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Thursday, 20 May 1993
Page: 967

Senator BROWNHILL (Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia) (3.14 p.m.) —I thank the Minister for Defence (Senator Robert Ray). He is usually across his department, but today I do not think he is quite across it as well as he could be. Maybe that is because the Minister for Finance (Mr Willis) might be taking a part in this matter as well. I want to take Senator Ray up on a couple of points he made regarding selling to the highest bidder and regarding market demand. Surely, the Minister, if he were fully responsible for the Defence Department, would be making sure of business best practice, which would mean that he would be trying to do the best for his department to get the best value from it.

  Two other matters were overlooked and I bring them to the attention of the Minister. The first is the safety angle of the airplanes which, as the Minister alluded to, have been quite willingly flying in airspace and which now have to be upgraded if they are to be used in the same airspace under a different category. That is rather disturbing. The second point is that the Minister said that the upgrading would cost $40,000, which is quite correct, but if there are 800 engineers in the RAAF, surely they could have helped with the upgrading of those planes.

  With respect to the auction, there are some 36 aircraft—although we are now told there are 51—which, if they are sold at an estimated—

Senator Robert Ray —No, 36 for sale; 51 overall.

Senator BROWNHILL —If the 36 were sold at, say, $25,000, that brings in about $900,000. If they were sold separately over a period, as Senator MacGibbon suggested, then that would bring in something like 36 multiplied by $35,000 or more. The extra money would be good for the department and it would be a fairer sale. On the basis of the figures presented earlier, something like an extra $1 million-plus would be coming into the department. That represents quite a difference. Being taxpayers' money, I would imagine that in his ministerial capacity, and being a frugal person, the Minister would be more interested in making sure that the taxpayers were as well looked after as any other interested parties.

  I express to the Minister my disappointment that the safety angle has not been discussed in regard to the fact that airplanes that had previously been able to fly in an airspace now have to be upgraded to fly in the same airspace. Surely that can be looked at in the future. The Minister can look at using the resources of his department to ensure it obtains the best value for its dollar.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.