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Wednesday, 3 November 1971
Page: 2952

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) - Mr Deputy Speaker,before making my contribution to this debate may I express my satisfaction, and I am sure the satisfaction of most members of the House, that you are occupying the chair? We sincerely hope you will remain there for the rest of the evening. I have a particular and sentimental interest in this debate because my home town is Cloncurry where the idea of Qantas was conceived. Let me make this perfectly clear. Actually Qantas was founded in Winton. It was born there but a part of the conception, at least, took place in Cloncurry and it enjoyed its adolescence in Longreach. The inaugural flight of Qantas took place, if I remember rightly, on 2nd November 1922 from Charleville to Cloncurry via Longreach. I immediately call to mind some of the great names associated with Qantas - Eric Donaldson, Arthur Affleck, Lester Brain and, of course, the greatest of them all, I suppose, when one thinks of the foundation of Qantas, Hudson Fysh. With a good deal of nostalgia I recollect my first flight in an aeroplane with Hudson Fysh when I was a very small boy. I mention all this to indicate that I have a sentimental attachment to this great airline. Its performance and its growth represent a great tribute to all those who have been associated with it. I think that it, probably above all other factors, has spread the name of Australia with honour throughout the world.

I well remember visiting a little restaurant in the mid-west of the United States of America. It was in an area far removed from the normal airline routes. The restaurant had a calendar issued by Qantas Airways Ltd on display and with a burst of, I suppose, brash enthusiasm I said: 'My father was one of the small group of men who got together and kicked this airline off'. The proprietor looked at me and said: Are you some sort of nut? That fellow cooking out in the kitchen is Lyndon B. Johnson'. He did not believe me but here was an example of the name of Qantas being seen right away from the major air routes of the world.

Having said this, I am about to make some comments which 1 hope will be interpreted as constructive, as they are intended to be. I make these remarks because I believe that in the final analysis the profitability of any organisation depends on how the consumer - the man who buys the ticket and travels with an airline - reacts not only to the service he receives in the air but also to the service he receives on the ground. It is my opinion that Qantas has been so concerned with achieving what has been a magnificent record of safety in the air that some of what might be interpreted as the less important things have been neglected. An impression is gained, as one moves around the world, that the people who are in the offices of Qantas and who come in contact with the travellers, do not project the image of Australia as it is accepted in normal circumstances. This may be due to the fact that Qantas employs people of the countries in which its offices are located. In my opinion there is an air of detachment - there is not an air of real concern about the comfort and arrangements of the traveller. This is a serious matter.

Recently we heard in this House a speech by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) which made a profound impression. It could probably be regarded as a classic of its kind. The House was debating the Wool (Deficiency Payments) Bill and he referred to the woollen product. He pointed out how difficult it is to find an ordinary woollen garment on display and for sale in the various retail stores throughout Australia. This point made quite an impact because I suppose that most honourable members consider that it does not matter how much one indulges in grand and expensive public relations operations and it does not matter how much one gives forth on the efficiency of an organisation, in the final analysis it is a matter of direct contact with the public.

In all sincerity. 1 feel that there r a lot to be desired in the operation of this magnificent airline. I am not mentioning this just to be critical. I hope my criticism is constructive. 1 might relate my own experience which I have discussed with other people as I have moved around the world. They have agreed that the circumstances I have experienced do exist. Last year I travelled to the United States to attend the United Nations, and my bookings were entirely in the hands of Qantas. I can say that almost invariably the record remained very consistent; I do not think that one of those arrangements was intact. The rather classic example was that the hotel I had supposedly been booked into in Stockholm was in fact 500 kilometers from Stockholm. Having arrived in New York I wen: to the Qantas office and related to the manager, whom I knew personally, that these bookings had somehow or other gone haywire. He said: 'Yes. We are having some trouble with the people handling these matters. It will not happen again'.

After the meeting of the General Assembly I was to break my journey home in Nevada, mainly for business reasons. The New York manager of Qantas said: Your booking now is absolutely 100 per cent'. He booked me into a little shack known as Caesar's Palace. When I arrived there I said: 'My name is Bob Katter. You have a booking here for me'. They said: Yes, sir'. They looked up their books and there was no record of it. So I thought: 'I am going to see this ons right through'. I saw the fellow in charge of the bookings and he traced it right back to New York, and no booking had been made.

Being exhausted after my business there I broke my journey at Honolulu on the way back. While I was there I discovered that I had not booked a car in Sydney. I am only a boy from the bush, and I asked Qantas representatives whether they could help me out. They said: 'Yes. We will send a telex message to Sydney. We are in touch with our Sydney office continuously. We will get in touch with the Commonwealth car pool'. When I arrived in. Sydney the Commonwealth car pool had never heard any such message. These are only little things. I am giving my own personal experience. Other people have told me that their bookings and all their arrangements en route were absolutely 100 per cent. But I do not think there should be any exception. I think that everything else is of little importance if that human reaction is missing.

Another thing about Qantas is that it employs mainly stewards rather than air hostesses. I brought this matter up recently and was given various reasons as to why this is necessary. I think that male travellers - 1 think if the women are honest they will agree - much prefer to be. ministered to by an air hostess rather than a male steward. An air hostess seems to have a better understanding. They create an almost exotic, domestic atmosphere in the aircraft, and there is something that does not ring true when you have a steward looking after you. These are little human things that I think are terribly important.

I suppose that perhaps with the exception of politicians no-one discusses anything critically more than he does the airlines and the various companies and the service they give and the way they look after you. When a person is abroad he is almost entirely in the hands of the airline with which he is flying. The average person when he is abroad has a feeling of being very much abroad, if I may put it that way, and he becomes entirely dependent on the arrangements that have been made for him by the airline with which he is travelling. My colleague, the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham), pointed out that Qantas is a flag carrier. Hence if Qantas is criticised for these perhaps minor but terribly important things Australia is criticised.

To conclude this theme, I think that Qantas would do well to examine the staff training that is apparently undertaken by Trans-Australia Airlines, because it is generally agreed that the staff of TAA are just wonderful. They seem to have a concern for the most human things that we require and demand when we are travelling. As I say, my first loyalty till the day I die will be to Qantas. When I was a child I lived in the area where Qantas was born. This is why I rather hope that the very important grass roots service we expect will be looked into far more closely. I think that if this happens we will be pretty near perfection.

The profitability of Qantas is guaranteed, in effect, by the Government. This bill is concerned with the raising of a loan for $ 10.1m for the purchase of Boeing 747 aircraft. As we are talking about profitability may I deviate for one moment. Not only the profitability of Qantas but the profitability of the 2 domestic airlines is guranteed by the Government because of the protection these airlines receive. The very sad and very disastrous deterioriation of country airlines just recently should bring to our minds the fact that the profitability of these airlines is guaranteed by this government, by heck, I think that in return they should underwrite the provision of country air services so that we do not see happening what has happened over the last few weeks when towns have been deprived completely of air services.

Let me get back to my theme. In conclusion. I point out that if you examine the record of Qantas you will find that, possibly with the exception of these perhaps less important matters upon which 1 have based my comments tonight, that record is impeccable. We can proudly claim that with the exception of the

United States we record more passenger miles per head of population than does any other country. The United States has a figure of 570; we have a figure of 362. I think this in itself is a tremendous achievement. Qantas is virtually a government company, and one always regards these with suspicion; but of course our airline operates under a separate commission and 1 suppose this is a perfect set-up. As Qantas points out in its annual report, its profitability since the war, although consistent, has always been marginal in relation to revenue. Unfortunately recently we have seen a deterioration in this situation.

As my colleague from North Sydney pointed out, not one person associated with Qantas would want to stand down one pilot or one pilot trainee. I suppose the acme of the ambition of any young man who wants to be a commercial pilot is to become a trainee pilot with Qantas. But what a dreadful thing it is for that young man when he suddenly finds that he has been stood down. Do honourable members think that any person would derive any consolation from that? Not at all. However this is the situation throughout the world, and our friends in the > Opposition realise this. They cannot believe in what they are saying, because if they were to examine the records of any country at the moment they would see that there is this disastrous situation where airlines are facing up to extreme losses.

I think that the profit record of Qantas which shows for various years profits of $2m, $5m, $7m. $20m and $33m, even though these figures as a percentage of revenue may be low, is still a tremendous achievement. Hence I have very much pleasure in supporting the Bill. 1 do not think the amendment can possibly be supported or that the Opposition can convince Government supporters that it should be supported.

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