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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1915

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - There is nobody on this side of the House who over the last two or three years has been more vocally critical than I of the activities of Qantas Airways. On occasions I have found myself in agreement with some of the sentiments expressed by the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) but it is now fast reaching the stage where the honourable member for Newcastle could be compared - I say this kindly, not meaning to be insulting - with a dog with a bone. He has found this Qantas bone. He shakes it, buries it, digs it up again, gives it another shake and does not know when to put it down. Some of the terms of the amendment moved today would have been more appropriate 18 months ago. I refer particularly to the second part of the amendment, which suggests at this late stage that a select committee be set up to inquire into and report upon the effectiveness of Qantas management.

I too have been critical in the past, but in defence of Qantas I would say that in recent times it has got the message loud and clear. There has been a definite updating of its attitude and a throwing off of the nostalgia, of living in the glories of the past. There has been a recognition that the airline industry is the most competitive in the world. I hope that Australia will benefit from this new aggressiveness by bringing to this country tourists who will bring in foreign currency and so in the long term help us in our development. I have said on many occasions that as a nation we are but babes in arms when it comes to the handling of the tourist industry and I hope that after the next election, when this Government is returned, we will see a recognition of what has been done in other countries and an application of some of those principles in this country.

The honourable member for Newcastle in moving the amendment which he hopes no doubt will be voted for by honourable members on this side of the House, suggests that the Bill should be delayed for a number of reasons, one being until firm arrangements are made for substantial co-production procedures on imported aircraft. I cannot help but wonder how much homework the honourable member has done in the preparation of his speech tonight because the facts of life are that up until May this year the Boeing Corporation had placed in Australia $7. 3m worth of orders, consisting of orders for such things as rudders, elevators and wing span ribs for the 727 aircraft, and we have now reached the stage where Australia is the only source of supply for those components. Yet the honourable member for Newcastle suggests that the Government is doing nothing on the 747 aircraft In April discussions were held with the vice president of Boeing on an offset order of $20m. If honourable members were to take seriously the terms of this amendment they would think that the Government has done nothing. This is not correct. The only reason that these orders were not placed was our inability to cope with some of the sophisticated requirements of the 747, and this is understandable for a young and developing country. Furthermore, Boeing has stationed engineers in Australia on a permanent basis for the next 3 years in connection with offset projects.

The honourable member for Newcastle suggests that the Bill should be delayed because nothing has been done. I would say with great respect to the honourable member that a great effort has been made and that we have achieved benefits for this country. 1 am quite certain that if more opportunities present themselves this Government will be able to foresee them and take every opportunity to obtain what is offering. The honourable member for Newcastle suggests also that the Bill should be delayed because the terms of the loan agreement are unknown to him. In his second reading speech the Minister for Supply (Mr Garland) set out the arrangements for the financing of this sixth aircraft which will be by virtue of an application to the Export-Import Bank of the United States of America for a loan of $11. 3m at 6 per cent interest. These negotiations have successfully concluded and at this time other negotiations are under way to obtain the rest of the money which, I believe, will come from a continental source. The facts of life are that this Bill must go through. There is nothing devious on the part of this Government. The honourable member for Newcastle suggests that we should delay the passing of the Bill to enable the Opposition to set its own conditions after the next election. The Australian Labor Party has been living on hope for some 23 years now, and if this Government had had to put everything off until after each coming election nothing would have been done in the last 2 decades. This attitude has pervaded the thinking of the honourable member for Newcastle since last July when he made Press statements condemning Qantas and its board of directors. So it is nothing new.

There is nothing unfair or hidden in the decision to bring on this Bill. The Government at this time has to make substantial contract payments which are due on delivery, and the rest of the amount sought in the Bill is to cover the pre-delivery payments. The honourable member for Newcastle has not at any stage in the last couple of years stopped pursuing Qantas. I do not know what Qantas has done to him, whether it lost his luggage in some foreign port or whether there is some other reason why he is so anti-Qantas, but I would hope that after the next election, if he retains his shadow portfolio, he sees a little good in Qantas and recognises that it is now endeavouring - I use the words 'now endeavouring' - to get back on the path of success. That Qantas may make a loss this year - only the second time in the history of the airline - is something which causes me little bother. We most certainly would like to see a profit made but, if Qantas can go through this most difficult period in world aviation history with only slight losses, it is doing fairly well. I am quite certain that the infusion of new blood in the board of Qantas - 3 new directors have been appointed - which I sincerely hope is but a beginning is already showing results. I hope that there will be a continued recognition that the directors who are appointed in the next few years should be men who are capable of grappling with and handling the most competitive industry in the world today.

Debate (on motion by Mr Keating) adjourned.

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