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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 3052

Mr BENNETT (Swan) - I will be brief in my remarks because I understand that the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) is anxious to join in this debate, and the time is limited. In looking at the amounts involved in these 2 Bills, one realises the immense investment in the airline industry and the immense cost to the community in indebtedness - $28.5m to Trans-Australia Airlines for four 727-200 jet aircraft - making a total indebtedness in this field by TAA of approximately $70.6m which will be outstanding, with an additional $25. 7m being proposed in these Bills to be further outstanding by Ansett Airlines of Australia. In all this section of borrowings there would be over Si 00m outstanding for this and previous purchases overseas, which in this case must be repaid at figures approximating 6 per cent interest. Who is paying the cost of overseas purchases? The money is coming out of the unending pockets of the taxpayer, who has to maintain the 2- airline system, which was begun and has been supported by this Government. An inflated fare structure is needed to maintain this system, but Ansett Transport Industries Ltd discloses no satisfactory cost structure in its annual reports.

I concede that in accordance with the terms of the loan Ansett Transport Industries Ltd is required to make financial records available to an officer authorised by the appropriate Minister. However, the results of these sightings are not reported to this Parliament or to anyone but the Minister, if that is what he desires. For all this, what service does the public get in return? The public cannot even travel direct from Perth to Canberra: they must take the tiresome course of going from Perth to Adelaide to Melbourne and then to Canberra, or from Perth to Melbourne and then to Canberra, or from Perth to Adelaide to Sydney and from there to

Canberra, or they must take some other circuitous route. No thought is given to the problem despite the huge investment of public moneys. The difficulty may be caused by the dual mainline routing of the airlines, and as lending is insufficient to warrant 2 aircraft on a direct route not even one is supplied. Recently, nominal recognition has been given to the problem by a minimum separate scheduling by both airlines, but I suspect that this arose after criticism by overseas travel agents who were holding a convention in Australia. Although the ridicule that arose from the incredulous observance by the travel agents of this farce may have led to the change, their severe criticism of the fare structure has not yet brought about a reduction or revision in that respect.

The Government is more than aware of the criticism made, yet here by these Bills it is proposing to guarantee millions of dollars to both airlines without receiving any reassurances in return that scheduling will improve. More important, we have no assurance that the economies of scale involved in the use of these larger aircraft - which carry more passengers, with a loading of up to an additional 50 per cent, and with little extra operating cost - will enable fare reductions to be made, bearing in mind that airline fares here are too high on world standards today, or that the comfort and convenience of the travelling public will be a first priority. No doubt this is most unlikely on past performances, for petty economies have been affected without consideration for passenger comfort or convenience.

As an example, TAA in Perth some time ago removed its older and more commodious transport vehicle used between the airport and the city and replaced it with a smaller and more uncomfortable unit obtained from a contractor. It could be driven by a woman. No doubt the overall cost was and is a saving to the airline, but it is a minor one, and the airline does not consider the public. If this type of thing is allowed to grow, it will set the standards of a particular airline, or of the industry, because the airlines compete on a similar basis and one seems to do only what the other does. We can merely hope that for the huge investment of public moneys in ancillary services, the little things that affect the little man who wishes to use what should be a public service - but is not to date - will receive the attention of the respective airline administrations.

More important, I hope that this amendment will be supported and carried by members of the Government parties. The amendment is in the following terms:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: consideration of the Bill be deferred until Ansett Transport Industries Limited form a separate company to conduct airline operations and related activities approved of by the Parliament and provision is made for this company to report annually to Parliamenf.

The report of TAA to Parliament is in reality meaningless if the competing company's cost structure is not available for examination and comparison, bearing in mind that the Government guarantee on the purchase of equipment by both airlines, the supply of facilities to both airlines through the Department of Civil Aviation, and the guarantee of some Government loading to be shared between the two.

How can the public be assured that they are getting true value for their money? It could even be said that one cannot compare the efficiency of the management and the costs of TAA without those of its nearest competitor being available. It is a common accusation against government and semi-government bodies and, in fact, a common criticism of Australian Labor Party policies on public enterprises, that those enterprises become top-heavy with a high cost structure and become unworkable. If Government members really believe this, they will support the amendment, for it seeks to provide a true comparison of costs. They should support it if for no other reason than that they believe in true competition and private enterprise based on fair dealing to all sections of the community, and to ensure that we discharge our duty as members of Parliament to sec that the taxes we collect are properly spent.

The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) referred to Australian Labor Party policy on this subject. I point out to him that the civil aviation policy of the Labor Party, which the honourable member so conveniently omitted to detail, provides that we will examine the detrimental effects of rationalisation on the operations of TAA and on the travelling public and on the development of Australia; that we will support the policy of government business being carried by government-owned airways, and that a referendum seeking power for the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws with respect to aviation will be conducted. Nowhere does the Labor Party say that it rejects the 2-airline policy. In fact, our principal speaker in this debate has supported unequivocally the 2-airline policy. At all times on these matters the Australian public can rest assured that the democratic processes will be carried out and that referendums will be conducted.

Thursday, 25 May 1972

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