Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 19 November 1974
Page: 2490

Senator SIM (Western Australia) - I do not wish to make any observations on the very interesting and wise comments made by my colleague, Senator Cotton. As he indicated, the Opposition supports these Bills. But I wish to refer to some of the statements made by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) in his second reading speech dealing with Ansett Airlines of Australia and particularly dealing with the operations of its subsidiary in Western Australia, MacRobertson Miller Airline Services. We have come not to expect too much from the behaviour of some members of the Government. The Minister's speech on this occasion was surely intemperate and unethical even by the standards which the Minister seems to have set himself. He referred to the fact that the Government is willing to grant certain privileges to Ansett in the form of a guarantee for the loans it seeks to purchase new aircraft. I suggest that that is not a privilege at all. By any standard of fairness, it is a right. It enables Ansett to borrow money at commercial interest rates in the same manner as Trans-Australia Airlines has been doing for many years. The Minister need not try to make a martyr of himself in relation to this matter.

The main attack in his second reading speech was on the application and on the approval of the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) for TAA to enter the Western Australian routes. I have said in the past that I do not oppose the entry of TAA- which I recognise as a first-class airline that deserves the support of all Australiansat the right time, at a time when it is commercially possible for the 2 airlines to operate economically. The Minister for Transport seems to think that he has a monopoly of concern regarding transport. It is quite properly a concern of the Minister, it is quite properly a concern of all governments, but air transport is also quite properly the concern of the Western Australian Government. It might suit his intentions to grant TAA immediate entry to Western Australian routes, but Western Australia is quite correctly concerned about any possibility of overall impairment to the State's air services as a result of any decision made by the Minister in Canberra. We should get some of our facts straight. The Minister for Transport has attacked Ansett over its evidence to the Royal Commission. It should be clearly understood that the present Western Australian Government made it clear, when in Opposition, that if it were returned to government at the next State election it would appoint a royal commission to ascertain whether the interests of Western Australia would be best served by the introduction of a second service at this stage in Western Australia's development. The Minister's intemperate attack upon the Royal Commission was answered by the Royal Commissioner, Sir Reginald Sholl, who is a very distinguished Australian. I think I should place on record what Sir Reginald Sholl said in reply to the Minister's attack in his second reading speech. Indeed, having adjourned the Royal Commission, he went to the extent of recalling it to reply to the Minister, Mr Jones. Sir Reginald said:

I have just been handed a cutting from the evening newspaper which purports to contain a report of statements by the Federal Transport Minister.

If it is a correct report- often things are distorted in newspaper summaries- I have no hesitation in saying that some of the comments are thoroughly improper.

I particularly have in mind two or three observations which the Minister is reported to have made.

Sir Reginaldwas referring to the Minister's second reading speech. He went on to say:

That perhaps is mere comment of a political nature and I have already said on an earlier occasion that I am completely uninfluenced by anything of that kind.

Politicians say things which tribunals, judicial or quasi- judicial, often have to disregard.

He went on to say:

I should have thought that a Minister of experience in public life would know better than to describe in those terms submissions on which a royal commissioner has to make findings.

These are submissions for me to consider. They have not yet been made generally public.

I have to make up my own mind as to whether they are unduly lengthy and as to whether they are reliable or not.

So far as their length is concerned -

It should be remembered that Mr Jones criticised their length-

I have seen nothing in them which indicates to me that they are unduly lengthy, and that applies to the submissions of both parties.

They are, in fact, submissions which I myself directed to be lodged and they comply with the directions that I gave.

As to whether any submission is phoney, that is wholly a matter for the tribunal.

Sir Reginaldalso said:

It is highly undesirable that in such a place as the national Parliament descriptions of that kind should be applied to arguments or evidence put before a tribunal.

Senator Townley - What was the date of that?

Senator SIM - It was reported in the 'West Australian' on 19 October. It was made on 18 October.

Senator Townley - The same things were said by the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) in his second reading speech, as reported in the Senate Hansard.

Senator SIM - I have noted that. When confronted about this matter Mr Jones made the surly reply:

I was elected by the people, which is more than he was.

That is very interesting. Sir Reginald was appointed by a government elected by the people.

The Minister for Transport has claimed that the evidence is phoney. Perhaps what irks Mr Jones is that his views about what is good for Western Australia are not shared by a large number of Western Australians. Certainly the evidence before the Royal Commission indicates, first of all, that there is not a great deal of interest in the inquiry in the northern areas of Western Australia which is served by MacRobertson Miller Airlines. It has been reported that Sir Reginald has expressed disappointment about not receiving more evidence in places like Port Hedland, where only 4 witnesses came forward. There was no submission from the Port Hedland Shire Council in support of Trans-Australia Airlines' entering the service. Only 4 witnesses came forward in Broome and no evidence was submitted by the Broome Shire Council. That is true of every area he visited. Sir Reginald was, as I have said, somewhat concerned at the lack of interest being shown in this matter.

If the evidence was phoney, if such an act were in the interests of Western Australia and if the people of the north were crying out for TAA's entry into the service one would have thought that there would have been a great deal of interest shown in and a great deal of evidence given in support of that. Indeed the overwhelming evidence from the people of the north was in support of MacRobertson Miller Airlines continuing as the only operator, at least for the time being. The Minister should be challenged on this matter. Is the evidence given by the airlines as to the projected traffic growth rates phoney? If he believes that it is phoney he should say so. The truth of the matter is that there has been a disappointing increase in the growth rate over the past 12 months. If Mr Jones is concerned about that perhaps he should tell the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) the reason. It is because the tremendous development which took place in the north prior to the advent of Mr Connor has come to a standstill. If the Minister thinks that that evidence is phoney let him say so.

The Minister for Transport referred to the huge savings to the people of Western Australia by the introduction of another airline, but he did not indicate where those huge savings would come from. The evidence does not point to the possibility of huge savings being made. Certainly he referred to the fact that there would be a 2-fare structure, which is very interesting because Mr Jones has put an inquiry in train and had discussions with the airlines about the bringing in of a one fare structure throughout Australia. So if anybody should be accused of being phoney Mr Jones should be accused of being phoney in his second reading speech when he pointed to one of the advantages to the travellers in the north being a 2-fare structure. One wonders whether the first class cabin service provided by MacRobertson Miller Airlines at present would continue with a one fare structure. Before accusing other people of being phoney, perhaps the Minister should examine his own conscience.

The truth of the matter is that the Royal Commissioner will decide these things. He was appointed to decide them. He will decide whether the evidence is phoney. He will decide whether huge savings are or are not to be made and not some bland statement by the Minister for Transport. That will happen despite the flagrant attempt by Mr Jones to influence the Royal Commissioner by adopting stand-over tactics. The Minister and other members of the Ministry have the unfortunate tendency to revert to the use of jackboot methods when they are unable to get their own way. This is a typical example of that. The Minister has immediately turned around and adopted stand-over tactics. Indeed, the allegation about the length and phoniness of submissions is an attack upon the many witnesses who, in good faith, have appeared before the Royal Commission and given evidenceevidence which is concerned about maintaining the very efficient and very good service which is provided in the northern areas of Western Australia. It is interesting to note that when the Royal Commissioner sat in places like Geraldton and Kalgoorlie strong opposition was expressed to the introduction of a second airline. That was expressed because they are not profitable routes for MMA.

Senator Coleman - They do not run at a loss, though.

Senator SIM - I suggest to Senator Coleman that the service between north of Geraldton to Carnarvon and Learmonth runs at a loss. They are naturally concerned because if the more profitable routes- the routes to Port Hedland, Derby and Kununurra, which are at present subsidising them- no longer subsidise the other routes the service to those areas would be reduced. That would inevitable because airlines cannot be expected to run indefinitely unprofitable services.

The same consideration applies to the station services in the outlying areas of the Kimberleys. Evidence was given of concern that if MMA's operations became unprofitable those services would, quite naturally, be the first to suffer. One must remember that the Government's subsidy to those services has been withdrawn. The people who would suffer most and who, I suggest, matter the most are those living on low density routes. They may not matter very much to the Minister- those areas are probably considered by him to be small hamlets- but they certainly matter to the Western Australian Government and to me, as a representative in this Parliament of Western Australia. I believe that we were justified in regarding the Minister's intemperate if not arrogant attitude with a good deal of contempt. It is certainly not doing his cause or the cause of TAA in Western Australia any good. I suppose we should be thankful that the Minister's attitude will not frighten the Western Australian Government nor, as Sir Reginald Sholl has made clear, will it frighten him. I suggest that it would have been proper and more ethical for the Minister to have waited until the royal commissioner's report was received before making comments such as these which were undoubtedly, as Sir Reginald suggested, aimed to influence the royal commissioner. If anybody doubts the need for a single airline operation I suggest that he study the overwhelming evidence which has been submitted in support of such an operation.

Another matter on which I express concern is the possibility of a loss of jobs by Western Australians particularly at a time, such as this, of high unemployment. I refer to the highly trained pilots, hostesses, engineers and others employed by MacRoberton-Miller Airlines. It is unlikely that they would find jobs with TAA, even if TAA had all the best intentions in the world, which I am sure that it would have. Another point 1 wish to make is that the operation of DC9 aircraft at the moment would be completely uneconomic on the Perth-Darwin route. Over a period of a week the average number of passengers flying Perth-Darwin or Darwin-Perth is 103, which would not fill one DC9. We know that a DC9 could operate at only 75 per cent capacity because of the state of the runways and the airports generally. Now, in these times of great difficulty, the Minister has suddenly found $4m of something to spend to upgrade the airports. I suggest that there is no need to upgrade the airports at the moment. A service is being conducted and maintained. It is an efficient service, and it is providing a first class service to the people of the north. For the Minister to quote figures of first and economy class fares, in view of his statement that he is discussing with the airlines the introduction of a one fare structure, is to say the least a phoney argument. Perhaps he works on the principle that if his actions are phoney everybody else's actions are phoney as well.

I turn to that part of the Minister's second reading speech in which quite obviously he is putting pressure on the airlines to introduce prematurely what are known as wide bodied jets. I suggest that at this stage their introduction is highly improper. He bases his argument not on the consideration of commercial or technical grounds, as I would read it, but on political grounds only because the wide bodied jets are somewhat quieter than the present aircraft in service. All of us want to see the introduction of quieter jets, but it is a dangerous precedent for any Minister to adopt to override the commercial and technical judgments of the airlines which, as Senator Cotton, with all his experience of airline operations, said, have always been sound in Australia. We are very fortunate that people of the quality of the people in charge of Ansett, TAA and Qantas have never made a mistake in the introduction of new aircraft. Their judgments have always been sound. Only yesterday in the Financial Review' there was an article by John Stackhouse in which he suggested that TAA is having very grave second thoughts about the purchase of wide bodied jets in the foreseeable future. I think the suggestion is that TAA was considering cancelling its initial order for these jets because it does not believe that the time to introduce them is right. It realises, as other airlines realise, that the traffic forecasts present a pretty gloomy picture. We could easily have a cutdown in services if these jets were brought into operation too soon.

It would also mean fewer direct flights between capital cities, which are becoming more popular today. They would have to pick up the passengers at intermediate ports. This would reduce the service which the travelling public is receiving. I would regard with grave concern the loss of direct flights from Melbourne to Perth because of the premature introduction of bigger aircraft. I believe that the matter rests with the airlines. They must make their commercial and technical judgments after a proper evaluation of traffic forecasts and of the types of aircraft most suited to their requirements. I believe that the whole history of the airline industry in Australia shows that the airlines do not require prodding or pressure of any sort from a Minister as to when they should bring into operation new types of aircraft. Their commercial and technical judgments must be respected and deserve to be respected, not the views of a Minister who knows nothing whatever about aircraft and who is not capable of making a proper evaluation of the type of aircraft to introduce into Australia or the commercial and technical reasons as to when and why they should be introduced.

The Minister's policy of trying to pressure TAA and maybe Ansett also could have disastrous effects upon the airline industry of Australia. I suggest that his policy is already having this effect. There are growing numbers of complaints and expressions of concern at the drop in safety standards in our airline operations. I note that according to the 'Age' of 16th of this month Mr Garlick, the industrial officer of the Civil Air Operations Officers' Association, when advocating a civil aviation agency similar to the Federal Aviation Agency in the United States, said that aviation safety standards in Australia were going down hill and the best way to stop this was to establish a new civil aviation body. This statement expresses the concern of those involved at all levels of civil aviation at the action of this Government in abolishing the Department of Civil Aviation, which was a highly efficient organisation, and incorporating it into a great bureaucratic Department of Transport where it is losing its identity. Mr Garlick pointed out that it is quite possible, under the present arrangement, for an operational expert in shipping to be put in charge of air traffic control. As far as I know, the Minister has not challenged that statement. It is also intersting that in hearings before the Royal Commission counsel for the hostesses expressed concern at the safety standards of the north-west airports in Western Australia. He made the point that many TAA hostesses were concerned about poor emergency services at some Australian airports, especially in the north-west. If this be true, then it is a damning indictment of the Minister and his administration.

I mentioned earlier the question of redundancies in Western Australia should this service be introduced too soon before proper traffic growth. Mr Dynon, the legal officer for the Australian Airline Hostesses Association, said that the Association took no stand one way or the other on the desirability of a second air service in the north-west but it was concerned about possible redundancies. There were now 68 air hostesses employed with MacRobertson Miller Airlines but there was no guarantee that TAA would absorb hostesses should they lose their jobs.

I regret having to say these things but they have to be said. If a Minister makes provocative statements like this- provocative unsupported statements- then attention should be drawn to them. My concern is for an efficient air service in Western Australia. I do not wish to see the situation being changed at this stage for ideological reasons merely to satisfy the whim of a Minister. The proper course is for the Minister to await the report of the Royal Commissioner and then to consider the recommendations made in the report.

Suggest corrections