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Friday, 11 October 1985
Page: 1060


Senator JONES(9.42) —I take the opportunity in the second reading debate on the Qantas Airways Limited (Loan Guarantee) Bill 1985 to raise a point that I have already raised with Qantas Airways Ltd. I say at the outset that I support the Bill. Its purpose, as stated by the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes), is to authorise the Treasurer, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to guarantee borrowings raised by Qantas Airways Ltd to finance the purchase of Boeing 747-300 extended upper deck aircraft. The acquisition of these aircraft by Qantas certainly will increase its fleet and bring it into a more competitive position within the international area in which it operates. However, I point out that Qantas, through its management and board of directors appointed by the Government, has a considerable obligation to support industry within Australia. I feel it is necessary to say that recent history shows that in some aspects the airline's operations have fallen short of that obligation.

I admired-as everyone would have-the turnaround in the economic position of Qantas and the way in which its financial position has improved. Looking at the profit levels presented to me by Mr James Leslie, the Chairman of Qantas Airways Ltd, it is gratifying to notice that Qantas is clearly indicating very sound economic management. We need to look at the operating profits. Qantas lifted its profits from $58.5m in 1983-84 to $147.9m in the last financial year. Most honourable senators would have to congratulate Qantas on a very fine record of economic management. But we also have to look at the performance of Qantas in other areas, with a perspective greater than purely financial management. A successful national operation such as Qantas should be in a suitable economic position to help industries run by Australians and support those industries. I believe that Qantas has failed notably in one area at least, that is, Australia's design and fashion industry. I raise this point in view of my statement in relation to the decision of Qantas to employ people overseas to design a uniform for Australia's international carrier.

I think it is necessary to set out some of the details relating to the decisions made by Qantas. This factual information was given to me by the Chairman of Qantas and was listed in chronological order as the decisions taken by Qantas on the design or proposed design to be taken up by the airline. In February 1984 Qantas took a decision to have a new uniform developed by Australian designers. This, according to the company, was to contribute towards a new corporate identity program being developed. That was clearly the position at Qantas. During the following month, in March 1984, Qantas advised through the clothing industry newspaper Ragtrader that it was looking for Australian designers to participate or to develop a design for the Qantas company `to give us a whole new look', I believe was the phrase used by Qantas management. It was time, Qantas said, to show the rest of the world what Australia had to offer.

In April of the same year 43 expressions of interest were received from Australian designers. A questionnaire was forwarded by the airline company to those people or companies. From that expression of interest 27 replies were received by Qantas-27 companies or individual designers wanted a chance, an opportunity, to design new uniforms for the in-flight and on-ground staff. A short list of eight designers was prepared after receiving the notice of interest from the 27 designers and, in the words of Qantas:

Assistance in the preparation of the questionnaire and assessment of replies was provided by Vogue Australia, and a Sydney couturier Mr Chris Jacovides.

The short list of the Australian designers was Weiss, Trent Nathan, Country Road, Sportscraft, Linda Jackson, Carla Zampatti, Eric Saikovski and a consortium named Qantas Fashion Team, whose designers included Covers, Robert Burton, George Cross and Jenny Kee. All eight designers, companies or consortiums were invited by Qantas to develop formal design proposals, and all eight accepted the challenge. In August 1984 the eight designers gave their presentations to a selection panel. This body, appointed by Qantas, was known as the Wardrobe Selection Panel and consisted of the following experts: Emilio Pucci, described by Qantas as `one of the world's leading fashion designers', designer of the 1974 Qantas female flight attendants uniform, which I believe is still in use; John Truscott, who Qantas admits was responsible for the costumes for Paint Your Wagon, The Great Gatsby and Lady Sings the Blues; Tony Lunn, design director responsible for identifying the new Qantas corporate identity; Norman Elsworth, an employee of the American company that designed the interiors for some of Qantas's aircraft; Eve Harmon, a secretary with Vogue Australia who became its editor; June McCallum, another Vogue connection and one-time editor of that illustrious magazine in London; and Nancy Pilcher, the senior fashion and beauty editor of that no doubt noble and certainly well regarded magazine, Vogue Australia.

In no sense would I seek to denigrate these people. They have a wealth of international talent and certainly have multinational experience in design and preparation of designs. In July 1984 they confirmed that they had no financial or other interest, either direct or indirect, in any of the eight Australian designer businesses involved in the application to create a new uniform for Qantas. After the designers made their presentations to the panel, chairman Emilio Pucci, the designer of Qantas's present uniforms on our international flag carrier, said that all submissions had been very disappointing and that none had been acceptable in their present form. Trent Nathan accepted an invitation from Qantas to develop a new design concept. It was mutually agreed that Nathan should be given some six months to prepare his new proposals. At the same time the company commissioned Mr Ken Cato, an Australian designer, to develop a print concept to be featured in the dress and in the blouse. Then, in February 1985, Trent Nathan, a world acknowledged Australian designer, gave the panel a dress rehearsal. The panel gave Trent Nathan's proposals the thumbs down and Qantas expressed concern to Trent Nathan. Quite candidly, that was its prerogative. Nathan advised Qantas that he then required further time, that he was not prepared to accept the Cato print as the basis for his new design but, nevertheless, was continuing with his work to create a design for Qantas. Before Nathan made his final presentation to the wardrobe selection panel on 13 March 1985-I ask honourable senators to remember that date-Qantas started exploratory discussions with American and European fashion houses. I repeat that that was one month before Mr Nathan made his final presentation which, I imagine honourable senators would have guessed, was eventually rejected and found wanting. So Qantas actually started to make inquiries of American and European fashion houses one month before Nathan had put his proposed design before Qantas. Then with a haste that I believe can be described only as indecent, the management of Qantas made a recommendation to the board of directors in these terms:

We quickly commissioned-

these are words taken from a report that I received from Mr Leslie, the Chairman of Qantas-

an international designer to develop the new Qantas uniform, the final choice being subject to further evaluations and cost, timing, and Australian manfacturing conditions.

Then came the final blow, the great patriotic step taken by Australia's airline; I suppose one could say it was the stabbing in the back of the Australian design industry, which includes some of the world's outstanding performers in that field. The final great Australian choice was Yves St Laurent of France! I have a great deal of admiration for Australian designers. I believe that Australian designers and Australian companies should be given an opportunity to perform a task within their industry. I believe that there is a real need for Australians to feel that they can match anything in the world.

The other point that I make is this: If our international carrier is flying throughout the world, surely it is reasonable to expect that the uniforms that are being worn by the hostesses and stewards be Australian designed.

As far as I know and as far as the fashion industry knows, as yet there is no guarantee at all that Yves St Laurent will even use an Australian company to manufacture his design. I must say in fairness that Qantas has said to me that the uniforms will be manufactured in Australia, but I think that is only half the story. I think the uniforms should not only be manufactured but also designed in Australia. We are looking at a 4,000-strong Qantas crew staff. We will have 4,000 people working for Qantas moving about in French-designed uniforms which will cost something like $2m. We are talking about spending money raised by Australia's international carrier. That money should be spent in Australia.

There have been claims in the fashion world that when Yves St Laurent has his uniforms manufactured he will probably use one of the countries in this region where he can have them manufactured at a rate much cheaper than he can in Australia. Again, in all fairness to Qantas, I must say that Qantas has guaranteed that this will not be the case. But time will tell whether that is correct. Is it any wonder that several of our top designers were never given a chance after the Trent Nathan fiasco? One could also add-as the fashion world has said-that the action taken by Qantas has been somewhat unpatriotic but I think that is taking the point too far. What should be said is that clearly we should accept an Australian designer and an Australian design to be worn on our international flights.

The actions of Qantas can be contrasted with the decision by Sun State Airlines to engage a small company in Noosa to design its new uniforms. This minor transport company within the Australian scene has taken the step of using local Queensland designers to produce a uniform which, according to photos and the comments of its passengers, is very reasonably designed and well produced.

In conclusion, let me say that I raised this matter in the Press because I had read or heard that Qantas was moving towards using an overseas designer rather than an Australian designer. I might say that quite a number of people from Qantas were very critical of my belief that an Australian designer should design the uniforms. I believe that I had the right to express that view. In my view Australian industry should be supported. I only hope that Qantas will reconsider its decision to seek an overseas designer for its uniforms.