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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 1026

Mr BEAZLEY (Minister for Aviation and Special Minister of State)(10.00) — The central line of the attack on this Budget by the Opposition has been to come at it from two completely contradictory angles and, as usual, not to present seriously to the electorate any form of alternative which it suggests this Government ought to be pursuing. From the two or three years I spent in Opposition and also from the very substantial period before then when I took an interest in this place I can remember how, every time we in Opposition were obliged to come forward and present a response to a Budget by the conservative Government, we were obliged to present details of where we would have changed decisions taken, where we would have raised additional revenue and where we would have proposed appropriate cuts. If that detail was not forthcoming serious doubts were raised in editorials the next day as to our competence and integrity , and mockery was cast upon us by every Government speaker. In some sense when we failed to do that there was justification for both that mockery and criticism in the Press and elsewhere.

If one is in a position of being the official Opposition one is obliged to put forward rational alternatives to what the Government is doing. If one fails to do that one is legitimately in a position in which one is obliged to take criticism. We have had nothing but contradiction in the presentations that have come forward from the various members of the Opposition. Assaults have been made on the propositions we have put forward which contained any degree of revenue raising, without any serious suggestion as to where alternative revenue raising activities might be undertaken. Attacks have been made on cuts we have made in certain areas of public expenditure, in certain capital works projects, although funding for not many of those projects has been reduced. But there has been no suggestion from the Opposition as to what cuts or increases it would have made to produce a different result. We have had an opposition take advantage of the least commendable aspect of an opposition's position and that is a capacity, if honourable members opposite so desire, to criticise what a government does irresponsibly.

We tend to forget another thing when looking at this Budget. When this Budget was brought down Opposition members looked at it as though it was framed in other than some sort of historical context. They looked at it as though this Parliament had suddenly descended to earth and this Government had made its decisions in isolation of the nature of the economy as it is at the moment and in isolation of decisions taken by previous governments. We are invited to have our competence tested in a context in which the Australian economic community has been invented, as it were, de novo. It has to be realised that this Budget was brought down in the aftermath of seven years of wasted opportunity and of wasted mandate. When the Fraser Government came into office in 1975 it had the capacity, by its majority in the upper and lower Houses, virtually to guarantee itself at least two terms, at least six years, in which to make an impact on the nature of the Australian economy in any direction in which it wished to proceed. From that Government we got footling, backing and filling, cowardice, incompetence and, in the end, economic decline.

That Government in its final year managed to achieve the position where, for the first time in 30 or 40 years, it presided over the diminution of Australia as an economic animal. We became 2 per cent smaller than we had been the year before. In conjunction with that, unemployment had risen to something like three quarters of a million Australians and there had been no substantial shift in the inflation rate from the time when that Government secured office to the time when it left office. Whatever can be said of the various problems confronted in that period in the international community, that Government has a record of failure to respond to the crisis which this country confronted. We went from being, in 1975, about seventh amongst the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development group of nations in terms of standard of living, using whatever mysterious mechanisms that Organisation uses to measure that standard, to being about sixteenth now. That is a situation of which no Opposition can be proud. I suppose that if nothing constructive or sensible is coming forward from the Opposition, it is in a situation in which it needs to think about what it is doing before it comes forward with a response. However, even that degree of modesty is not being assumed by the Opposition. It has made a response on some matters. I turn my attention to one or two of those matters before looking at what we have done in the aviation area, which is more directly in my area of responsibility.

I am very greatly disappointed to see that the Opposition, when presented with an opportunity to support propositions that have emanated from us-propositions it previously supported in principle-has chosen not to do so. I suppose the most startling example of that has been its criticisms of us in those areas in which we have attempted to relate increases in social security spending or actions in that regard to some criteria of need and to ensure that welfare benefits go to people genuinely in need. We would want probably no better credo for our objectives in that regard than the statement made by the now Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) on 9 September 1981. He said:

We must surely question the extent to which this rising expenditure-

He is talking about expenditure in relation to social security--

is economically and socially productive whether it meets genuine social need. So much of government spending goes to people who demonstrably do not need government assistance.

There has been no support coming forth from the Opposition for those first stage initiatives that we have made so far in this Budget; indeed, exactly the opposite has been forthcoming. There has been a deliberate attempt on the part of the Opposition to induce completely unnecessarily in our pensioner community fears that it will be very seriously impacted upon by an assets test which many members of the Opposition when in govenment advocated as an essential direction in which their Government ought to move. As I said, that has created a degree of concern among pensioners. The creation of that concern was totally reprehensible . Most of the two million pensioners need not be at all concerned as they will not be affected by the proposed assets test. Around half a million pensioners will have changes to their pensions and, of those, about one-third-some 170,000- will be better off.

That subject, I think, required some consideration in this discussion of the Budget, because, as I said, it is an unfortunate departure from the direction in which the Leader of the Opposition was moving when he was seriously attempting to contest the leadership of his Party from a somewhat more difficult position in terms of the internal workings of his Party than he subsequently was in when he was finally selected as the candidate. In this Budget the Labor Party, despite the extraordinary stringent times in which we are obliged to govern, did not stint on new policies in areas of real need in the community. An amount of $ 369m is to be spent on job creation, $633m on health and $267m on housing while assistance to State and Territory governments totals $384m. The Government has made a serious commitment to upholding its responsibilities in the sector for which it is directly responsible, public spending, whilst at he same time doing so with a sense of restraint that will not discourage private investment in this country.

In the area of capital works expenditure, a number of projects come under the Aviation portfolio which understandably did not receive extensive coverage in the speech of the Treasurer (Mr Keating). I want to deal with them now. Aviation expenditure approved in this year's Budget provided for the largest national airports and airways program in Australia's history. The total program of $620m over the next four years includes new airport development projects estimated to cost $178m. Total expenditure on airports and airways developments in 1983-84 is estimated at $148m. The airport development program will provide greatly improved facilities for passengers and airlines and will cater for future increased passenger and freight traffic as well as the introduction of new aircraft types.

In part, the Government's motivation in considering these matters is consideration of the need to ensure that there is job creating potential in major civil works programs. But in fact the main reason-it is in my view the only substantial reason for which one can justify aviation expenditure-is that it is necessary to maintain high aviation operational and safety standards. So that the airport developments that we have decided to proceed with are those which have a very tightly established aviation requirement for their development . That includes the provision to start on a program which will eventually cost $ 96m-the full amount is not provided for in this Budget-for the Darwin international airport which will, when it is completed, overcome a justifiable grievance by the people of the Northern Territory that their airport has waited some 20 years to receive serious attention. When that construction is at its peak it will create up to 400 on-site jobs and that will be very useful in a Territory which is experiencing substantial levels of unemployment.

Mr McGauran —Where is the railway? What about their railway?

Mr BEAZLEY —The same can be said for the new international terminal at Perth Airport. It will have a similar effect. The honourable member for Gippsland raised the question of the railway to Darwin. What is an interesting point about this Budget is that for all the furore, all the song and dance that comes from the other side of the House, it is one of the ironies that in the $5m we have devoted to give some sort of meaning to the program by which an investigation will be undertaken as to its viability and as to its economic justification, we are in fact spending more on that railway system this year than has been spent in previous Budgets. We have offered the Northern Territory Government the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is. It has yet to arrive at a conclusion which will do that. When it does the Commonwealth stands ready to meet it.

We have also provided funds for additional taxi-way development at Sydney ( Kingsford-Smith) Airport. The program we have initiated will ultimately cost in the realm of $11.5m. That will substantially increase the capacity at Sydney Airport when it is completed. We have also set aside an amount for the development of a consultant study on the upgrading of Canberra Airport. Of course that does not necessarily pre-empt a decision by the Government to proceed with that, but that has become a hardy perennial which is much promise but about which nothing is done. The money that has been put forward for a consultant study represents for the first time a serious commitment to getting that project off the ground. As I said, all these developments require an aviation justification.

I want to raise one matter in this House that concerns me considerably, and that is the extent to which we confront, looking down the line, very substantial expenditures on airport developments, both in terms of the creation of new airports and in terms of the development of existing facilities. On a variety of interpretations naturally enough at this time, because we are looking down the line at decades of expenditure, detailed costing cannot be available. But we are looking at expenditures in a decade or so in the realm of $2 billion to $3 billion. If and when those developments are proceeded with they will have a very substantial impact on the aviation cost recovery program and, naturally enough, in the first instance on the Australian taxpayer. The reasons we confront that situation are severalfold. The first is that there has been a delay in some necessary developments. As all governments have been aware in the past, until we took on a few of them here, the easiest thing to delay and to run through into another Budget in another year is expenditure on capital works.

In addition, there were substantial airport developments in the late 1960s and early 1970s which created a situation in which additional developments could be held off until they became urgent-that is, for at least a decade or so. The capacity to do that in a number of key areas is beginning to run out. That creates for this Government a very substantial responsibility if it is to be able to meet the needs of the aviation industry in a way in which the aviation industry can afford, and in a way which meets the needs of the commuter and the Australian taxpayer. For that reason the Government has committed itself to the setting up of a task force to examine the viability of the creation of a national airports authority.

Mr McGauran —They are just words.

Mr BEAZLEY —No, they are not, actually. An amount of $750,000 is designated in this Budget to match those words, to enable the consultancies and the necessary studies to take place. It is extremely important that a decision on this matter be reached in the next 18 months, which is the period in which the task force will operate. If we do not reach a satisfactory system whereby we will be able to manage our airports more efficiently, the cost burden that will arise in the aviation industry will be such that it will either not be able to afford the cost or it will charge at a level for its facilities and services which will mean that air travel will be denied, as it is to some considerable degree, to the average Australian.

The point about a national airports authority, if and when we can get it off the ground, is that it will offer an opportunity for the development of independent management at each of the major airports in Australia, albeit under the rubric of a national authority, to enable each of them to engage in a type of entrepreneurial activity which will offer considerable relief to the cost recovery program. It is not as though nothing is being done in that area at the moment. In fact the Department of Aviation over the years and under previous governments-I will give them that-has become more efficient in securing opportunities to raise funds from various commercial activities at airports. Those opportunities have probably reached the point of saturation at which a highly centralised process can achieve an effective economic result. We have reached the point at which a serious study needs to be undertaken, concluding in the creation of a national airports authority which, when it is created, will have a capacity, as I said before, to recover costs from other services at an airport in a way that will be of substantial benefit to the aviation industry.

I have so far been very impressed with the extent to which the aviation industry has been interested in the propositions that have come forward and has indicated a willingness to participate in them with us. I should have thought that these developments would have drawn a degree of support from the other side of the House. I notice that there has been silence from the aviation spokesman on this matter while we have been dealing with it here.

Mr Hodgman —A good spokesman.

Mr BEAZLEY —He is not a bad sort of bloke; he is learning fast. I am not surprised, though, that the remarks I have been making should have been greeted with such rampant idiocy by the people on the National Party bench because they have proved themselves to be absolutely incapable of developing cost effective means of delivering essential facilities to Australians anywhere in a way that is not a substantial burden on the taxpayer and which recovers from the industry sensibly and permits the industry to develop and grow. It is with a very considerable amount of pleasure that I note the substantial initiatives of the Government in the area of aviation and in many other areas of the Budget that have been announced by the Treasurer.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.