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Wednesday, 6 November 1985
Page: 1647

Senator FOREMAN —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aviation. He will be aware of statements by the Chairman of Qantas Airways Ltd, Mr Jim Leslie, to the effect that the Government's decision to have the airline collect airport departure tax would cost Qantas $28m annually. What is the true situation concerning the liability to pay departure tax? Does the Government anticipate legislative action to remove any doubts that may exist?

Senator GIETZELT —The Senate will be aware that several years ago the previous Government introduced a departure tax which was collected at the international airports in Australia from all those passengers leaving Australia to go on overseas trips. That tax has continued for a number of years now. The Government, in preparing for the Budget, decided that there would be no reduction in the tax but that, rather than the tax being collected at the airport, it would be collected by the airline operators when the passengers paid their air fares. So the collection of the departure tax by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs will cease and the responsibility for the collection and payment of the tax will rest with the airline companies.

It would appear, based on the remarks made by spokesmen for Qantas, that Qantas believes that the tax will affect its profitability and therefore be a charge against the airline operator concerned. However, what the airline does not seem to understand, and what has obviously prompted the question by Senator Foreman, is that the Government envisages that in the future airlines should be responsible for the collection of the tax from the passengers. However, that will be purely a commercial decision by the airline operator and should not therefore be necessarily a charge against the company concerned. The airline will clearly have to decide whether to increase the fares commensurate with the level of tax imposed or carry the charge itself, but the new procedure will have the effect of considerable savings from the Commonwealth's point of view in terms of the number of public servants who hitherto were charged with the responsibility of collecting the tax at the airports. I do not see any particular substance in the claim made by the Qantas Chairman. It is a matter for him and his directors to decide whether Qantas will increase fares to take account of the tax or economise and pay the tax out of its operating income.