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Wednesday, 7 June 1989
Page: 3540

Senator ALSTON —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to the Minister's comments on Melbourne radio yesterday when he took the same position on Qantas Airways Ltd and Australian Airlines as the Prime Minister and the Minister for Transport and Communications; that is, they should not be owned by the Government. In particular, I refer the Minister to his following words:

It's very difficult, I think, to find reasons why in the 1980s and 90s, government should own airlines. They don't anywhere else hardly and why we should be in that position I don't quite understand.

I ask the Leader of the Government: Given the strong support of Mr Willis, Mr Hawke and him for the Government to sell the airlines, why did Government senators yesterday vote against a motion which endorsed this position?

Senator BUTTON —I do not have in front of me the motion which was before the Senate, but if it was moved by the Opposition I assume that it was defective.

Senator Alston —Would you like a copy of it?

Senator BUTTON —Sit down. I am answering the question.

Opposition senators interjecting-


Senator BUTTON —Does the honourable senator want to turn this into a clown place? He stands up at his seat and waves documents. He should behave himself. I do not have the document before me, but I understand that if Senator Alston moved it it would probably be defective in some respect.

I stand by the views I expressed yesterday on radio, which Senator Alston quoted. But in so far as he identified earlier in this question my position as being identical with that of Mr Willis and Mr Hawke, I am not sure that that is correct. I do not believe that I said that. Senator Alston has perhaps failed to grasp the fact that many of these issues have a degree of complexity about them which is not susceptible to a simple solution. As attractive as the honourable senator might find simple solutions, they are not readily available to people.

In so far as Senator Alston quoted what I said yesterday, I stand by that statement. As I have said in the Senate on previous occasions, there are very different views within the Government on this question. Hopefully this will be resolved by a committee which is examining those issues for the Government at present. When that is done, if we reach a particular conclusion about it we will implement it.

Senator ALSTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In view of the Minister's failure to be aware of the form of words used, I remind him of the urgency motion which stated:

The need for the Government to ensure the future of Qantas and Australian Airlines by their sale to the public, as suggested by the Minister for Transport and Communications and supported by the Prime Minister.

In view of that refreshing of his memory, I ask him how he would have voted if he had been here yesterday? Can he explain why the Government voted against that urgency motion?

Senator BUTTON —The first reason why the Government voted against that motion is probably that we do not regard it as a matter of urgency. Of course the Opposition regards it as a matter of urgency. Having slept on these issues for 30 out of the last 40 years when in government and done nothing about them, they are suddenly a matter of urgency for the Opposition. It is urgent because it thinks that a political point can be made out of it at this particular time. I answered the question which was the substance of what Senator Alston was trying to get at earlier on. I answered the question when I said that the Government is having a committee examine these issues. When that committee determines its conclusions--

Senator Boswell —A great cop-out.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Boswell is talking about cop-outs. What is he talking about? It is a disgrace the way he has changed his position in parliament in recent weeks. It is intolerable.

Senator Alston —It is not a matter of urgency! We understand. Let them go bankrupt.

Senator BUTTON —It is not a matter of urgency. Senator Lewis, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, gave us a speech this morning. He thinks that all the economic problems of this country will be fixed up by a rash of sales. It is probably what Senator Alston thinks too. We do not believe that.