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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1988

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - I rise tonight to raise a matter which is of considerable concern to the employees of the Government Aircraft Factory at Avalon in my electorate and which is also of concern to other employees in the aircraft industry in Victoria. Quite recently the Minister for Supply (Mr Garland) informed me that the Avalon plant of the Government Aircraft Factories was not involved in any merger arrangements.

Yesterday Mr Churcher, the Manager of the Government Aircraft Factories, circulated a letter headed 'Merger of Aircraft Production Facilities at Fishermen's Bend and Avalon'. This seems to be a change in attitude in a period of only 7 days. In the letter which has been circulated the employees in the first instance have been told that they should not worry about their future employment. In the second instance they have been told that when the merger comes into effect most likely there will be substantial alterations in the staff structure. In the third instance they have been told that they should not leave the industry, that they should place their trust in the management of the Government Aircraft Factories and that the best people will be kept in employment. These employees have no way of knowing who are the best people.

I believe that a number of questions should be answered by the Minister, not by the employees of the various departments. I think that the matter should be fairly and quickly cleared up. There is a lot of misconception and before long there may be armed camps among the employees of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the Government Aircraft Factories, because in each case the employees are concerned about their future employment. The employees of the Government Aircraft Factories are, in the main, employed by the Commonwealth. A number of them are permanent public servants and they are concerned about their future employment and their future as public servants in any merger of the factories. The other matter which concerns the employees of the Government Aircraft Factories is the type of bias which might be displayed. The letter which has been circulated indicates that it is an industry with a commercial bias. I think that would mean that it is a commercial operation as opposed to commercial management.

There are a number of things which I think the employees and this House are entitled to know. First, what is the exact structure of the committees which are discussing the merger arrangements? Are the 2 undertakings equally represented? As it is now apparent that the Government Aircraft Factories at Avalon are included, are the Commonwealth. Aircraft Corporation's engine and helicopter divisions involved in this operation? Is the merger to take place within a year, or will it take 4 years to arrange as I understand the Australian Council of Trade Unions has been told? Have the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation's management personnel been itemising equipment and allocating positions for that equipment within their own factory? Is the Corporation's own equipment largely due for replacement and therefore will the merger enable the Corporation to continue as a commercial operation without having to purchase new equipment? These are matters of substance which I think the Government or the Minister should clear up for the Parliament. Was a previous proposal put forward and rejected by a government under a former Prime Minister?

I am concerned about the feeling of insecurity which is building up among employees who for a long period of years now have been under a constant threat of loss of employment in a trade at which they have become extremely skilled and in which they are irreplaceable. I believe it is important that this industry should survive and extremely important that it should do so as a Government controlled industry. It is a part of our defence structure. Despite the remarks which have been passed from time to time by the Minister for the Navy (Dr Mackay), there appears to be no suggestion that the naval dockyards will be handed over to private enterprise. I know that the situation in the aircraft industry is somewhat different but I think that this Parliament should be told fairly and clearly that the public interest in the aircraft industry will be protected. It should also be told that there will be no handing over of assets on any large scale to a private company which would mean that the taxpayers would be subsidising the company by providing it with equipment which it otherwise would have to purchase.

It is also important that those persons who are absorbed in any merger arrangement should be given some guarantees of future employment. It could well be that in the initial stages persons would be absorbed into the new industry but that within a very short time they would find themselves eased out of it. It could well be that they could lose Public Service positions by being merged into the new industry without any guarantees of continuity of future employment. This is a very important and touchy subject for the people involved in the industry. For a number of years - since I have been a member of Parliament - I have consistently had representations from the aircraft industry, as it is established in my electorate, because of its doubtful and dubious future and because of an apparent total lack of forward planning. At the moment the situation is such that uncertainty reigns supreme. 1 do not think anyone employed in the industry is very happy about the current situation. I do not believe that the letter circulated among employees has clarified the position to any great extent.

I want to raise one other matter. It concerns an individual employed by the Government Aircraft Factories. Some time ago the gentleman concerned applied to join the provident fund which is provided for employees of Government organisations. Subsequently, during processing, the file and his application were lost. He was told that he would have to submit another application, lt is approximately one year since his original application was made. From correspondence which I received from the Minister for Supply last week I am informed that there is no way in which the date of his acceptance as a contributor to the provident fund could be made retrospective to the date of his original application. While the Minister indicated that he regretted that this man would lose provident fund contributions for that period it was unavoidable.

This is a severe injustice. The person concerned submitted an application properly. Through no fault of his the application form is no longer available. I think there should be some way of getting, around the red tape involved so as to enable this person to benefit by being able to join the provident fund from the date on which his application was submitted. It has been admitted that his file was lost and that it was not his fault that the application form was hot duly processed. I believe that to penalise him by a substantial amount is a totally wrong attitude to adopt. There should be some way in which his difficulty can be overcome. I raise that matter because I believe it to be a case of a very serious injustice to an individual. He did not lose his file. Officers of the Department of Supply lost his file. He should not have to pay the penalty for someone else's mistakes. That is the situation.

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