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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4028

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - The Bill before the House has been debated at some length and I do not intend to go over ground that has been covered already. However, I shall take a few minutes to refer to some particular factors which have a bearing upon air services in inland Queensland, and western Queensland in particular. I received a letter from the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Charles Jones) in which he stated:

In the case of developmental air services, while the previous Government had not taken any firm decision to phase out of this form of subsidy, it has nevertheless expressed the wish that the level of expenditures on developmental subsidies should be reduced as much as possible. On this aspect, in October 1970 my predecessor authorised the Department of Civil Aviation to undertake a review of the services operated in the Gulf and Channel Country networks in Queensland with a view to substituting light aircraft operations for TAA's Twin Otter services. This review was begun, but, because of the possibility of the elections, it was not completed before the change of Government.

I venture to suggest that it would have received a pretty rough passage had there been no change of government. I am very strongly in favour of the continuation of the Twin Otter service.

It is true, as pointed out in a later part of the Minister's letter, that the subsidies are fairly high. But whilst they are high on a per capita basis, they must be looked at against the general background of the value of these areas to the nation as a whole. One cannot just look at the pure figures of economics and say: "This is justified on those grounds.' One has also to look at the value of utilising that country. Whilst I know that the intention of these Bills is to reduce the deficiency between revenue and expenditure as at the present time - the Minister stated in his second reading speech on 8 November that the expenditure for 1972-73 was $127.6m, revenue was $58.65m and the deficiency was $68.95m - the situation is that even if these subsidies had been continued the difference in total would have been only a matter of $600,000. Confining the argument to that particular aspect, instead of being $68.95m the deficiency would have been $68.35m. So it is not a major expenditure in relation to the value to the Australian community of the areas served.

That angle is rarely accepted by this Government. It was not accepted as fully as I would have liked it to be even under the previous Government. To get an idea of the value of these areas I asked the Shire Clerk of the Quilpie Shire for some figures which illuminate the value to the nation of these areas. I asked him to give me some figures for an -average year because the seasons vary there. The Shire Clerk is not a primary producer. He was not trying to do something for himself. He said that in the calendar year 1969, which he regarded as an average year, the railway loadings were 38,175 cattle, 124,636 sheep and 31,724 bales of wool. They were from the Quilpie railhead which serves the Channel Country to which I have referred. He estimated the value of this production at present prices as being somewhere between $18m and $20m. The people living in those areas deserve some consideration from any government because they do not have the facilities that are provided in many other areas. They do not share in the expenditure of the Government that the general public shares in many other ways.

It is interesting to note that, despite the fact that those figures were for an average year, in the period July to October this year the figures for cattle trucking reached 34,270 as against the figure of 38,175 for the full year 1969. So the Shire Clerk was not trying to exaggerate the situation. I do not have the figures for sheep and wool for that particular 4-month period, which are the latest figures. In addition to the revenue that comes out of those areas through the railhead at Quilpie, stock from the Channel Country and south west Queensland are also trucked from Cunnamulla and taken by road to the southern States. So there is an added amount of revenue coming from those areas. The people who live there should be given a satisfactory air service so that that country can be utilised. I should point out that a very high percentage of this revenue goes into export income for Australia and thus contributes very substantially to the economic stability of this country.

That is only one of the things we have to take into consideration. It is one of the things that have been forgotten so often. The human element should be considered. People should be enabled to live decently in those areas and to have the facilities to get out of the areas when they need to. I believe that the expenditure that has gone into providing air services for those areas has helped in the decentralisation of Australia. There was some mention of that in the Coombs report and some suggestion as to how it should be utilised. There was recognition of the need to promote decentralisation, for example, in conjunction with the Postmaster-General's Department and the Department of Civil Aviation. Perhaps some means of offsetting the costs of those departments could be arrived at.

As a result of the difference in the amenities provided in those areas there is tremendous difficulty in getting people to work there. I am not blaming this Government for it, but the town of Quilpie - despite the fact that it has a population of some 750 or 800 people - was not included in the Stage 7 provision of television stations. When television comes into the other towns, the Channel Country will be disadvantaged again in finding labour. In a discussion with the Shire Clerk only yesterday I was advised that to attract skilled labour to that area the Shire Council is at present paying a foreman not less than $35 a week above the award rate. So the ratepayers of that area have to meet this extra charge. These are some of the difficulties that are experienced. I do not have time to run through them all. I point out that the Government should not wipe off the problems of people living in those areas by looking at the figures in a book. I would also like the Government generally - not only the Minister for Civil Aviation- to look at the comparatively small amount of money expended in these areas. I know that quite a bit is expended. As I mentioned, there is no television; there is no public transport west of Quilpie; there are no bus services or anything of that kind. There are the beef roads. The amenities which make living there a little more attractive are very few. These air services do a great deal in that direction. Very little money is expended on tourist or sporting facilities in those areas. I could go on and on.

In the light of these facts, is it too much to ask the Government to reconsider the decision to take away the Twin Otter services and to continue to provide the existing air services for the people who provide so much of Australia's export income? I also have a concern about the future of air services there. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but my understanding is that he told me that a subsidy would be provided for the commuter services which are taking the place of the Twin Otter services which are being discontinued in the Channel Country and the Gulf Country. There will be a need for these services. That was the impression I gained from him but it is not stated in his letter. Unless this is done, the commuter services will not continue. If they do not continue, this will jeopardise the introduction of the Friendship service which will run from Brisbane through western Queensland to Birdsville and Alice Springs. So I do say it is necessary that these commuter services be maintained. They have to obtain sufficient subsidy to permit them to operate economically. I am concerned about that particular aspect and I put that point pretty strongly to the Minister, who I hope will give consideration to it.

Taking into consideration the Government's general attitude towards people living outside metropolitan areas, the subsidies, even if sufficient at the inauguration of the service, may be reduced as a result of the pressure of the capital city dominated Caucus. I say that because Caucus has changed the opinion of Ministers and the opinion of Cabinet. Although the Minister may hold the opinion that the subsidies should be maintained I hope also that the members of Caucus will give consideration to the arguments that I have put forward. I should like an assurance from the Minister that the commuter services that are to be provided in lieu of the Twin Otter service will be given sufficient subsidies to enable them to continue to operate.

Notwithstanding my urging that the present Twin Otter services should be maintained, if on the ground of economy they are to be discontinued it is absolutely necessary that commuter services as envisaged, and indeed other services, should be maintained. Of the 14 airports that are to lose their services in western Queensland, no less than thirteen fall within my own electorate of Maranoa. We did have quite a good Twin Otter service in that area but now 14 airports will lose their services, including Jundah in the electorate of Kennedy which adjoins my electorate and is so ably represented by my friend and colleague, Mr Bob Katter. We have endevoured to maintain these services as they existed but if they are not acceptable and if the Government is determined not to continue with them I hope that the Minister will give full consideration at least to the provision, maintenance and continuation of commuter services.

My concern over this whole operation is for the fact that we have to try to keep in full production what is undoubtedly the finest and largest natural irrigation system in the world. We cannot give the people in these remote areas the standing of living that is enjoyed in many other areas in the way of amenities; there is no Opera House in Birdsville. If we are asking people to continue to live there - and I believe that it is in the best interests of Australia that they should - surely we must try to provide them with those benefits that are able to be provided and indeed which have been provided, even at some cost to the. community. However, the community in turn receives the benefit from the production that comes from these areas. I have said the same thing before and I shall repeat it and repeat it until some time someone may be prepared to accept the logic of that argument.

I did say that I would limit the time that I would speak on this subject, and I have concentrated on that particular aspect only in the interests of these people. There are not many of them. If anyone thinks great political advantage arises out of it he is making a mistake because there are not a lot of people in the areas to which I have been referring. However, justice is needed for those who live there and I ask the Minister to ensure that if he cannot maintain the Twin Otter service at least to make sure the commuter service is provided and that in turn will assist in the running costs of the Friendship service to the areas. I make this appeal very sincerely and I hope that it will be given full consideration by the Government.

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