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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 669

Mr THORBURN (Cook) - Mr Speaker,today His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, unveiled a memorial to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force. It is appropriate, therefore, that the House should give some consideration to the operations of No. 34 Squadron, the transport wing of the RAAF. Honourable members will be aware that a senator of this Parliament was unable to travel on an aircraft of this squadron last weekend with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant) because the name of that senator did not appear on the passenger list for that flight. This occurred even though the area covered by the flight was one in which this senator normally operates and is part of the area of his State which he specifically represents. This senator is a dedicated member of this Parliament and, on at least 2 occasions, he has undertaken tours of the area visited by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to meet bis constituents and to see their problems at first hand so that he may represent them in this Parliament

It appears to me that on the whole question of the use of what is incorrectly described as the VIP Flight this Parliament has become subservient to outside opinion. Let me go over the history of this matter. In 1967, a question was asked in this Parliament - I think by a member of the Australian Democratic Labor Party - about the use of so-called VIP aircraft. I say that these aircraft are erroneously called VIP aircraft because that description does not give a true picture of the operation whatsoever. That term also gives a false impression of the use to which these aircraft are put. But the question was asked and the matter was debated. There was much ado about nothing for a long period. The question involved was one of credibility and was not related to the use of the aircraft.

Unfortunately, the Press took up the cudgels and other events occurred. The debate continued for a long period and the Parliament became supersensitive about the VIP aircraft issue. The position has arisen now that this great tool that is available to members of this Parliament is not being used as it should. The use of these aircraft is not being viewed in its proper perspective. Ministers and members of this Parliament are not putting the available resources to the best use. The Press makes a great deal of play about junkets. Let me say that I do not believe that any member of this Parliament who must travel as much as most members do or who travels as far as a number of members must and who lives away from home as often and as long as members do would necessarily elect to travel somewhere simply because this method of transport was available to that destination. Normally, members of this Parliament are dedicated people who learn bv what they see. In this respect, I wish to quote from the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment which inquired into the environmental conditions of Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders and the preservation of their sacred sites. That report states:

The Committee has spent 3 weeks in the field on visits to the Northern Territory and Western Australia and has found these field trips of inestimable value. They have contributed enormously to our appreciation of the rich cultural heritage of the Aborigines and to our understanding of their traditional relationships with the land and the physical features of the countryside around them.

I am quite sure that that statement reflects an example of the type of education that members of Parliament receive when they are able to travel to different areas as members of standing, joint or select parliamentary committees. I would suggest that, when any Minister undertakes a tour of this nature - it could be a visit by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs or any other Minister - it is quite competent and should be the order of the day for one ot two members of the Opposition and of the Government who are particularly interested in those matters that the Minister is going to see to travel with the Minister. lt would do Ministers, members and their respective officers good, I think, to look at the problems faced by those honourable members who travel to this Parliament from South Australia and, particularly, Western Australia. Any honourable member who has been to Western Australia, who has travelled from Perth to Melbourne on the aircraft that leaves at 12.45 a.m. and arrives at Tullamarine at 5.30 a.m. and who then has been required to wait a further 2 hours to catch an aircraft to fly to Canberra must realise that this journey is no great pleasure. A number of members of Parliament must undertake this journey many times when Parliament is sitting. lt seems to me that No. 34 Squadron could be used to transport members of Parliament who live long distances from Canberra to and from their respective States so that so much of their time is not taken up in travelling. One could argue that, if seats are available on commercial flights to and from the respective States, those seats should be used. But I have travelled to Western Australia and I have seen passengers put off aircraft because not enough room is available for ordinary commuters. Obviously, on occasions when members of Parliament are travelling, insufficient seats are available for the number of persons who wish to travel on the aircraft. It seems to me that we ought to make better use of this squadron. 1 can find in Hansard one reference only to the cost of operating No. 34 Squadron. In this respect the amount of $450,000 was given on 25th October 1967. I am unable to say whether this was the total cost of the operation of this wing for the financial year in question or whether this was the cost of the actual flights that were made by it in transporting members of this Parliament. I would be most interested to know what happens to the personnel and flight crews of No. 34 Squadron when their services are not required to transport members of this Parliament, His Excellency the Governor-General or distinguished visitors from overseas.

I think that it is time for this Parliament to take an objective view of this squadron. The fact that a senator who spends as much time on parliamentary duties as the honourable senator in question does was not given permission to travel on this flight last week-end in his own area of activity is an absolute indictment of the attitude adopted to these aircraft. The rules governing the use of these aircraft should be amended so that No. 34 Squadron is put to better use.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! It being 11 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House, the House stands adjourned until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 27th March 1973.

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