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Tuesday, 31 October 1967

Mr SWARTZ (Darling Downs) (Minister for Civil Aviation) - We have just listened to a fairly typically dramatic display by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) who, i;. his usual fashion, has devoted most of his time to quoting unsubstantiated material and so doing the very thing that he is accusing certain members on the Government side of doing. The whole basis of his dramatic approach to this matter was an attempt to stir up something which is quite foreign to debate in this House and to leave an impression which is an entirely erroneous one. He said that the censure motion referred to three individuals only, the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) and the Minister for Air (Mr Howson). But of course the censure motion is not restricted to three individuals. It is a wide motion which concerns itself with the whole of governmental activity, although to some degree the wording of it is restricted to the points which have been discussed during this debate.

Quite clearly the Prime Minister this afternoon disposed of the accusations which had been so falsely made in the Senate. Quite clearly also he answered the rather timorous charges which were made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) today.. The Treasurer indicated clearly exactly where he stood on this matter, and he knows that he has the full support of the Government in the stand that he has taken. Quite obviously the attack directed against the Treasurer by the honourable member for Hindmarsh was a diversionary tactic. The honourable member tried to divert attention from some of the principal points involved.

Various attacks have also been made in the Senate and in this House today on my colleague, the Minister for Air, who cannot be in the House at this time to answer the charges. I understand that he will be back in Australia at the weekend and no doubt he will have an early opportunity to reply to some of the scandalous charges that have been made by the honourable member for Hindmarsh particularly but also by other speakers both here and in the Senate. That the accusations against the Government have been completely unfounded has been shown quite clearly in this debate by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer.

It was shown by the Treasurer that the Leader of the Opposition made some statements that could not stand up to the test of truth. If the honourable member for Hindmarsh believes that certain members of the Government have lied and should therefore resign, does he then agree that the Leader of the Opposition should also resign when it is shown that he has made false statements? The honourable member for Hindmarsh produced an argument that there was something sinister in the fact that the Treasurer spent some of his time referring to use of VIP aircraft by the Leader of the Opposition. But the Treasurer was referring to allegations that had been made by the honourable member in a debate in this House only a few days ago. At that time, the Treasurer had no opportunity to reply to him. So it was not new material that the Minister was replying to; he was replying to the unfounded allegations that had been made by the honourable member in this House a few days ago. This was the Minister's first opportunity to do so.

The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor), who spoke earlier than the honourable member for Hindmarsh, referred to the use of aircraft. The debate was not confined to the point to which the honourable member for Hindmarsh alleged that it was confined. He claimed that it was narrowed to a specific matter. Again, as I have pointed out, this is a censure motion directed against the Government by the Opposition. It is the most serious challenge that the Opposition can offer to the Government. How can a censure motion possibly be confined to a specific point when it is a challenge to the Government? The honourable member for Hindmarsh is quite wrong in claiming that it can. He also referred to the placing of orders for aircraft before the present Prime Minister took up that office. The right honourable gentleman indicated to the House quite clearly on an earlier occasion and again today that the decision to order the new aircraft for the VIP flight was taken in 1965 during the life of the previous Government. It is obvious that the Prime Minister himself does not place orders for aircraft such as these. When approval had been given by the Cabinet for the purchase of the new machines, the Cabinet was finished with the matter from there on. It then became a matter for the Department of Air and the Minister for Air, and negotiations for the purchase of suitable aircraft were entered into almost immediately. They commenced shortly after the Cabinet decision was made in 1965. When suitable machines were decided on, written orders for them were placed during 1966, as has been indicated. That situation is clearly understood by everybody in this House, including the honourable member for Hindmarsh who tried to write something sinister into this action.

On the previous occasion, the honourable member criticised the Treasurer for the use of VIP aircraft, and he could not resist bringing up that criticism again today. The Treasurer himself has answered that criticism very conclusively in this debate. He indicated that on many occasions he uses aircraft jointly with other Ministers. The- relevant facts can be seen in the sheets summarising particulars of flights that were tabled in this chamber last week and also in the flight authorisation book that was tabled in the Senate. The accusation has been made that the Treasurer on a number of occasions had used VIP aircraft on his own and had not taken staff with him. That would be in order, of course, but if one looks through these sheets, one wm see that on practically every occasion when the Minister used a VIP machine, a number of passengers apart from himself travelled. One sheet shows 8 passengers on a flight on which he travelled, another 4, another 3, another 8 and another 5. Going through these records, one can show clearly that in every instance when the Treasurer has used a VIP aircraft, there have been other passengers. He has not on one occasion travelled on his own. In many instances, as he has pointed out, the other passengers have been members of his own stall. In some instances, they have been other Ministers.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But this is not the issue.

Mr SWARTZ - This is the matter which was raised in this House by the honourable member a few days ago and to which he has referred in the present debate. The point is, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the accusation by the honourable member today that the Treasurer used a VIP aircraft for political purposes - to go to Rockhampton to participate in the Capricornia by-election campaign - is merely another indication of the incorrect information being provided, I am sorry to say, by this gentleman who is now espousing the truth. The Treasurer did not use a VIP aircraft to go to Rockhampton for the Capricornia by-election campaign. I hope that the honourable member for Hindmarsh will see fit to apologise for his accusation in that Instance. He also stated that the weight of evidence indicated that the Prime Minister had provided incorrect information in this House. I can only refer the honourable member to the remarks made by the Prime Minister today. The honourable member did not at any time cite any facts to substantiate the statements that he has made. He merely repeated a series of cliches, using language which I would hesitate to use in this House and which, I am afraid, does much to lower the standard of debate and the standing of this House in the public eye - the very thing that he claims he wishes to maintain.

I come back now to the Leader of the Opposition. He indicated that he had material available, but he did not say that it was material provided by the Government. It is only material which has been provided by the Department of Air and which has been tabled in the Senate thai has allowed the debate on this issue to take place. As has been explained in this House on a number of occasions, there are problems associated with the provision of this material. For instance, there has been the difficulty of dissection. In view of the situation that had arisen, the Prime Minister indicated quite clearly that the Government would undertake to provide all possible material in the best possible form. That has been done. The situation that has now arisen clearly indicates the problems that can be associated with the misuse of information of this kind, because it is so easy to pick out from these sheets summarising particulars and from the squadron records some information and statistics that can be used to support argument one way or the other. This matter rests on the material that has been provided by the Government in the Senate and in this House.

It is interesting to note, as has already been mentioned, that the question asked by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), which was answered on 13 th May 1966, and the question asked in the Senate by the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party (Senator Gair) related to travel by the then Leader of the Opposition. The problem of the availability of information was raised at the time. As the Prime Minister has indicated, if the Government had wished to conceal something, it certainly would not have tried to conceal information that supported any cass against the then Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Democratic Labor Party was endeavouring to obtain information to use against the then Leader of the Opposition. The Minister for Air, through the Prime Minister, had indicated certain difficulties at that time. The point is that the information that has been provided now is very substantial indeed and goes well along the road to meet the requests made by honourable senators.

I refer to one point that was raised today by the Leader of the Opposition in relation to a VIP flight which he made to Western

Australia. It was claimed in the other place that Mr Wyndham had accompanied the Leader of the Opposition on that occasion. The passenger manifest did record the names of the persons travelling at that time from Essendon to Adelaide on the way, I believe, to Western Australia. An application had been made by the Leader of the Opposition for Mr Wyndham to travel on the aircraft at the time. I believe that in the other place Senator Murphy stated that Mr Wyndham did not travel on the VIP aircraft. That statement is quite correct. Mr Wyndham's name did appear on the manifest because the application had been made for him to travel. His name was still on the manifest when the attack was made later. The point is that the Minister for Air said that he could not approve the travel for Mr Wyndham because he had no authority to do so, although application had been made. I merely point this out to show that the manifest sheets, which are available, still do not give an entirely correct picture of the situation. As the Prime Minister indicated, the information which now is scattered around through various branches of the Royal Australian Air Force would not be available collectively in total at any one particular time. Although the information has been submitted in the other place it still cannot give the picture with 100% accuracy. One of the points made by the Minister for Air previously was the difficulty in the dissection of this information. However, as has been mentioned, the Minister for Air will return at the weekend and the problems relating to answers to questions which the Minister had cleared at the time for the Prime Minister undoubtedly will be cleared up by the Minister and the matter will be discussed by the Prime Minister and the Minister at that time. 1 pay a tribute to the officers of the Department of Air. No-one knows more than I do, as I have been acting as Minister for Air for the last week or so, the amount of work and time that those officers have put in to collate this information and prepare it for presentation in the other place and in this House. Many hours have been devoted to this particular work. The officers have made a tremendous effort to have this material available for Parliament. They deserve recognition for the work that they have done in this particular field. They spent many hours of long weekend work, as well as overtime, to produce in the best possible form the material that has been required.

The honourable member for Cunningham made one reference to the aircraft which are operated by the Department of Civil Aviation. The honourable member gave a list, which I had provided, relating to the seventeen aircraft which are operated by the Department. He tried to infer, as one report appearing in the Press over the weekend inferred, that there was some sort of link between this fleet and the VIP fleet. The Department of Civil Aviation has seventeen aircraft of varying types, from single engine aircraft upward, at departmental bases throughout the States. I indicate, for the record, the role of this particular DCA fleet. The role of the fleet is first of all the provision of facilities' for continuation training of departmental pilots - in other words, pilot training is carried out by this particular fleet, and there is no need to query this because the honourable member for Cunningham raised the matter in a debate in the House a short time ago and I am answering the question that the honourable member raised; secondly, the provision of aircraft and crews to meet search and rescue activities, accident and incident investigation requirements and also for support in cases of national emergency; thirdly, the special flight test projects connected with airworthiness control; fourthly, the research and development of special navigational equipment and other facilities; fifthly, ground radar calibration and training of radar operators; sixthly, the training of air traffic controllers and the development of special air traffic control procedures; finally, the provision of aircraft for the carriage of Commonwealth, State and other officials associated with the visits of members of the Royal family and Heads of State and also the carriage of the Minister, the Director-General and some departmental staff in connection with the administration of the Department where normal transport facilities cannot meet the needs. The availability of the aircraft for the purposes that I have indicated has made a significant contribution to the efficiency of the Department and without this facility the safety record of aviation in Australia undoubtedly would be less favourable than is the case today. I wanted to clear up those particular points which were raised by the honourable member for Cunningham during the debate.

The honourable member also raised the question of the cost of the DCA fleet. The figure that he quoted was $15m, or some figure of that order. I want to correct that statement again, as I did by way of interjection at the time. The total cost of the original aircraft, when new, was $5m and the present book value of the DCA fleet is $3m. That puts the record straight as far as the cost factor is concerned. The cost which I think the honourable member quoted from a newspaper report at about $15m, was entirely incorrect.

Although the Opposition has claimed to be on the side of maintaining the image of Parliament in the public eye, the debate has done more, in the brief time that it has been proceeding, to destroy that image. Speeches such as those that have been made by the honourable member for Hindmarsh assist in destroying that image. Parliament should deplore the action that has been taken in this regard. The material and the information which has been provided, particularly the information provided by the Prime Minister in his statement, clearly set out the position. I do not doubt that- the majority of right thinking people in Australia will accept the situation as it has been presented by the Prime Minister.

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