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Thursday, 12 October 1972
Page: 1508

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) - Several matters emerge from the report and ministerial statement presented by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton). The first is that the report of Qantas Airways Ltd which he has tabled is for the year ended 31st March 1972. As I understand it, the estimates for the Department of Civil Aviation have been dealt with already by Estimates Committee D. I think that it is not proper that there should be such a delay in the presentation of the report of Qantas to the Senate. The report ought to be made available at least before the estimates of the Department are dealt with in order that matters may be raised in the Committee hearings. It is true that they may be raised subsequently in the Senate, but the appropriate procedure is to deal with them in the Estimates Committee. I ask why the report was not tabled in sufficient time for this to be done.

Next, it is apparant that a substantia] loss has been suffered by Qantas. While the Minister indicates that there has been some change of attitude by Qantas in relation to a number of matters and while he speaks of the commercial initiatives of Qantas, I well recall that some of the matters which are now being referred to as commercial initiatives by Qantas were suggested several years before Qantas took those initiatives. They were suggested in this chamber by members from the various Parties. On all hands there was a request that Qantas do something about introducing fares which were within the reach of the ordinary person. It took a long time for those initiatives to be taken, after it had become apparent to the ordinary observer and certainly to honourable senators that such a course was necessary. The predictions which were made in this Senate that not enough was being done by Qantas and that it would run into very heavy weather unless it bestirred itself certainly have been borne out.

I hope that what has been said by the Minister indicates a considerable change of heart. We welcome what has been done in regard to the fares for holidays. Nothing has been said, though, about introducing a general low fare structure including low fares for those engaged in trade and commerce. I would hope that Qantas would not continue to regard those who engage in trade and commerce as being in a captive class. Concessions designed for holiday tours should not be aimed at preventing those who are engaged in trade or commerce and business or government from being able to take advantage of low fare structures.

Australia is in a special position in the world. Our great difficulty is our geographical isolation. In the period since European civilisation commenced here, the one factor which has militated against us in trade, in commerce and in culture has been our separation and isolation from the rest of the world. That has been reduced by technological advances in the sense that the time difference has been broken down. However, the expense remains. Australia should make every effort to reduce costs of communication and the cost of travel between this country and the rest of the world. I hope that the Minister for Civil Aviation will be able to ensure that Qantas plays a real part in endeavouring to reduce this geographical isolation. It is apparent that the interests of Qantas do not necessarily coincide with the national interest in this matter. It may be that the general interest of Australia would be served even if more airlines were operating into Australia or if fares were cut to a point where it would not be possible for Qantas to make a profit. I am not saying that this follows, of course, but the interests do not necessarily coincide. I hope that the general national interest will be given attention and that the problem of air travel between Australia and the rest of the world will not be considered merely as a matter of whether Qantas makes a profit.

Mr President,I think some of the matters raised in this statement are of sufficient importance to require perhaps some inquiry by a standing committee of the Senate into the operations of Qantas; the appropriate committee would appear to be the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations. I ask the Minister to give some consideration to this. I do not propose to move a formal motion, but I ask the Minister to give some consideration to this. Having raised these questions, I want to say also that I think the Senate is indebted to the Minister for having gone further than the annual report and made a statement which gives a good deal of information about what has happened and why it happened. I for one am very pleased to see that the Minister is taking a constructive approach and indicating an attitude which, if pursued, would give one heart that there will be a considerable improvement in the operation of what is, after all, a very great national undertaking - one which we hope will prosper and of which we have been proud in the past.

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