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Monday, 4 September 1989
Page: 847

Senator NEWMAN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. I refer to the Minister's answers to Senator Reid and Senator MacGibbon on Friday regarding the cost of chartering the RAAF 707 aircraft by the airlines. Is it correct that on or about Thursday, 24 August, a meeting was held in Canberra at which representatives of the airlines and the Government met to negotiate the charter of RAAF aircraft? Is it correct that the Government nominated a price of $5,100 per hour for the charter of the 707s? What was the basis of this offer? Is it correct that the airlines refused to pay this figure? Is it correct that the Government then reduced its price to $4,000 per hour, a figure accepted by Australian Airlines? What was the basis of this offer? Is it correct that, after intervention by Sir Peter Abeles of Ansett, the figure was reduced to $1,500 per hour?

Senator RICHARDSON —I do not know whether a meeting took place on 24 August. I do not know, therefore, what was discussed at it or who attended it. I will endeavour to find out. In any event, if Senator Newman had been listening to the answers which I gave here on Friday she would have ascertained that I gave--

Senator Newman —What about the parliamentary broadcast?

Senator RICHARDSON —If the honourable senator had been in the chamber she would have heard it. The rest of us were here. We were working. As I said, Mr President, if the honourable senator had listened to what I said on Friday she would know that the airlines are paying the costs of fuel, crewing and a whole number of things. The $1,500 was a cost brought about for maintenance, I think, on a 707.

Senator Newman —This is a new question. Answer it.

Senator RICHARDSON —I have just answered it. The fact that Senator Newman cannot comprehend it surprises me not at all.

Senator NEWMAN —Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question. Obviously, the Minister is not prepared to come to grips with this question. I feel that the Senate is entitled to a detailed answer, which the Minister has not undertaken to give. So I ask the Minister: when he is getting these details from the Minister for Defence whom he represents in this place, will he also give a detailed explanation of the basis of what appears to be simply a bargain basement price for friends?

Senator RICHARDSON —Mr President, there is no bargain basement price. I made it clear the other day that, if there were a shortfall, supplementation would be sought in the Additional Estimates. I thought I also made it clear-again Senator Newman, not being here, did not hear this-that it is not a matter of subsidising airlines if there was a shortfall; those people who had bought tickets for journeys in Australia are entitled to think they are going to get there for the same price. What we are doing, as any good government should, is making sure that we commit an act of public service; that we actually help people. That is what we have done and it is, I would hope, the attitude that the Government will maintain during the dispute.