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Tuesday, 8 November 1977
Page: 3060

Mr MORRIS (Shortland) -The Airline Equipment (Loan Guarantee) Bill 1977 seeks authority for the Treasurer to give a guarantee on behalf of the Australian Government for loans to be raised by Ansett Transport Industries to enable the company to finance the purchase of its eighth Boeing 727-200 series passenger aircraft. It is in line with previous Bills of a similar nature which have been passed by the House on earlier occasions when Ansett Transport Industries has purchased aircraft for its fleet. The Bill is a routine measure and as such the Opposition does not oppose it

In bis second reading speech the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) canvassed a wide range of matters pertaining to the aviation industry. I shall address my remarks to some of the issues that the Minister raised. One of the great problems facing the aviation industry is the selection of aircraft, and the facilities available at airports and the capacities of airports. One of the best documents to which honourable members could refer would be the recent publication of statistics of domestic scheduled airline performance for the year ended 30 September 1977. I wish to draw attention to some of the figures that are shown in relation to three aspects: Firstly, passengers; secondly, freight; and thirdly, mail. In the year ending September 1977 Trans-Australia Airlines flew 3.2 per cent more hours but carried 7 per cent more passengers, a 11.6 per cent increase in freight and a 12 per cent increase in mail on what was carried in the previous year. Similarly, Ansett Transport Industries with a 0.3 per cent increase in hours flown carried 2.7 per cent more passengers, 2.5 per cent more freight and 3.3 per cent more mail.

Without going into the details of the other internal airlines shown in the document, such as Airlines of New South Wales, East West Airlines, MacRobertson-Miller Airline Services, Connair, Qantas and Airlines of South Australia, I want to remark on the total figures for the industry for the year ended September. Looking at the total hours flown we find that there has been a decrease of 1.1 per cent in that year. But the number of passengers carried rose by 4.6 per cent. The domestic airlines carried 9,690 million passengers in the year ending September. As I said that was a 4.6 per cent increase. There was a 5.2 per cent increase in freight and a 5.7 per cent increase in mail carried. I have mentioned those figures to show evidence of increased utilisation of aircraft. Much is said about lower air fares and airport capacities but there is a basic equation as I see it to lower air fares; that is, higher load factors equal lower air fares. The better utilisation and the more people in aircraft on trips the greater the possibilities of lowering the fare for that journey. Those figures show what is happening.

At the same time when we come to the figures for our perennial problem of Mascot they show a reduction in hours flown and an increase in passengers carried. In the year ended September 1977 at Mascot there were 82,138 aircraft movements, a reduction of 0.5 per cent on the figures for the previous year. But 4.983 million passengers were moved through Mascot. That is an increase of 5.5 per cent. So there was very little reduction in the number of aircraft movements but a substantial increase in the number of passengers. Probably the use of larger aircraft would be a factor as also would be better load factors and better utilisation of facilities.

Turning to Brisbane, we find that Brisbane airport had 34,799 aircraft movements which carried 2. 144 million passengers. An increase in aircraft movements of 1.4 per cent was more than countered by an increase in passengers of 4.4 per cent. It is the same story. Melbourne is probably the best example. In that same period Tullamarine airport had 66,662 aircraft movements and handled 4.295 million passengers. There was a reduction in aircraft movements at the airport of 2.2 per cent but an increase in the number of people handled of 5.2 per cent. That brings us back to the basic equation that lower air fares, in the main, equal higher load factors and better utilisation of the industry's facilities.

Much criticism is made from time to time by our political opponents about what happened at Mascot or Brisbane or at other airports. But the simple fact is that for 25 out of the past 28 years -almost for the total period of the development of major civil aircraft operations in Australiathe conservatives who now sit opposite have been responsible. They have been the administrators. Whatever shortcomings exist in our aircraft industry the responsibility lies at their feet. In its relationship with the government the industry sees a problem of uncertainty as to what are the Government's intentions and what should be the guidelines for the industry. I can best evidence this by quoting from Aircraft magazine of October 1977 which reports a statement of the chairman of the Australian National Airlines Commission, Mr Vial. The magazine states:

Sydney airport's serious problem of traffic congestion and increasing noise annoyance could reasonably be met only by early introduction of wide-bodied jet aircraft on domestic air services, Mr Viall has warned. 'But the airlines cannot be expected to place orders for larger, more efficient, but capital intensive new equipment in a situation characterised by falling or stagnant traffic growth, and faced with the prospect of ever-increasing government imposts leading inevitably to still more daunting fare increases,' he said. 'To do so would be an act of financial irresponsibility.'

Mr Viallwas certainly referring to the conditions as they were. In recent times conditions have improved in terms of passenger growth but I think his statement points out the uncertainty that faces the industry in relation to what are the Government's intentions.

In relation to Mascot I now refer to the publication put out by the Major Airport Needs of

Sydney committee. Again we run into the problem of knowing what the Government wants to do. It does not want to discuss it publicly. Friction has developed, as I understand it, between the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government in regard to the activities of the MANS committee. On page 5 of the report it states:

Traffic Management Schemes

This study looked at ways of more effectively using Kingsford-Smith airport without building additional runways. It also considered excluding some types of air-traffic, and reducing some services.

Consideration is being given to the implementation of some of these measures in the near future.

I want to go on from that to deal with the dilemma that is facing the operators of commuter aircraft in Australia at the moment, but particularly in New South Wales. Quite a campaign has been developing around that problem. The Minister recently, as I recall his statement as accurately as I can, said that there is to be no discrimination, or no discrimination against commuter aircraft, that there is no move to shift commuter aircraft out of Mascot, but a system of priority based on weight has been developed. I put it to the Parliament that that, is exactly a means of forcing the commuter operators out of Mascot. The effect is the same. The larger the aircraft, the higher the priority it has. It means that commuter aircraft have to circle for longer periods than commercial aircraft. That increases their fuel consumption. It causes a delay in their time- tabling and they cannot maintain their services and connections. So they have either to put up with providing that kind of service or to move out. On page 9 of its report the MANS Committee states:

For example, the governments may decide to introduce certain operational procedures immediately, and to accept in principle the concept of a second airport at a particular site. However, it may be decided that the initial planning stages should not commence for a number of years, or until the demand for air travel exceeds a certain number of passengers or aircraft.

Then, more significantly on page 1 1, it continues to say in relation to commuter aircraft:

Over the years, measures have been proposed which could lead to more efficient use of existing faculties at KingsfordSmith. These have included:

Excluding certain classes of traffic, such as general aviation, commuter services and some nights within New South Wales. At present 25 per cent of all aircraft movements at Kingsford-Smith are general aviation (mostly small aircraft).

A later suggestion is the placing of a surcharge on aircraft movements at Kingsford-Smith. That surcharge would be passed on as higher air fares which may reduce the demand for air travel. In effect, those charges would be punitive. Their purpose would be to discourage aircraft from using the airport. That brings us back to the claim that is being made by the commuter operators. I know that the commuter operators, in their discussions and in their concern about what the Government has in mind, have displayed deep concern about a discussion which took place between themselves and some officers associated with a review of the operation of Kingsford-Smith. In that discussion the Federal officers are reported to have put a very strong line for the exclusion of commuter aircraft from Kingsford-Smith Airport. I know that the Minister has said that the commuter aircraft industry is over-reacting. I put it to the Parliament once again that there is very good evidence to support the view that the commuter operators are taking, and that is the verbal exchanges which took place in relation to commuter aircraft. Those exchanges are not on record, as I understand it, but certainly a discussion took place.

The Australian Financial Review of 26 October reports a decision made by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. That Association queried the separation times at Mascot for lighter aircraft. Again this is a matter that needs to be taken into account. As was mentioned at the Association's meeting- I raised this point earlier- the separation standards and the associated delays caused unnecessary loss of time and waste of fuel without enhancing safety. One of the inter-city air services, Aero-Pelican Inter City Commuter Air Services Pty Ltd on which I often travel, said that if graded landing priorities were introduced to Mascot it would be the end of small commuter air services. Mr Hilder, the manager, was commenting on the proposal of the Department of Transport to place the small commuter services at the bottom of the landing priority scale. He went on to say:

If we are given a 'D' priority, they are actually telling us that the people of New South Wales do not have as much right to use their own airport as the people of another State do.

So there are good and genuine grounds for the fears of the commuter operators about their future and their access to the airport. The responsibility lies with the Minister and with the Department. In matters such as this more good is achieved by the people responsible coming out into the open and putting the facts on the table in front of the people concerned than by leaving them to be dealt with by departmental memos, exchanges between governments, secret documents and secret reports.

I now turn to the relationship between the aviation industry and the Minister. From reports I have received from within the industry and from the unions, I doubt whether the relationship between the Department of Transport and the industry has ever been at a lower level than it is at present. The industry's disenchantment with government stems from the failure of the Minister to implement the promises he made in the 197S election campaign. At the time he said he would recreate a separate Department of Air. He has not done that. Instead, he has confirmed the role of the expanded Department of Transport which he inherited. He said there would be a halt to increased air navigation charges. Instead, he increased them by 30 per cent within the first 12 months of coming to office. He said that increases in the industry's costs needed to be stabilised. Yet he endorsed a Budget decision to increase the excise on Avtur, thus bringing about an increase of almost 3 per cent in domestic air fares and the prospect of further heavy increases in the price of Avtur under his Government's energy pricing policy and policies which have been supported by him, as a senior Cabinet Minister, m the Cabinet room.

Hisattempt to introduce new regulatory charges for services provided to aviation industry personnel sparked off a protest campaign against himself such as has not been seen in Australia previously. He has postponed the introduction of the new charges, but obviously he hopes to introduce them after 10 December if, regrettably, this Government should be returned to office. It is no wonder that the industry is disenchanted with his performance. I do not believe that any other Minister has taken unto himself the power that this Minister has in the management of his Department.

Since December 1975 we have seen a plethora of secret inquiries into transport, particularly aviation. Let me list just a few of them. The Aviation Industry Review Committee, chaired by Sir Lennox Hewitt, was appointed in March 1976 to examine cost recovery in the aviation industry. No report has been presented to Parliament. I shall come back to that matter later. I refer also to the scandalous McNeil Committee of Inquiry into Australian Government transport undertakings. That was an inquiry conducted by competitors of, clients of and suppliers to the Australian Government transport enterprises. No report has been presented to Parliament, despite repeated requests to the Minister to do so. I refer also to the interdepartmental committee which inquired into the provision of Northern Territory aerial services, with particular reference to Connair Pry

Ltd. I have asked the Minister to table the report, but the best answer I have received is that which he gave to question No. 1 805, when he said:

The decisions of the Government, which are based to some extent on the report -

That is the report of the interdepartmental committee- and the recommendations contained therein, are open to parliamentary scrutiny and judgment.

In other words, the Minister is saying: 'We will have a look at the report; we will get the facts; we will make a decision; you can argue about whether the decision is right or wrong, but you cannot have the information'. It is interesting to note that on page 8 of the Minister's second reading speech he says:

I myself had a number of quite frank discussions with the Chairman of Connair, Mr £.J. Connellan.

That is not good enough. Parliament needs to be told the facts and the factors involved. It needs to be told whether there is justification for the action which the Government is taking so that the matter can be examined publicly. It could well be- I emphasise this- that Connair is being disadvantaged by the course of action which the Government, and the Minister in particular, is following. We do not know the facts. I do not have access to the information. I am sure that the Parliament does not have that access. But if the information was laid on the table where it could be discussed and assessed in the public view, it may well be discovered that Connair and the people of the Northern Territory are entitled to a better level of air services than they are receiving under this Government

I refer now to the Domestic Aviation Policy Review Committee. Again, the report of that Committee is privy to the Minister. The report brought down following the Review of International Civil Aviation Policy again is privy to the Minister. People and organisations could make a submission to that Review and if the person or organisation concerned published that submission it would be available for scrutiny. But we have the ludicrous situation of two separate review committees looking at the same subject and their terms of inquiry overlapping. That creates waste and extravagance. No report has been presented to Parliament and no public hearings were conducted. All I can say is: More power to the Minister, more opportunity for back room deals. That is the only conclusion that one can draw when a government does not want to bring information related to the aviation industry out into the open. It must have something to hide. The question is: What? The Minister is left with more power and is in the position to negotiate, to give out largesse. That may not be the situation, but one cannot blame people for taking that view.

We in the Opposition have been saying that there is a need for a full scale public inquiry into civil aviation. Until that happens, air travellers in Australia will continue to be disadvantaged. Their needs and wants and the industry's answers should be dealt with in a public forum. As I have said, air travellers will continue to be disadvantaged in terms of frequency of services, level of fares and quality of travel. I come back to this basic equation: Lower fares equal higher load factors. How do we achieve that result and how do we at the same time meet the community's needs in terms of services?

Those 3 million migrants in Australia who were not born here have a special interest in the lowering of air fares. They are the people who would like to put a submission to a public inquiry. But that will not happen under this Government; no way. Such inquiries have to be conducted behind closed doors, and the Minister will feed out what he thinks we are entitled to see. But migrants are getting the same kind of second and third class treatment in this area of lower air fares as they are getting from the Government in other areas such as migrant education. At least what the Government is doing in this area is in line with its performance in other areas.

The aviation industry needs to know what the guidelines are and where it is going, especially because of the high capital investment involved and the long lead-in time required in purchasing suitable aircraft and equipment. With the present Minister for Transport and this dilatory government, it is no wonder that the industry is perplexed. I have not been able to get from the Minister a copy of the report of the Hewitt Committee but I have here what is probably part of the conclusions of that report. I will tell the Parliament the reason the Minister will not table this report. The Chairman is Sir Lenox Hewitt.

Mr Hodgman - Is it a stolen document?

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