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Tuesday, 5 September 1989
Page: 942

Senator MESSNER —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer the Minister to his denial yesterday that any financial arrangements had been made in support of the airline companies during the pilots dispute. I ask whether the Minister is aware that in an interview on the Sunday television program on 27 August the Chief Executive of Australian Airlines, Mr James Strong, when asked what, if any, guarantees the Government had given to help meet losses, said:

Well, I think that there is an understanding that if there are going to be large costs incurred, that there would be some question of offsets-but obviously there are many different ways to approaching that.

Will the Minister tell the Senate the nature of the understanding referred to by Mr Strong? Does this mean that, short of direct financial assistance at this stage, the Government is, through other means, helping the airlines offset the cost of the dispute? If so, will he tell the Senate exactly what the Government is doing in this respect?

Senator BUTTON —The quotation from that interview with Mr Strong is about as vague and as elliptical as one can get. I was asked here yesterday what compensation-I think Senator Chaney used another word in addition to `compensation'; he used two words, but `compensation' was the essence of it-had been promised to the airlines in respect of losses incurred in this dispute. I said yesterday, and I adhere to what I said, that the Government had made two sets of responses to that. The first was in respect of arrangements for moving passengers. In that regard, the Government had assisted with the negotiations to obtain the services of overseas aircraft to help move passengers. The Government had also assisted by making the services of the Royal Australian Air Force available to help move passengers. I went on to say that, in respect of compensation, so-called, the Government did receive late last week applications from the airlines for some form of financial assistance in respect of their losses. Those matters have yet to be considered by the Government.

Senator MESSNER —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. I thank the Minister for his answer, but it did not address the point that, some four to five days before the statement and letters were received by the Government from the airlines, Mr Strong was quite openly reported as saying that there was an understanding based on a form of compensation. Will the Minister explain that?

Senator BUTTON —I do not think Senator Messner used the word `compensation' in the initial part of his question. I do not see any reason to change what I said yesterday. The honourable senator said that Mr Strong referred to some understanding. Again, I do not see any reason to change the answer I gave yesterday and again today. There is no arrangement relating to compensation. The only arrangements relate to the moving of passengers, which I have already mentioned.