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Tuesday, 26 March 1968


Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - by leave - I join with the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz), and with the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) who earlier this afternoon asked a question about the recent helicopter accident, in extending my sympathy to the relatives of the unfortunate men who lost their lives in this tragedy. May I say that it would be much better for good relations in this

Parliament if Ministers would give Opposition members a little more notice that important statements of this kind were to be made. I learned only at about 10 minutes past 3 this afternoon that the Minister proposed to make his statement. I just bring that point briefly to your attention, Mr Speaker, and to the attention of the Minister. This is the second occasion on which he has made a statement without giving the Opposition much notice.


Mr Swartz - The business sheet indicated that the statement was to be made.


Mr Whitlam - The subject was not stated.


Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - That is so; the subject was not mentioned. The business sheet merely indicated that a ministerial statement was to be made. The Minister cannot get out of the situation as easily as he wishes.

This is the second helicopter accident that has occurred within approximately 12 months. I think we all can throw our minds back to the occasion when a helicopter crashed in Sydney after encountering trouble apparently similar to that which struck the machine that crashed the other day. I am not able to discuss factual details in exact terms, however, because I have not had time to check this aspect of the accident owing to the lateness of the notice that the Opposition received this afternoon in respect of the Minister's statement. In the helicopter crash in Sydney, two employees of the Australian Broadcasting Commission - a reporter and a photographer - lost their lives. Three more pressmen, who, I assume, were members of the Australian Journalists Association, have now lost their lives in another helicopter accident. I hate to think what could have happened had the machine fallen right among the reporters assembled on the oil rig. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has just reminded rae that the accident in Sydney occurred on a Saturday afternoon when not many people were in the streets. Honourable members can imagine what would have happened had it occurred in one of the main city streets at a busy time. Those honourable members who live in Sydney or who know it well can readily imagine how tragic the consequences would have been. That accident, however, happened at about 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon when the streets in the immediate area were relatively empty.

I am concerned about what is being done by the Department of Civil Aviation to ensure that helicopters are properly serviced. I am concerned also about servicing activities in respect of the large number of light aircraft, both privately owned and on charter, that are being involved in accidents throughout Australia these days. Indeed, all of us are not altogether happy about what is happening in relation to large commercial aircraft. Many of us have our own ideas about the Winton disaster and about other accidents that have occurred. I believe that members of the Parliament should be given more information about the findings of the Department in relation to aircraft accidents. I regret that the Minister has not stated that a public inquiry will be held. After all, the relatives of the men who lost their lives are entitled to know the real reasons why the accident occurred.

Does a helicopter become completely uncontrollable when certain things happen to it? If I remember correctly, at the inquiry into the Sydney accident it was stated that a couple of bolts had come loose and that if the pilot had been fully advised as to what precautionary manoeuvres to follow he might have been able to avoid the crash. This is not my say so; this is what came out of that inquiry. Is the same explanation applicable in this case? For the Minister to come in and make such a brief statement at this stage is not fair to the relatives of the men who lost their lives or to honourable members. The Minister said that he would inform the House as soon as possible of the conclusions that are reached. I hope that that will not be too far away. I also hope that he will bring us some more positive information about what is being done to control helicopters and what advice is given to the pilots of these machines.

I understand that there is competition in Australia between the owners of these helicopters. I remember, that 8 or 9 months ago or maybe a little longer I received some correspondence which indicated the extreme competition that was entering this field with overseas operators taking over from Australian charter agents. I think that the

Minister should give us a little more information when he presents his report. He should also consider holding a public inquiry so that the relatives and those associated with the men who lost their lives can at least have the satisfaction, of knowing what happened.







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