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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4026

Mr STREET (Corangamite) - Basically, the Airlines Agreements Bill 1973 and the Air Navigation (Charges) Bill 1973 provide for a greater rate of recovery, by way of increased air navigation charges, of the cost of providing facilities for the aviation industry. This action was foreshadowed by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) in his Budget Speech when he announced that it was the Government's intention to increase air navigation charges by 10 per cent as from 1 December 1973. The Treasurer also announced at the same time that the Government would seek to renegotiate the airlines agreement so that the constraint of a maximum increase in charges of 10 per cent per annum could .be removed in order to meet the target date of recovery of 80 per cent of expenditure by 30 June, 1978. The 80 per cent recovery aim could not have been met if the Government were limited to a 10 per cent increase in rate in any one year. The present recovery rate accounts for less than 50 per cent of the actual expenditure.

The Government's aim is full recovery of those costs properly attributable to civil air transport. This is referred to in the 1961 airlines agreement and was the stated policy of the previous Government. I believe it to be a reasonable policy, although the intention to recover 80 per cent of costs within 5 years will lead to sharp increases in air fares. The Government has now renegotiated the airlines agreement with Trans-Australia Airlines and Ansett Transport Industries Ltd and the rate of recovery of air navigation charges has been increased to a maximum of 15 per cent a year. Therefore, instead of increasing the charges by 10 per cent from 1 December, they will be increased by 15 per cent from that date. I think that it should be pointed out that a factor in gaining TAA and ATI agreement to the amendment of the Airlines Agreements Act was undoubtedly the inclusion of the following provision in the agreement. It is paragraph 7, which states:

Whenever the Minister is satisfied that because of the imposition of higher air navigation charges loss or loss of profit is suffered by the Commission or the Operating Company he will as soon as possible and to the extent be considers necessary to make good the loss complained of by the Commission or the Operating Company approve increases in either or both air fares and freight charges as the case may require.

Landing charges in Australia for international aircraft, already the highest in the world, will also be increased by 15 per cent as from 1 December 1973. This is in line with the following new provision included in the airlines agreement, paragraph .11:

In the implementation of its policy of full recovery of the costs of facilities properly attributable to civil air transport, the Commonwealth will increase the rate of air navigation charges to international operators by the same percentage as that applied from time to time in respect of the operations of the Commission and the Operating Company.

As the present Government's policy of recovery is in line with what we asserted over the past years to be our policy, we are not opposing the main provisions of these Bills, and, as mentioned, the 2 major airlines have already agreed to the increases. However, I now come to the general aviation field, where there will not only be an increase of 15 per cent in air navigation charges but other costs associated with the operation of aircraft in the general aviation field will be doubled on some activities and increased by 66} per cent for charter aircraft. I interpose here that it has been a great suprise to the Liberal Party that it has received only one representation from an aero club over these increased charges, although the general aviation industry has expressed concern at the level of increases and particularly at the uncertain future facing the industry.

As the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Charles Jones) would probably know, rumours are going around now that on top of the doubling of charges this year there will be a further doubling next year. The general aviation industry must know what the Government has in store for it so that operators can have some idea of whether they will be able to continue. This is an area where the Opposition believes that a more realistic and sympathetic approach should be considered by the Government. Australia has an unparalleled history of achievement in aviation. This has been due in very large measure to what is often called grass roots aviation; -that is the private owner, the aero club and the flying training orgainsation and, more recently, the charter operators, commuter third level airlines and the aerial agricultural operators. These sectors of the industry have all made a tremendous contribution to the development of aviation in Australia and indeed to our national development. It is worth remembering that general aviation flies by far the majority of hours in civil aviation in Australia. The latest figures I have show 1.1 million hours in a total of about l.S million hours.

Australia has always been known as an airminded nation. Thousands of Australians have learned the skills, disciplines and joys of flying. However, the future of general aviation is in real danger if the Government insists upon recovering costs from this branch of aviation on the same basis as it intends to recover costs from the regular public transport or RFT operators. In fact, the working group appointed by the Minister has not been able to allocate the costs of operating our aviation system among the various categories of users - international RPT, domestic RFT and general aviation. The group made an interesting recommendation, namely, that the Government might consider a revised charge structure with separate charges for airport and airway facilities. This might prove to be a basis for a more equitable distribution of costs. I should like to emphasise that, whether this recommendation is accepted or not, the Government must realise that general aviation just cannot stand indefinitely rises such as will be imposed upon it by this legislation.

The amount of revenue to be raised from general aviation is very small when considered in the context of the cost of operating Australia's aviation facilities, but the effect on the individual operators will be very severe and out of all proportion to the minimal increases in government revenue. I concede that the Government has made a concession of a rebate of 331 per cent for aircraft normally kept at locations other than government licenced aerodromes or locally owned aerodromes in respect of which government subsidy has been paid. I applaud the Government for that concession. Indeed, I think a greater incentive should be given to keep general aviation aircraft away from the secondary city airports such as Moorabbin and Bankstown which are already by far the most crowded airports in Australia. The Government would be doing the industry and the air safety record of this country a service if it gave every encouragement for owners and operators of aircraft to keep them away from the secondary city airports.

I trust that common sense will prevail in relation to charges for general aviation. This is not a party political issue. It would be a tragedy if the Australian general aviation industry, which is just recovering from the severe recession it has experienced over the past few years, were to be sat back on its heels by being required to pay impossibly high air navigation and registration charges. The tremendously expensive facilities have had to be built not for general aviation but for the large and sophisticated passenger aircraft. Let us show some vision and encourage general aviation, in all its forms, to continue to expand its activities to the benefit of Australia as a whole.

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