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Wednesday, 3 June 1981
Page: 3017

Mr CHARLES JONES(5.53) —The Bills before the House in this cognate debate are the Airlines Agreement Bill, the Independent Air Fares Committee Bill and the Airlines Equipment Amendment Bill. The introduction of these pieces of legislation into the Parliament has certainly brought about considerable conflict within the ranks of the Government members who have all been pushing their own lobby's point of view. The result is that the Cabinet and the Government have been in one hell of a mess ever since the airlines agreement was first brought to negotiation. In a country the size of Australia, with a population as large as it is, with a limited number of air travellers, there are some advantages in having a genuine two-airline agreement and an arrangement which would put the airline system into a truly competitive position and which at the same time would give the people of this country a first-class airline system at fair and reasonable prices.

Ever since the original airline agreement was first negotiated and brought into legislation by the Menzies Government in 1952 the result has been one thing only. On that occasion the legislation was designed to protect Ansett Airlines of Australia from Trans-Australia Airlines or any other competitor which might move into the field. I draw the attention of the House to the case only a few years ago when IPEC endeavoured to get into the airline business, into the lurk, into the monopoly operation; in order to get a licence to print money. That is what the airline agreement has developed into-a licence for the private operators to print money. In such a situation there is a need for a renegotiation of the airline agreement.

A limitation of five years notice of termination under the old agreement has been mentioned. The position under the old agreement was that it was almost impossible to terminate the agreement. The present agreement has five years to run. With three years notice of termination the position could well be that at the end of this Parliament in 1983 we could have an Australian Labor Party government. In 1985 the five years would have run its course. The Labor Party could give notice of termination of the agreement at that point. When the three years notice expires there could be a change of government. So, we then have a change of policy.

This airlines agreement should be a sunset agreement. If we have a five-year agreement then at the end of five years that agreement should terminate. There should not be any notice of termination of the agreement. When the agreement is approaching the end of its five-year term it is up to the government of the day and the parties to the agreement to sit down to talk about it, to negotiate a new agreement that would then become operative, if it is agreed to by the Parliament. This should be the practice instead of this humbug, this means whereby Ansett can get out of having the agreement renegotiated. The Minister for Transport (Mr Hunt) in his speech drew attention to the fact that in 1974 I, as Minister for Transport, wanted to give the people of Western Australia another service. Thereby TAA would have been in competition with MacRobertson Miller Airline Services which, after all, is only another name for Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. The Labor Government was going to fit TAA with DC9s. It was going to give the people the option of two fares-the first class fare and the economy class fare. At that time all the people using the MacRobertson Miller airline had to pay the first class fare. There was no economy fare. Our proposal involved a 25 per cent reduction in fares for the people. How long did it take to get that decision that was taken by the Labor Government put into effect? It was some three and a half years. By the use of the terms of the agreement and the High Court of Australia and all the rest of it the people were prevented from getting this opportunity to have lower fares. The Minister in his second reading speech said:

In its submission to the public hearings of the Holcraft Inquiry into Domestic Air Fares in Port Hedland, TAA claimed that between November 1977, when the DC9 services commenced, and August 1980, 41,168 passengers had used the DC9 services. These passengers had paid some $1.5m less for their travel than if they had used F28 services, a saving of over $25 for each passenger.

That is what the first two-airline agreement meant to the people of Western Australia. The members of the Liberal Party in Western Australia and the members of the Liberal and Country parties in this Government were instrumental in forcing the people of Western Australia to pay the extra charges on the airlines operations in Western Australia. The proposal could have resulted in cheaper fares for those people. What happened occurred just because the Government wanted to pay for services rendered to it by Ansett. Ansett has been protected for years by the Liberal and Country Party governments of this country. Now we have the set-up with Murdoch and Sir Peter Abeles in Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. Here once again is the pay-off. Just as with the pay-off earlier today with the amendments of the Broadcasting and Television Act, this pay-off is for services rendered to the Government by Ansett and by Murdoch in the 1975, 1977 and 1980 elections.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr CHARLES JONES —The Airlines Agreement Bill and the two associated Bills are very important pieces of legislation. One of the most unfortunate aspects of this debate is the limited time the Parliament will give to considering these major Bills. Without repeating what I said prior to the suspension of the sitting, I wish to refer to a couple of matters. The first relates to the set-up of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd, a company that covers a multitude of undertakings. No real consideration has been given to the composition of this company, as to whether it is a transport company or a media company, or whether it will be involved in television operations as a result of the legislation introduced earlier today. That legislation is part of a pay-off to Murdoch for services rendered to this Government in the three elections held in 1975, 1977 and 1980. Honourable members know that what I am saying is true.

I draw the attention of honourable members to the fact that Ansett Transport Industries operates in the airline business not only as Ansett Airlines of Australia but also as Ansett Airlines of New South Wales and MacRobertson Miller. One can go through the various States and see the names under which Ansett Transport Industries operates. The company also owns a number of tourist resorts and touring buses throughout Australia. The Wellington Hotel, which is just down the road from Parliament House, is owned by Ansett Transport Industries. The company deals in interstate bus and freight operations, and it also operates as a furniture removalist. This is all part and parcel of its operation. When Sir Reginal Ansett was Chairman he took the company into television. As a result, we now have a situation where this agreement will have a major effect on all the undertakings in which Ansett Transport Industries is involved.

I remind honourable members that Ansett had a very substantial shareholding in Associated Securities Ltd. Ansett employees were encouraged to take out debentures and secured and unsecured notes. Finally ASL folded up after Ansett Transport Industries had been given a guarantee by this Parliament for the borrowing of money from the Exim Bank of the United States of America, thus enabling the company to borrow money at much lower rates of interest than would normally apply and to use the cash flow that the airline industry provides for a company to try to keep ASL alive. Unfortunately, these matters have not been taken into consideration by this Parliament. I believe it is wrong to rush this legislation through the Parliament. Consideration should be given to referring the legislation to a parliamentary select committee or to one of the Parliament's legislation committees, rather than pushing it through as we are doing at present.

One of the clauses in the Airlines Agreement Bill places us in an intolerable situation. The clause seeks to allow one of the private operators to decide whether Qantas Airways Ltd will be permitted to operate on domestic routes. One of the two operators, Ansett or TAA, can veto Qantas's operations. Do we intend to reverse the position and allow Qantas to veto the operation of Ansett and TAA on the international routes? These matters have not been explained in detail. I am concerned about the Press reports and statements we have received from East-West Airlines. I have great regard and respect for that airline because I think it has done an excellent job. The former Chairman, Don Shand, was a great man in aviation, and I am certain that the Minister for Transport, who is seated at the table, would not dispute that point of view, having lived fairly close to him. I had great respect for Don Shand and the airline he operated, and I have the same respect for the present General Manager, Mr Riley. These people are all concerned about what is happening.

Budget Rent-a-Car Systems Pty Ltd, which admittedly is not owned by Bob Ansett but by the Bank of New South Wales, is putting forward the point of view that the agreement should not be passed by the Parliament at this stage without its being given further serious consideration. It is for these reasons that I say there is a need for this legislation to be considered by a select committee or by one of the Parliament's legislation committees. I am surprised at the hide of the signatories to the agreement, but I think I can guess where it came from. It came from Ansett. The name of Sir Reginald Ansett has been maligned, but unfortunately the airline carries his name. He is not the guilty man; the guilty men are Sir Peter Abeles and Murdoch, but the fact is that we still have to refer to the airline as Ansett. I now turn to clause 10 (3) of the Schedule to the Airlines Agreement Bill, which states:

The Commonwealth agrees that it will not increase the amount of tax (including customs and excise duties) payable in respect of each litre of aviation fuel in any period of twelve months by a greater amount or rate than the corresponding amount or rate of any increases in tax in that period imposed on motor spirit.

It is like the hide of them to require the Australian Parliament to give them that assurance, that is, that the Commonwealth Government will not increase aviation fuel taxation or excise. Does the electorate have any assurance from the Government that it will not increase fuel tax? Does it have any assurance that the Government will not increase income tax? The Government gave the assurance to Ansett. It has tied it to some other remotely related form of taxation in a tax for roads. I will never forget what Harold Holt said back in about 1962 when he was the Treasurer. I asked him a question about fuel tax and he said that petrol was only another commodity that the Parliament reserved the right to tax and that the Parliament should not assent to agreements such as the one to which I have referred namely, the agreement contained in clause 10 (3). That clause should be deleted from the agreement, and I am disappointed to find that the Minister is prepared to agree to such a clause being included in the agreement. I believe that parallel scheduling by the two airlines, Ansett and TAA, is a waste of capacity. Day after day two aeroplanes fly simultaneously between major centres, in many cases with only half the capacity of the aeroplane occupied, where one aeroplane could do the whole job. Unfortunately, this situation applies under the agreement as far as parallel scheduling is concerned. The airlines stick rigidly to the principle. Neither will give an inch.

In the limited time available to me I wish to make reference to the Independent Air Fares Committee which it is proposed to set up. The Committee is to comprise a part time chairman and two part time members. I would like some indication from the Minister, if he should reply to the debate, as to whom he is considering for those positions. What sort of people is he looking at? Without mentioning names, of course, the appointment of a judge has been mentioned. If he was a full time judge, he would not receive any special allowance as the Chairman of the Independent Air Fares Committee. I am more interested in establishing who the three people will be. What will be their connection with the aviation industry?

I draw the attention of honourable members to the constitutional powers of this Parliament to set up an interstate commission. Legislation to establish such a commission went through the Parliament in October 1975. That legislation has never been proclaimed by this Government. Admittedly, aviation was excluded from the amendments which we were forced to accept. Of course, that was all done at that time. Let us be clear and frank about that. It was done because of the pressure that Ansett Transport Industries was able to wield on the Liberal-National Country Party Opposition. At that time the Australian Labor Party, unfortunately, did not have the numbers in the Senate as was later proven on 11 November 1975. We could not get the legislation for the establishment of the interstate commission through in the form we wanted it through. I had to accept the amendments in this House rather than let the amendments be introduced in the other place. The Liberal-National Country Party Opposition at that time, under pressure from Ansett, was successful in forcing us to accept the deletion of any reference to aviation.

It would be quite easy for this Government to bring that commission back into being. I believe it would be of great value as far as transport is concerned. Nobody really knows the cost of carrying a tonne of freight, whether it be by road transport or by rail transport. We do have some idea of the cost of a tonne of freight carried by ships because shipping gets very little subsidisation compared with the other two modes of transport. So the Government should be looking at this aspect rather than setting up a separate identity to deal with just one facet of transport, namely, the fares to be charged on the main trunk route operations. I ask the Minister to give some serious consideration to this matter. Once again I think this matter should be referred to a select committee. It is one thing that that committee could have a very good look at. It could also look at providing the means for correctly assessing the rates that will be charged by the airlines. While people are only appointed to part time positions their connections are questionable. Pressures can be applied to them in relation to the fares to be charged. I am not satisfied with the means whereby these people will be appointed. I think it is a matter that should be considered in much greater depth than we have considered it at this time. Having in mind the desires of the House to go into Committee I conclude my remarks.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.