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Monday, 4 September 1989
Page: 858

Senator MacGIBBON(3.13) —I have moved that, as a matter of public importance, the Senate should this afternoon debate `the damage inflicted on the Australian tourist industry by the pilots' dispute and the Government's failure to resolve the situation'. The damage that Australian tourism is suffering is severe and some of it, regrettably, is permanent. That damage is both to the tourist industry and to the Australian nation. The damage is already occurring, it is getting worse, and we are going to suffer the effects of that damage for years.

All of this is happening to a bankrupt country. During nearly seven years of Labor economic mismanagement we have seen taxes increase by 105 per cent, standards of living decline and, most tragically, the debt position of this country increase from about $32 billion to $35 billion, which it was in 1983 when this Government came to office, to more than $125 billion today. We are in no position to take this self-inflicted wound, which is purely a product of this Government's mismanagement of its industrial relations policy.

The tourist industry is our biggest overseas export earner. The reason why we are in this trouble is this Government's outdated, inappropriate and antediluvian industrial relations policies. It is this Government and no-one else which must accept the responsibility for the mess we are in. It has been in office for nearly seven years; it does not have the skills to cope with a modern, complex, industrialised society. It knew this was going to happen; everyone who took any interest in aviation matters knew that the airline pilots were planning a very serious, major strike this year. Even Senator Collins in the debate last week tabled with a great flourish some of the documentation that had been circulated by the pilots' union to members. The Government knew this was coming. It did nothing to intercept the course of events. It could have had a quiet word with its friend, Sir Peter Abeles; it could have had a word with Mr Strong. It could have said, `Look, there is trouble brewing. What about doing something to pre-empt this disaster which is going to befall us?', but it did nothing. Even worse, it did not even make a contingency plan. It sat on its hands and hoped it would not happen. Now that it has happened, we have not seen one constructive move from this Government to deal with this great national crisis that is upon us.

Why should this country suffer? Why should a country that is endowed with the human resources and the physical resources that Australia has, be mismanaged by the Australian Labor Party when we have seen so much progress this century? Honourable senators should cast their minds back to each of the four occasions during which the Labor Party has been in power. Under the Scullin Government we had the disaster of the Great Depression of 1929. We had the mismanagement, lack of direction and muddling through with a controlled economy which ensued during the war years, from 1940 onwards, until Labor was thrown out in 1949. What about the absolute chaos and the way in which society was stood on its head during the Whitlam years? The consequence of nearly seven years of the Hawke system of socialism has been this huge and crippling debt position which is around our neck, and will be around our neck for decades to come. Those situations should be contrasted with the great periods of growth in Australia under the Liberal-National Party Government. I refer to the golden age in the 1950s and the 1960s when Robert Menzies was running this country in accordance with Liberal principles that gave everyone a free go. The whole nation developed because economic growth--

Senator Button —Tell us the growth rates. Don't lie to the Senate.

Senator MacGIBBON —The little dissembler should keep quiet; I have the call. Great growth took place because we had economic and individual freedoms. That should be contrasted with the four periods in this century when the Labor disaster has been foisted upon us.

I come back to this point: the present crisis is the fault of the Labor Government and no-one else. All we get from the Government by way of resolution is something about compensation. It is all very vague, there are no details at all, but it is talking about compensating the airlines. The Government happens to own one of the airlines. The other airline happens to be owned by one of the friends of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). It is one thing to give support to private industry when it is being bullied by the trade union movement when only one small company is involved; it is one thing to give that company support with its great legal expenses when it is being victimised; it is quite a different matter to open the public purse to an airline that a government owns, and to one that enjoys a duopoly position, so that it can hold the market to ransom. I quote from a letter that was faxed to my office this morning from a Brisbane travel agent, dealing with this matter of compensation. It states in part:

The airlines are only a small and very privileged part of the tourist and travel industry. The airlines already enjoy enormous Government patronage denied to the rest of the Australian business community by having fixed prices and other commercial advantages which arise from protective legislation. The 21000 airlines employees are equally privileged by generous awards that reflect the airline duopoly. It would be a monstrous travesty of justice to maintain the wages of this privileged group of employees at the expense of the public when some 150000 other employees in the tourist and travel industry will be sacked by next Friday as a result of this dispute.

I think that puts the case very succinctly. The tourist industry is the biggest sufferer from this problem, not the airlines.

What are the damages that the tourist industry is suffering? In the first place, the tourism industry is a very big industry, and even the Government realises this. I have with me here copies of press releases by Mr Holding, the Minister for the Arts, Tourism and Territories in the other place, and one from Senator Richardson, the Minister for Tourism amongst all his other duties, and in this press release Senator Richardson says:

In 1988 overseas visitors spent an estimated $1.6 billion on food, drink and accommodation, $800m on shopping, $320m on domestic air fares, $310m on trains, bus and car transport, $120m on organised tours, $120m on entertainment and $280m on other miscellaneous items. A further $1.6 billion was earnt by Qantas with international airfares.

Then Senator Richardson goes on to say-and these words must haunt him at the moment if he has any conscience:

At a time when many of our traditional exports face an uncertain future, tourism is expanding rapidly with the number overseas visitors increasing by more than 25 per cent in each of the last three years to a record 2.2 million in 1988.

Well, I have news for Senator Richardson. The numbers of tourists are not expanding at all; in fact they are contracting dramatically.

The tourism industry earned $6.5 billion in foreign exchange last year. But that is not the whole total of its earnings, because we have to add to that the domestic travellers within this country. In aggregate the tourist industry involves a turnover of something like $26 billion. There are over 480,000 employees in the tourist industry. It is the biggest private sector employer in this country. It might shock Senator Richardson to realise some of the responsibilities that he so negligently discharges. After the Public Service in Australia, the local government, State governments and Federal Government, it is the biggest employer. It is a very big employer of women and youth, two groups who are critically important in the Australian work force. There is something like $19 billion worth of work that is either under way or contracted for, and a great part of that $19 billion, which has great implications for Australian building and the economy in general, is now jeopardised by this strike, which the Government is doing absolutely nothing about.

Every sector of the Australian economy is affected by tourism. Just to give a trite example: every tourist in this country eats three eggs a day, so the impact of tourism on the economy is felt by the primary producers producing food, the manufacturers, the distributors and the service industry. The flow-on effects of any troubles in the tourist industry are absolutely horrendous. We have made a very big investment in tourism. In the last five years I do not know how many billions of dollars we have put in, but it has been a very great sum of money that the Australian economy has invested in developing not only hotels but the whole of the infrastructure related to tourism-the airports, the roads, and the service facilities supporting it. It is not a matter so much of saying it will not grow for a while. What is happening at the moment is that it is dying. We made this great investment in 1986, 1987 and 1988 prices. We are paying interest rates at the current time. This is the great difference between the tourist industries and the other great industries of Australia, where we made the investment generations ago in prices that were existing at the time and at interest rates that were about a third or a quarter of those that apply at present, and we have had the chance to amortise them. I am not suggesting that we take easily any setbacks in relation to the coal industry, or the steel industry or the wool industry. But at least setbacks there are more manageable to us than the position we have in the tourist industry, where we are extremely vulnerable. We require a daily throughput of tourists there just to stay alive.

What is happening at present? Well, the airlines have not stood anyone down yet, because the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) bully boys have seen to that. But the ACTU is not at all interested in what is going on in the hotel trade. I have had some figures come in to me this morning in my office concerning what is going on around my own State of Queensland. One of the largest hotels-I will not mention its name but probably most people here have stayed there-has advised me that it has lost 650 bed nights, that its customer occupancy has dropped from 80 per cent to 40 per cent, and that two conferences and 12 functions have been cancelled. Another one has had 12 conventions cancelled, some with 525 delegates, and that is just for the next two weeks. Another large hotel in Brisbane has lost 200 delegates, a sum of 310 rooms, in the last two weeks, and on it goes.

I had a report from north Queensland-and honourable senators would know very well that the north Queensland area, the Cairns area, is one of the brightest tourist spots in Australia-that as of Friday of last week 200 to 300 permanent staff and 600 to 800 casual staff had been stood down. Well might Senator Jones be worried about that. I can assure him that none of those people are going to vote for Labor in the coming election. Many other workers have been stood down or have been forced to take leave. The estimate for the Cairns area alone is that as of Friday last week the region had lost $20m in revenue. These are huge figures, multiplied across the nation.

The other thing about the tourism industry is that it has a very high small business component. For example, there are the small travel agencies. No travel agency in Australia has written a domestic airline ticket for the last three weeks. They have lost their 9 per cent sales commission. That is having a devastating effect. Some of them have already gone out of business. As far as we can determine, by the end of this week 150,000 workers in the industry will have been stood down. Hotel occupancy rates are down. The whole infrastructure supporting the tourist trade is grinding to a halt. That is just what is happening within this country. There are headlines about the dispute in the newspapers every day in Japan and in Europe. I was talking by phone to someone in the United Kingdom last week and was told that the strike here is getting much publicity in London.

As I said last week in a debate, if we are going to hold our position as a tourist destination we have to be predictable. If tourists come to Australia they have to know that they can fulfil their program as planned. They cannot be held to ransom by a socialist Labor Government which is failing to discharge its responsibilities. What are the consequences of the present disaster that we are locked into? One of my colleagues this morning suggested, only half jokingly, that we should refer it to the Natural Disasters Organisation. I do not think that is such a bad idea, but I would send the whole of the Cabinet along as well. The effects we are experiencing at the moment will take there to five years to overcome. It may well take 10 years and a very large advertising budget to work our way out of the mess.

What response have we had from the Government? All we have seen is the abuse of pilots by the Prime Minister and the dissemination of a degree of inaccurate information. I hark back to Mr Hawke's repeated statement that anyone can learn to fly an aeroplane-in seven hours. I invited Mr Hawke last week to table his log books in the Parliament. I am not aware whether he has done so, but I do not believe that Mr Hawke ever got to a stage where he went solo with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) university squadron in Oxford.

Senator Lewis —He got scrubbed.

Senator MacGIBBON —He got scrubbed, as Senator Lewis, an old pilot, says. As a person who has owned, for more than 20 years, the type of aeroplane that Mr Hawke claims to have flown, I think it highly unlikely that anyone could reach solo status in that sort of aeroplane within seven hours. In fact, it just does not happen. It is not the sort of aeroplane that is easy to get off the ground. The information Mr Hawke has put out about the number of hours that the pilots fly, how easy the job is and all the rest of it has not helped in any way at all to resolve the dispute. The responsibility of this mess lies with the Government.

As Senator Collins said when he tabled the paper he tabled last week, the Government knew that there was a major, serious strike on this year. The Government made no plans to divert that eventuality; it let it happen. It has done nothing in the way of contingency planning for when such a problem arose. Even now it is not doing anything to resolve it.

We would fix the problem if we were in government, but we are not in government. The Government has the responsibility, and I hold very strongly to the principle of responsibility. We do not pay Senator Richardson as Minister and we do not pay the Prime Minister just to see their pretty faces in the paper or on the television set. We pay the Government members, irrespective of the person involved, for their responsibility in the office they hold. All we have seen from this Labor Government is a gross dereliction of duty. It has never accepted the responsibility incumbent on it-the Ministers and the Prime Minister of this country-to take the decisions and actions that the country demands. What has to happen is that the pilots have to get back to work, and that cannot happen unless the two parties meet-unless the employers and the employees come together. The employees are saying every day ad nauseam that they want to talk, but the Government is standing over them with a big stick and saying, `You will come back on your knees; you will come back within the 6 per cent wage guidelines'. It is completely overlooking the fact that the guidelines are broken every day with the connivance and conspiracy of this Government in all sorts of shaky deals around the country. Certainly there is a need for reform in this country's air transport system. We have a duopoly that provides no competition in the marketplace, and one of the essential points in the Liberal-National Party policy is that there be competition between those two airlines. We can do that by easing up the entry requirements for Australian companies to come into the transport pool, and if there are no Australian companies coming in then we can do what this Government is doing under duress-that is, allow interlining by overseas airlines between the capitals.

There have got to be changes. The pilots recognise they have to make changes; one only has to listen to what they are saying. Everyone recognises that change has to occur, except this Government. It is persisting with an archaic antediluvian system of centralised wage fixing; it is worshipping that shrine and will not allow the Australian community to get out of the mess we are in by allowing simple negotiations to take place between the two parties who are in dispute.