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Tuesday, 31 May 1960

Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - I think that this bill to a great degree is the result of inquiries made into the Department of Civil Aviation some few years ago. In fact, looking at the Minister's speech, I find that almost at the commencement he states -

The Joint Committee of Public Accounts, in its 24th report to Parliament, invited attention to the wide powers over civil aviation which the act vests in the Executive and went on to say -

We consider it undesirable to continue to vest such wide regulation making powers in the Executive Council and recommend that the basic principles should be incorporated in legislation enacted by the Parliament.

I may say that this is one of the many instances found by the members of the Public Accounts Committee of a department being able to by-pass the Parliament and, by the exercise of regulation-making power, to control not only civil aviation but also other matters. Right through the inquiries of the Public Accounts Committee we have had to go deeply into the desirability of doing things by regulations. In fact, only recently we found great trouble over regulations in connexion with the 28 per cent, increase in margins that had been passed on by government decree to members of the armed forces. The regulations did not meet the position as they should have done. I do not want to go into that phase of the matter. I want to say, however, that the committee, when it made that recommendation, felt it essential that we should get away from the position that existed, and that still exists, in connexion with the making of regulations for the control of civil aviation. The committee felt that these matters should be brought under legislative enactment rather than dealt with by regulation.

I notice, reading the bill and the Minister's speech, that the Government will still rely to a degree on the making of regulations for certain purposes, but I am pleased to note that provision is to be made to amend a position, now covered by a regulation, relating to the cancellation of a pilot's licence, from which there was no appeal. I think one such case went to court, but I forget the details. Provision is now made for an appeal by the person concerned to a tribunal apart from the Minister or the permanent head of the Department of Civil Aviation.

I should like to take this opportunity to refer to the Department of Civil Aviation itself and to the work that is being done in Australia, although we know that the bill before us is designed to ratify an international agreement on civil aviation. As members of the Parliament, collectively responsible for the capacity of the Department of Civil Aviation to control flying operations and to operate aerodromes in this country, we are entitled to get the views of any member of a committee who knows something about the matter. Over a period of many months the Public Accounts Committee investigated certain matters associated with the Department of Civil Aviation, and found that it was conducting its affairs in the best possible way. I have no hesitation in saying that the department has given us air services which I do not think can be excelled or even equalled in any other country.

The honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) queried the subsidy that the Government is paying, in effect, to air travellers. We know that a big subsidy is being paid because if we were to charge T.A.A., Ansett-A.N.A. or the smaller companies the full cost for the use of our airports and the flying aids which are available, the general air-travelling public would have to pay much higher fares than at present obtain.

On this aspect of safety, let me go back many years to the time when the sea was the only means of communication between different countries of the world. Something had to be done to protect sea traffic, not only between one country and another, but also, as in the case of the British Isles, coastal traffic including the fishing fleets. Lighthouses were erected later to protect seamen from the dangers associated with storms and tempests. That was a step towards providing safety for ships to enable them to arrive safely at their destinations. A direct charge was not made upon the ship-owners for the service provided by lighthouses. Of course, to-day we charge harbour dues for ships coming into port, but we provide a lot of safety aids for world shipping for which we do not receive any recompense. When I consider the matter in that light, I do not begrudge the money that has been spent on the provision of flying aids.

As an example of what has been done, a device known as D.M.E. - distance measuring equipment - has been installed at Canberra as an aid to aircraft. The Public Accounts Committee on one occasion queried the delay in purchasing the equipment, and we were informed by officers of the Department of Civil Aviation that the Department had been engaged for a considerable period in deciding the right frequency to be used with the equipment. Before it was installed, any aircraft coming from, say, Melbourne, could not depend on landing at Canberra at night or in heavy cloud until they were right over the airport because a short distance from Canberra is a mountain range rising to 5,000 or 6,000 feet and a pilot would not know exactly where he was until he was directly over the tower on the airport. However, when the distance measuring equipment was placed on the top of Mount Ainslie and on a mountain a few miles from Yass, aircraft were able to tune in to the operating frequency and ascertain their exact position. If an aircraft were say, 10 miles from Canberra, the pilot knew that he had high mountains to cross and that not until he was only, I think, 7 miles from Canberra would it be safe for him to start to land. This device has reduced the cost of landing an aircraft in adverse conditions by up to £30 which, no doubt, has resulted in lower running costs and consequently lower fares. The knowledge that these flying aids exist gives air travellers a great deal of confidence. The introduction of the device in the outback areas which are out of range of the regular beams has eliminated the possibility of aircraft being lost and coming down in the Never Never. 1 have mentioned these matters in passing because the members of the Public Accounts Committee obtained knowledge of them during an investigation of the financial operations of the department. We were not sitting as a committee of experts on aeronautics; we were merely inquiring into whether the money which was being spent was being spent wisely and properly.

If honorable members go to the control tower at Essendon and see the way in which messages arc received and sent continually and the precautions which are taken to ensure the safety of aircraft by providing weather information, flying altitudes and so on, they would appreciate perhaps a little more what the officers of the Department of Civil Aviation are doing. When I am in a plane, no matter what the weather is, I am completely confident in the safety of the aircraft because of the aids which have been provided.

The regulations which have been laid down provide adequate safeguards in relation to the ability of a person to fly an aircraft and an aircraft's airworthiness. These regulations are based on international standards.

Some honorable members have raised matters in relation to intra-state operations. No airline company can operate intra-state without State permission. The flying aids to which I have referred have been provided by the Commonwealth and are available in all States, but if you look at the list of fares on the back of an airline time-table you will find that if you travel to Queensland, a tax which is paid to the Queensland Government is included in the fare. So they have power in respect of intra-state aviation to make whatever charges they desire. They do not have the over-all regulations with regard to safety, but they have a control and we find that in the intra-state field at present T.A.A. cannot fly in every State as it would like to. It would be in the interests of the people of the Commonwealth and of South Australia also if T.A,A. had a com plete licence to conduct flying in South Australia. We know that this matter of the powers of the States in regard to civil aviation was before the High Court long ago, and we are not able to override their powers. They agreed, years ago, that insofar as the regulations common to the whole of the Commonwealth were concerned, they would give the necessary power to the Commonwealth Government to have uniform control in connexion with flying. So far as the Commonwealth is concerned, the Commonwealth Government has done a tremendous amount towards making flying in this country as safe as it is at present.

We, as an Opposition, are not opposing the bill. I do not suggest that I know every clause or every provision that is in the measure, but, in going through it, I know it reverses the practice which I objected to years ago in State parliaments - the putting through of a skeleton bill giving the Government or the Executive power to carry on by regulation as it desired. I have always been opposed to that broad system, but that is practically what we have been doing prior to the introduction of this bill. In the past skeleton legislation has been passed giving the Government power to do by regulation many things which the Public Accounts Committee felt should be done by direct legislation. I see, in this bill, something being done to give effect to what we put forward at that time. I am very pleased that the recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee several years ago should be incorporated in legislation of this description.

This bill may not go all the way and do everything we would have liked it to do. I am not quite sure whether the appeal against an action or a dismissal by a board to be set up goes as far as we thought it should. We wanted the person concerned to be able to go to the court in the ordinary way, but I have not had time to go carefully into that provision. It gives a board of review power to review the matter, but I do not know whether it goes as far as we feel it should in giving power to any one who is penalized to go even beyond the board of review and approach one of the courts of the land to have the matter determined. I do not know whether we will get any information on that matter when the Minister is replying to the debate. In his speech the Minister explained that in England and in other countries they do not give the person affected as great an opportunity to obtain redress by way of appeal as we are giving here. It was stated that we are perhaps going further than others have gone, but I would like to have seen provision that if the person affected was not satisfied with the decision of a lower tribunal he could appeal to a legal tribunal. If that provision is not in the legislation I hope that some day it will be placed there. I support the bill.

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