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Friday, 11 October 1985
Page: 1064

Senator WATSON(10.13) —The Senate is dealing with the Qantas Airways Limited (Loan Guarantee) Bill 1985, which guarantees certain loans by the Government and imposes on Qantas certain conditions. Clause 5 (a) requires that the Treasurer is satisfied of the terms and conditions of the borrowing. This provision is a further demonstration that the Parliament is prepared to pass over the real power to the Executive branch rather than retain it within the legislative structure. We acknowledge that the Executive has the responsibility for executing or overseeing what is agreed to by the legislature. But when we see legislation in this form, which virtually hands over more and more power to the Executive at the expense of the legislature, I think it is a sad day for Parliament. Parliament should be trying to impose greater conditions on the Executive. The terms and conditions should be stipulated in the Act. True, the fine detail must be left to the Executive branch; but I think that here we are giving it a carte-blanche opportunity of conducting the whole arrangement as it sees fit. But when a problem occurs we throw up our hands and say: `There should be more parliamentary control'. Now is the time when we should be exercising that control over performances not only by government departments but also by statutory corporations such as Qantas.

Qantas has gained a reputation as an efficient, long-haul passenger operator. I emphasise the words `passenger operator' because Qantas does provide a high degree of comfort in reliable aircraft and allocates satisfactory departure times for travellers. That is why Qantas services are in such demand by the travelling public. I think last year's profit was the highest in the operator's history. This was due to a continuing recovery in the airline industry with growth returning after several years of recession. The turnabout in trading was also due to a sustained cost reduction program. The implication there is that in the past Qantas has not been watching its costs perhaps as closely as it should have and that, therefore, a little more competition probably would encourage it to be very much more cost-efficient and lower its airfare structure somewhat to the benefit of the travelling public.

Given the improved climate, it is not surprising that Qantas needs to upgrade its aircraft with the acquisition of another extended upper deck Boeing 747-300 series aircraft. However, I must point out, as other speakers have done, that Qantas has achieved this result from a very privileged position, for Qantas operates in a very protected environment. I believe that this situation should be contrasted with the situation of many of the manufacturers in the manufacturing sector. Successive governments have allowed many manufacturers to go to the wall, with devastating effects on employment, particularly for the young and the unskilled.

We are finding that under this protective umbrella the travelling public is, in effect, paying a higher price and getting a lesser service than it would otherwise get if there were a little more competition. It is rather surprising, therefore, to find that Qantas wants to compete on routes within Australia with the domestic carriers Ansett Airlines of Australia and Trans Australia Airlines, such as the Perth-Sydney route. Yet it opposes, say, British recommendations to open up the Kangaroo route from London to Australia because it wishes to protect its privileged international position.

Whilst many accolades have been given in this chamber to Qantas-certainly so far as the comfort of passengers and the reliability of its aircraft is concerned, accolades might be justified-its freight operations leave a great deal to be desired. While all parliamentarians believe that our industries should be more export-oriented, the new industries that are seeking overseas markets have to rely very heavily on an efficient freighting operation. I submit that until now Qantas has not fulfilled that role particularly well. We certainly need a lot more competition from cargo carriers operating out of Australia because, time and again, Qantas lets down Australian domestic industries seeking to send products overseas. It has to happen only once every six months with a delicate or perishable cargo for the whole profit of 12 months to be lost. So Qantas must maintain reliability of service and increase its range of services if it wishes to improve its position. Only recently we had the dreadful chilled meat stand-off fiasco in regard to which I do not think Qantas management gained very much respect from producers around Australia.

I also take the opportunity of commending Senator Jones on his contribution. It appears somewhat ironic that Qantas seeks to go outside Australia for people to design its uniforms. That situation has not changed much over the years. I come from the fashion industry, the textile section. For years we were unable to break into the operation of Qantas. However, with other airlines, we had no trouble. For example Kelsall and Kempe managed to secure substantial contracts from airlines such as Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. We provided the material for the uniforms of the female ground staff and hostesses but we were unable to secure work from Qantas-not even the rugs or anything associated with the furnishings; yet we were Australia's leading fashion manufacturer of wool and wool-associated fabrics. The Cathay uniform at the time became something of a trend and fashion setter. So the quality, appearance and structure of the cloth were undoubted.

The performance of Australian companies continues to be ignored while Qantas looks overseas. I believe that Qantas should use Australian products much more frequently. Many travellers on Qantas flights are somewhat dismayed when they see that so many of the products served on Qantas menus are produced in countries other than Australia. Qantas has to lift its game in this area if it is to retain its status. It has to be opened to a little more competition in order to provide not only better but also lower cost services to passengers and freight forwarders.