The way in which the Minister chooses to amend it is expressed in these words:

We will propose an amendment which will ensure that TAA's activities in these areas of accommodation, transport and engineering are related to the level of activity by Ansett Transport Industries in the same area.

The Minister thinks that will cure the position. It most certainly does not cure it because what he has in mind - and he gave the figures - is that if Ansett Transport Industries total revenue was $208m in 1971-72 the amendment would allow TAA to plan its operations for the ensuing years on the basis that it would be permissible to earn non-aviation revenue in the same proportion.

If this amendment is passed this is the consequence: If Ansett by way of a totally unrelated company goes into mineral exploration and finds a diamond mine which produces $100m worth of diamonds a year that will enable the Airlines Commission to have $100m worth of night clubs. That is the way in which the proposed amendment is made. It is a ridiculous way to try to cure the situation. One needs only to state the example which I have just given to see how ridiculous the amendment is. That is why we cannot support that amendment. I am quite sure that when the Minister looks at it again he will find that it in no way answers the problem that he has, that is, to persuade the people that what he stated were his intentions really were his intentions and that what is in the Bill is not his intention. What he should do with this legislation, if he wants to amend it, is to say that there will be an even handed dealing in competition between TAA and Ansett and that TAA will have the power to do these things, but only incidentally to the operation of its airline service. That is what should have been done. The proposed amendment is no way whatever to cure the immense damage which has already been done by the Bill in the way in which the Minister has proposed it. If this legislation were passed it would be a tragedy because not only would we on the Opposition not want it but also the Government, it says, does not want it either.

We will introduce amendments which will have the effect of reducing the effect of the Bill from the present statutorily unlimited monopolistic capacity which it gives to the Airlines Commission and pull it back to where it ought to be, as we both agree, that is, to give statutory power to the level of the policy statement that we as a government made last year. We are agreed on that. We have the amendments to do it. We would alter the functions of the Commission as explained in this Bill to read in this way:

The functions of the Commission are

(a)   to transport passengers and goods for reward by air between prescribed places, and

(b)   within the limits of its powers under this Act or any relevant State Act, to transport passengers and goods for reward by air or in association with its powers in this section and, within those limits, to provide land transport accommodation, and other services and facilities associated with the exercise of its powers under paragraph (a).

We will move an amendment to transfer money from the TAA superannuation fund to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund so that TAA's superannuation funds are not used as a subsidy for its commercial operations. We will also move an amendment to require the Commission to give its accounts in accordance with the uniform Companies Act and to separate the airline and non-airline operating results. The Minister has an amendment of that kind. We will examine it to see whether it is appropriate. The wording of the Minister's amendment is different from ours but we may be able to come to some arrangement to support that amendment. But we are certainly not going to support his other proposal to cure the Bill because it does not cure it at all. Another amendment the Opposition will move will provide that the Minister must accord the Commission and its competitors equal treatment. That is consistent with evenhanded dealing. We will be moving for that.

We know that we will not be allowed sufficient time to move all our amendments. The Government will not give us time to move and to argue them. Therefore, on the motion that the Bill be now read a second time the Opposition will support the amendment which has been moved by my colleague the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn), which reads:

This House declines to give the Bill a second reading because it does not give effect to the statement of intention of the previous Government but would be used as a vehicle to implement the whole of the socialistic policy of the present Government.'

We will vote for that amendment and we would need no greater confirmation of its necessity than the Minister's own statement.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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