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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2356

Senator COATES —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Aviation seen the comments by the Liberal member for Bass, Mr Smith, criticising the present Federal Government for its administration of the two-airline policy, claiming that Launceston was being penalised? Is it not a fact that the Opposition when in government twice negotiated the two-airline agreement for lengthy periods, far longer than the Labor Opposition wished at each of those times, thereby preventing subsequent Labor governments from effectively reviewing the legislation? Further, does the Government have a response to the call by East-West Airlines for a three-airline agreement?

Senator GIETZELT —I am quite amazed at the statements that Mr Warwick Smith from Tasmania has made on the two-airline agreement as, indeed, one can be amazed at the statement made by the Leader of the National Party of Australia, Ian Sinclair, on that agreement and their suggestions that it ought to be turned into a three-airline agreement. I am amazed at the hypocrisy of the Opposition parties as they thrash about trying to establish some of their policies. They are aware, or at least they should be aware, of the circumstances behind the two-airline agreement. One could argue that Mr Smith was either ignorant or deceitful in his approach and in his public comments on the two-airline agreement. It is a notorious fact that on the eve of two Federal elections at the end of the eight-year cycle on which the airline agreement is negotiated both the McMahon Government and the Fraser Government in their dying days renegotiated the agreement. The present agreement involves the Commonwealth Government in a legal contract with both Trans Australia Airlines and Ansett Airlines of Australia which cannot be broken, no matter whether it is the wish of this Government or any other government to do so, until its expiry date-1990.

As the public record shows in Hansard, when the two-airline agreement was being rammed through the Parliament in 1972 and later in 1981 Labor members violently opposed the legislation because it would hamstring a future government's attempts to renegotiate the two-airline agreement. It is rather hypocritical of Opposition spokesmen to attempt to say now that we are refusing to do anything about the two-airline agreement when it is not possible, even if legislation were to be passed in the Parliament, to break the agreement, which is a three-party agreement. It is all right for State Premiers and Opposition members to talk about breaking the agreement, but this Government's hands are tied. One can only come to the conclusion that a great deal of hypocrisy is being applied to this matter.

Attempts have been made to portray East-West Airlines, which is probably sponsoring the Opposition's approach to this matter and which knows full well that the two-airline agreement ties the hands of government, as a small independent operator or a small business operator somehow or other caught up in a struggle against the giants of the airline industry. That might have been the position of East-West in its early days, but it has now been taken over by a big operator. It is now a large corporation. That corporation knew what the circumstances were when it bought out East-West Airlines in 1983. Therefore, no matter what views this Government might have, the Minister for Aviation and this Government can do nothing about the two-airline agreement until 1990.

Let me inform the Senate that when the current Deputy Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Gwydir, Mr Hunt, was debating this matter in May 1981, he said:

I believe every minute of the 8-year period of agreement will be needed.

It is common knowledge that the Prime Minister at that time forced the Cabinet to agree to that proposition. When we consider the attitude that was taken by Sir Robert Menzies when the two-airline agreement was first put into effect way back in the 1960s, what is happening to the Liberal Party today in respect of such matters as the two-airline agreement and its economic policy makes Sir Robert Menzies look like a left wing liberal.