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Friday, 11 October 1985
Page: 1067


Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(10.33) —The Senate is being asked to pass the Qantas Airways Limited (Loan Guarantee) Bill 1985 which gives the authority needed for Qantas Airways to make an important purchase in respect of additions to its fleet to meet its obligations and requirements in the years ahead.

Having regard to what has been said in this debate, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate today, it must be asserted again very strongly that there is no airline in the world which has the reputation of Qantas. It is recognised as being a safe, reliable and cost efficient public enterprise and one of which most Australians are very proud. Therefore, it is a matter of some regret that some honourable senators should take such a negative view in debating this very simple, technical Bill which, I remind the Senate, is literally an annual Bill because the Commonwealth is required every year to act as guarantor for Qantas and other airlines in this country in respect of the large purchases that are needed to maintain a very effective and modern airline industry in our country.

Qantas, having a reputation in the international arena, obviously would require both the support and the encouragement of the Commonwealth in its purchases. Therefore, it is a regular feature of the Parliament that it is asked to approve such Bills which guarantee the national airline and give it the opportunity to modernise its fleet and maintain its excellent record. The prestigious magazine Flight International recently gave its safety award to Qantas for the second consecutive year, recognising not merely its unblemished accident record but also the many positive engineering, maintenance, training and operating initiatives Qantas has taken to ensure that this safety record is maintained. I remind the Senate that safety is not a matter of luck. It is achieved through the policy of the organisation, through the dedication of all the staff associated with the airline and through the success of its operation. Whilst I appreciate that many zealots in the Senate take advantage of these annual events to put forward their repsective views about the airline industry, including you from time to time, Mr Acting Deputy President, surely it has to be recognised-and I am not suggesting that it is not-that those contributions should be constructive and should move in the direction of enhancing the record of and the respect given to our public enterprise airlines.

As I said, this is a fairly simple piece of legislation. It is a technical Bill. Similar legislation requires the approval of the Parliament on a regular basis. It authorises the Treasurer on behalf of the Commonwealth to guarantee borrowings-in this case $US115m for Qantas so that it can purchase a Boeing 747-300 extended upper deck aircraft with its related spare parts and equipment. As has been pointed out, this is the fourth purchase of such an aircraft, in addition to some other aircraft purchased in 1983 for the sum of $760m. The fact that Qantas can point out to the Government its requirement to purchase an aircraft and seek the Government's approval in the sense of the Government acting as a guarantor is but another indication of the tremendous turnaround that has taken place in the Australian economy. The airline has been able to take advantage of that turnaround by attracting increased patronage. Qantas needs the purchase. In convincing the Government of that fact, Qantas has been able to convince the Government that it will be maintaining the support of those persons in this country and elsewhere who wish to engage in international travel.

I am surprised, as Senator Cooney suggested, that one honourable senator should try to make a comparison with Continental Airlines Inc. I make no disparaging comment about that airline other than to say that there have been in the media rumours and murmurings which suggest that that airline, in its endeavours to establish a more competitive position with Qantas, has placed itself in a very serious financial position and that its future viability is in question. That is not the case with Qantas. Qantas has been able to show, as was evident in the debate in the House of Representatives, a vastly increased profit ratio. This flows from the Hawke Government's decision in 1983-84 to increase the economic base of Qantas, and the airline has placed itself on a much firmer commercial base. One can only say that, having been given that economic base, the Qantas organisation, both management and staff, has shown itself capable of performing its proper function. I believe and the Australian people believe that it is well run and well conducted, and it is accepted by Australians as being a very successful public enterprise. Of course, it has shown that in the important turnaround that has taken place in its profit ratio in the last financial year.

The purchases are scheduled to arrive in 1986. Very importantly, the Government, in discussion with Qantas, has set certain standards with respect to offsets and other purchases by Qantas. Whilst there was some criticism about going overseas in respect of the design of uniforms, finally the manufacturing of those uniforms will be done by the Australian clothing industry. As a result of negotiations between the airline, the Government and various Ministers, including Senator Button and Mr Brown, the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, agreements have been reached which have resulted in improvements within Australian industry.

Of course, from time to time Opposition senators take advantage of these debates to raise other matters. I remind the Senate that until 1983 it was normal for present Opposition spokespersons to be sponsoring such a Bill, as it was my obligation as shadow Minister to support it. There have been certain changes in the makeup of the Parliament since then and we appreciate that there is a general degree of bipartisanship in respect of these matters. However, I want to touch finally upon the controversy, the public debate, taking place in Australia in respect of continued public ownership, government ownership, of Qantas. I remind the Senate that the Government was elected in 1983 on a platform which included an unequivocal commitment to retain Qantas in public ownership as Australia's international flag carrier. Of course, we have seen some changes in attitudes by the Opposition parties in recent times. I am not quite sure just what is the actual policy of the Liberal and National parties at the moment. In the debate Senator Collard said that the 1984 policy was to sell part of Qantas to Australian shareholders and to Qantas employees, but when that policy was developed and expressed, I must remind the Senate, the Opposition parties had a different leader. The Australian people are not-certainly the Government is not-quite sure where we stand with respect to the view that was expressed at that time.

The Opposition parties have made many conflicting statements about privatisation. It has been pretty obvious from debates in the other place that there is a great division in the Opposition parties about privatisation. When honourable senators make contributions to this debate we cannot really be sure whether they are personal views, party views or coalition views or whether they are just expressions of opinion and contributions to a particular debate. The current fad, of course, is to say that privatisation is the answer to all the world's economic problems. It has been applied to a great degree in the United Kingdom. We need only look at where Mrs Thatcher lies today in public esteem, and she was one of the great apostles of privatisation. Not only is she not well regarded by the British public but also the level of public support for her Government and Party is very much below that of several years ago when she was re-elected as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

It appears to me, as it would appear to many other people, that privatisation of public enterprise would not always achieve social or economic objectives nor does it necessarily follow that it would lead to greater efficiency. I support the remarks that Senator Cooney made. The Government is always looking for ways to improve its record. Parties are always looking for improvement in their policy development. Companies are looking for improvements in efficiency. Currently, Mr Holmes a'Court is showing great interest in the Big Australian, Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. He claims that if he took over more efficient management policies could be pursued by that organisation. It does not matter whether we are dealing with the private or the public sector; people are always striving for improvements in efficiency and cost effectiveness. That is as it should be. Provided that senators make their contributions in a constructive way, as they do from time to time, debates on these matters will have some substance and some objective.

We believe that under this Government the performance of Qantas has improved and that public enterprises can be run efficiently and profitably. As long as such enterprises are given proper charters, proper commercial responsibility and, importantly, as this Government has done, given a firm financial basis their records can be compared against private sector activity. The Government believes that Qantas has performed admirably. Its performance shows that public enterprises can be and should be not only competitive but also efficient. In those circumstances, the Government is entitled to ask the Senate to approve the Bill that is under discussion. I confidently expect the Senate to pass the Qantas Airways Limited (Loan Guarantee) Bill 1985, as it has passed similar loans guarantee Bills in preceding years.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.