26th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the
Leader of the Government in the Senate whether the Australian Government and our own expert aircraft defence authorities are fully aware of the criticism levelled by both the United States Senate Defence Committee and the British Defence Department at certain defects in the F111 fighter bomber planes which have been ordered for Australia. Can the Minister tell the Parliament what action is being taken to ensure that these planes are the perfect aircraft for our purposes? What investigation is being made to ascertain whether adverse statements about the F111 have any foundation?
– The Department of Air and the Government are well aware of criticism of the F111 in the United States of America. If the honourable senator reads the statement made by the Minister for Air in relation to this aircraft, he will find that the model most criticised in the United States is the F111B which is being prepared for the American Navy. As I understand the Minister’s statement, the model ordered by Australia will be delivered on time and will be a first class aircraft for Australia.
– Has the Minister for Education and Science seen in the Sydney Daily Telegraph’ what purports to be a photograph of a group of maiden merino ewes with their cross-bred lambs? Is this a genuine case of virgin birth or could it be attributed to some spectacular achievement by the officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, hitherto unpublished, in the field of animal reproduction?
– I have not actually seen the photograph referred to, but if it is described inthe way in which the honourable senator says it is I would at once dissociate the CSIRO from the whole affair. I think this is something more to do with art than with science. Probably the spectacular achievement has been on the part of the journalist who wrote the caption rather than anybody else.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, relates to altered parking facilities at the Adelaide airport. Will the Minister investigate complaints by drivers of motor cars parked at the airport on Sunday last that their departure from the parking area was delayed from 15 to 20 minutes because of congestion in the exit lanes, which have not been improved even though parking fees continue to apply?
– -As requested by the honourable senator, I will seek some information from the Minister for Civil Aviation on the point that has been raised.
– I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether he can confirm to the Senate an announcement by the Prime Minister in another place relating to the forthcoming visits to Australia of the Prime Minister of India, Mrs Gandhi, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr Lester Pearson. Recognising the impositions of the time factor, will steps be taken to ensure that future visits by at least some Prime Ministers or heads of state include States of the Commonwealth other than New South Wales and Victoria, especially as so many Prime Ministers seem to be planning very welcome visits to Australia? Will the Minister note the dates of the coming Adelaide Festival of Arts - from 9th to 23rd March - and suggest that the dates of one of the proposed visits coincide with them?
– I do not think the honourable senator would want me to say other than that I can confirm the statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday. He did make the announcement mentioned. It is a fact that these very distinguished visitors are coming to see us. I take the honourable senator’s point. He wishes these important people to see as much of Australia as possible. He wishes to get them away from the milk run - Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. As a representative of a small
State I can understand that. I shall have pleasure in directing the question to the Prime Minister for his consideration.
– I address a question to you, Mr President. It is supplementary to that asked by Senator Davidson, and relates to the forthcoming visit to Australia of the highly esteemed Prime Minister of India in the New Year. In view of the fact that at the time now scheduled for this visit the Senate will normally be in recess, will you use your good offices with the Government to ensure that as many members of the Senate as possible, particularly all women senators, will have an opportunity to meet this very distinguished visitor who has done so much for her country and for the Commonwealth?
– I anticipate that the port of entry of the Prime Minister of India will be in Western Australia. Knowing the honourable senator’s particular sentimental reason for wanting her to visit Perth, I shall be pleased to make those representations to the Prime Minister. Further, 1 shall be very pleased also to make the suggestion to the Western Australian branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Has any vessel engaged in the prawning industry recently been quarantined in any north Queensland port? If so, has the vessel - or have the vessels - been associated with the Japanese mother ship at present operating in that general area? What is the suspected illness, and what is the name of any vessel so quarantined?
– A New Guinea-registered vessel was quarantined at Weipa recently after a Papuan member of the crew, during a routine quarantine inspection, was found to have a rash. The Papuan and the vessel, together with one person on shore who bad been in contact with the vessel, were quarantined. Quarantine officers from Brisbane inspected the patient and determined that the illness was not smallpox or a quarantinable disease. At the moment, 1 cannot give the honourable senator the name of the vessel.
– I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General whether the Attorney-General has given consideration to the Matrimonial Causes Act and whether he is prepared to state what guide lines there are in regard to the suppression of names. Will he obtain from the judge in the case that I mentioned in the debate on the adjournment the reasons that decided that judge to suppress the names? Finally, does the Attorney-General believe that the present power of discretion is justifiable in the public interest?
– The honourable senator is referring to a matter which he has raised in the Senate before. It relates to an action in which a judge, exercising his discretion, directed that some information should not be published. I think the first thing I should do is to repeat what I have already said in this chamber in reply to the statement made by Senator Turnbull in the debate on the adjournment. The honourable senator is referring to the Matrimonial Causes Act which is the result of the introduction of a private member’s Bill passed by both Houses of this Parliament on a completely non-party basis. The Act states that the names, addresses and occupations of parties and witnesses, the names of members of the court, counsel and solicitors, and various other pieces of information may be published. The Act also gives the court a discretion if it thinks fit in any particular proceedings to order that none of the matters to which I have referred may be printed or published.
The first point that I seek to make is that by an Act of this Parliament the court has been given the discretion to publish or not to publish matters which come before it. In those circumstances I should have thought that the suggestion which came from the honourable senator that a member of the Executive should question - or cross examine a judge on why it was that he exercised a discretion that was given to him by law had very serious implications for the relationship between an executive and the judiciary which has been built up with considerable struggle over a long period of years. It would appear to me to be completely wrong to suggest that a member of the Executive - as the honourable senator asks should happen - should go to the judge and ask what reasons he had for exercising a discretion that was given to him by an Act of Parliament to exercise as he saw fit.
I am unable to answer as to the personal beliefs of the Attorney-General. In any case, I would have thought that the use of question time to ask a Minister about the personal beliefs of another Minister would be out of order. If the honourable senator wants to know, he might ask the AttorneyGeneral himself in which case he might or might not get an answer.
– My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. What are the requirements of Commonwealth law for clothing to be worn by meat operatives engaged in the preparation of meat for export? Is there any relationship between these requirements and the conditions of the employment of the men?
– Recently, amendments to the Commonwealth export meat regulations were promulgated to clarify the requirements of the Commonwealth in respect of clothing which should be worn by personnel engaged in the preparation of meat for export. I would stress that there has always been provision in those regulations on this matter and the amendments were introduced primarily for the purpose of clarification of those requirements. Briefly, the regulations require all personnel engaged in the slaughter and dressing of animals and the preparation of meat for export to be dressed in clean clothing - a necessary hygienic protection which I do not think anyone disputes. As to the relationship of this requirement to the conditions of employment of the men, this is a matter between the employees and their employers. The men have access to appropriate arbitration tribunals. It is not a matter for the Commonwealth; nor is it an appropriate subject for Commonwealth regulations.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry and follows on the question asked by Senator Bull. I ask the Minister: Is he aware that in most export abattoirs in most States equipment and overalls are supplied free to the slaughtermen and operators and that the responsibility for the observance of proper clothing conditions and proper health conditions is placed upon the employer? In view of this fact, will the Minister give consideration to the regulations which impose on the employees the responsibility for observance and the penalty for nonobservance?
– I thought that my answer to the question asked by Senator Bull made the position plain. I said: ‘It is not a matter for the Commonwealth; nor is it an appropriate subject for Commonwealth regulations’.
– My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry is supplementary to previous questions relating to meatworks. Is it a fact that the regulation recently gazetted in relation to the clothing of employees in meatworks applies only to certain employees?
– I have not examined the regulation and would like an opportunity to do so before replying to the honourable senator. I will transmit the question to the Minister for Primary Industry and see whether he can provide an answer for the honourable senator.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport seen a statement made by Mr G.D’A. Chislett, the economist of the Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council, when addressing a seminar of the International Cargo Handling Co-ordination Association, to the effect that when the United Kingdom-Australia container trade starts in 1969 the Conference lines will have a monopoly? In view of the fact that the very basis of the Conference line type of shipping service is the avoidance of competition amongst members, will the Minister state whether the Government is committed to condoning the extension and perpetuation of this monopoly, or will careful consideration be given to bringing the Australian National Line into competition with the Conference vessels.
– No, I have not seen the statement in the detail mentioned by the honourable senator and for that reason I ask that the question be placed on the notice paper so that I can refer it to the Minister for Shipping and Transport.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. As it is understood that Victoria has rejected the Commonwealth’s offer to provide the cost of constructing incinerators for the disposal of ships garbage, is the Minister satisfied that adequate quarantine precautions are being taken in that State to dispose of ships garbage in such a way that there is no risk of foot and mouth disease and similar diseases being introduced into Australia?
– [ have noticed this comment in the Press and ] will bring the question to the attention of my colleague, the Minister for Health.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General by stating that time and time again we have been told by Ministers in this chamber that they will take queries to the Minister concerned in another place. I have raised the matter of the Matrimonial Causes Act on many occasions. Apparently the Minister, in reply to a previous question, stated that he did not know the opinion of the Attorney-General on the aspect raised. Why has he not discussed this matter with the Attorney-General and learned the Attorney-General’s views? After all, he is the Minister representing the Attorney-General in this place. Will he find out whether the Attorney-General believes that the discretion given to judges by this Parliament should be withdrawn by this Parliament?
– The honourable senator knows, or should know, that when he has raised this general matter on previous occasions I have discussed it with the Attorney-General and have brought the Attorney-General’s answer back here to pass on to him. It is not my fault if he was not here when those answers were brought back, but I point out that they appear in Hansard. As to the second point, I say to the honourable senator that this and the other House of the Parliament have passed legislation giving members of the judiciary discretion in certain respects. I do not propose to ask the Attorney-General whether, in his personal opinion, the legislation agreed to by both these Houses is good, bad, wrong or anything else. If the honourable senator wants to get a persona] opinion of that kind, let him go and ask the Attorney-General.
– Is the Minister for Science and Education aware that Canberra has once again established a claim to be a unique city in that last year, contrary to the trend in other Australian and American cities, female births in the Australian Capital Territory were in excess of male births and that scientists are suggesting that climatic factors may be the cause of this most desirable result? Has any research on this matter been done by officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation? Does the Minister not think that this is a most worthy subject of research, or do not the researches of the CSIRO extend to human beings?
– I do not know of any research’ that has been engaged in by the CSIRO or any other scientific organisation to discover why more females than males are born in the ACT.
– It would be a good idea.
– I am not sure that it is really something to which the resources of the nation should be devoted to any great extent. If we got some scientific results from such experiments it just might lead to arguments as to whether we should apply them to get more females than males or not apply them in order to get more males than females.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Has the Government received recently from the Queensland Government a request for financial assistance to provide general facilities at any Gulf of Carpentaria ports for prawn processing operations? In particular, I refer to the provision of facilities like special entry roads and special port facilities, the provision of water for processing and that sort of thing. If the Minister has not this information at his fingertips, will he endeavour to find whether such an approach has been made, whether it has been considered, and whether there is a likelihood of an affirmative answer being given?
– At this stage I am not aware of any request that has been made by the Queensland Government to the Commonwealth Government for the provision of the facilities to which the honourable senator refers. From a recent visit to the area I do know that unquestionably in the Gulf of Carpentaria an enormous industry is developing which will be of tremendous value to Australia. That industry is based on prawn beds the existence of which has now been established in this vast area. I understand that a number of companies are interested in the area which is so big, I believe, that there would be plenty of room for them to operate with great benefit to themselves and great benefit to the export business of Australia.
– I direct a question to the Leader ‘of the Government in the Senate. Has any request for Commonwealth assistance been made by the Western Australian Government for the purpose of deepening Geraldton harbour? If the answer is yes, what consideration has been given to such request?
– As I understand it, the problem at Geraldton is the entrance which is shallow and of a rock formation which has been difficult to remove. The last reference I heard to this was that consideration was being given to using an atomic blast to remove the rock and deepen the entrance. That is the only information I have. The port is very busy. I have no knowledge at this stage as to whether special assistance has been requested by the Western Australian Government.
– -My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is the Minister able to inform the Senate of the reasons for the refusal by the Victorian Government to accept the offer of the Federal Government relating to the erection of incinerators for the disposal of ships garbage?
– I cannot inform the Senate of the reasons but I will be pleased to ask my colleague the Minister for Health and, if possible, obtain from him the information for the honourable senator.
(Question No. 226)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
What powers has the Government to control or prohibit the sending of moneys out of Australia?
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer:
The remittance of money abroad is subject to the provisions of Part III of the Banking Act 1959-1966 and to the Banking (Foreign Exchange) Regulations in force under that Part. In addition, it is an offence under the Defence Force Protection Act 1967 to take or send money abroad to certain specified bodies.
(Question No. 271)
asked the Minis ter for Repatriation, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable senator’s questions are as follows:
(Question No. 290)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
How much finance has been granted by the Commonwealth Government to the States since 1957 for bush fire relief?
– -The Treasurer has supplied the following answer:
The following payments have been made to the States for bush fire relief since 1957:
(Question No. 316)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
Do Australians who reside in a foreign country, and who qualify for and vote in that country’s elections, forfeit Australian citizenship? If so, does the Government propose to follow the example of the United States Government which is reviewing its existing policy on this matter?
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answer:
Section 17 of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948-1967. provides that an Australian citizen of full age and of full capacity who, while outside Australia and New Guinea, by some voluntary and formal act other than marriage, acquires the nationality or citizenship of a country other than Australia, shall thereupon cease to be an Australian citizen.
The Department of Immigration is not aware of any case in which an Australian citizen has lost Australian citizenship solely by voluntarily enrolling for or voting at elections in a foreign country.
(Question No. 332)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answer:
My Department is extremely interested in the question of mental illness among migrants, and in particular among migrant women. The statistics held in the Department, however, are not in a form which would enable a comprehensive answer to the questions raised by the honourable senator.
The honourable senator will know that the treatment of mental illness is a responsibility of the State governments. I am therefore seeking the necessary data from these authorities.
(Question No. 365)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has provided me with the following answer to the honourable senator’s questions:
On the particular day to which the honourable senator refers, TAA experienced schedule disruptions affecting a number of routes and some revision of services was necessary to minimise passenger inconvenience.
The morning Electra service MelbourneLauncestonHobartMelbourne was delayed for mechanical reasons to the extent that it could not leave Melbourne until approximately the same time as the Melbourne-Launceston-Melbourne Viscount service. As the Viscount was needed to substitute on another route because of the disruptions I have mentioned, Launceston passengers destined for Melbourne were embarked in the Electra and travelled via Hobart to their destination. Unfortunately this meant that Sydney bound passengers missed the normal connection and had a wait of approximately 11/2 hours at Melbourne.
The possibility of transferring the LauncestonMelbourne passengers to Ansett-ANA was considered but not adopted because their flight did not arrive in Melbourne until a few minutes after the TAA Electra service.
Where delays occur, they invariably affect more than one route and the airlines rearrange services so as to minimise the inconvenience caused to the travelling public. Wherever possible passengers are notified as much in advance as possible and the services of the other carrier are used if this would assist the situation.
The management of TAA expressed regret to the passengers for the inconvenience caused and, where possible, advised passengers in advance of the changed arrangements. In the case of the honourable senator I understand advance notice was not possible and for this the management of TAA extends an apology.
I cannot agree with the generalisation that the cancelling of scheduled flights by the airlines has reached significant proportions. The airlines are most anxious to maintain schedules as published but, where for operational or mechanical reasons the flight has to be delayed, safety becomes the paramount consideration. I accept the assurances given by both airlines that they are doingall within their power to give to the public the high standard of regular, safe and efficient air services to which Australia has become accustomed. From our comparison of Australian records with those overseas, it is clear that our airlines can claim a most satisfactory record.
As to the last aspect of the honourable senator’s question, from what I have already said it is clear that the convenience of passengers is second only to safety as a consideration in determining the scheduling of air services.
Report on Items
– I present a report by the Tariff Board on the following subjects:
Whisky, gin and vodka.
I ask leave to make a statement in respect of this report.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– In conducting this inquiry, which arose from representations by the Association of Distillers of Australian Whisky, Gin and Vodka, the Tariff Board exercised the discretion allowed under the terms of reference and accepted evidence relating to all potable spirits. The Board found that local whisky had been experiencing a declining share of the local potable spirits market especially in comparison with local brandy and imported whisky. The Board also observed that the profitability of Australian whisky was generally lower than that of other potable spirits.
There is at present an excise differential of $3.10 per proof gallon in favour of brandy when compared with whisky. The Board recommended that this differential be reduced by $1.50 to $1.60 per proof gallon and also that the protective margin for local whisky against imported whisky be increased by $1.50 per proof gallon. The present protective margins are general $1.70 and preferential $1.40 per proof gallon. The Board also proposed that these duty changes should be effected in two stages of 75c per proof gallon each in 1969 and 1971.
There are, however, other matters to be considered, The excise differential in favour of brandy, which was introduced by the Government in 19S4, is achieving its purpose in ensuring the absorption of Australian wine grape production. However, since the Tariff Board presented its report to the Government the Australian grape growing industry has suffered some loss of preferences on dried fruits and brandy exports. This uncertainty of the future competitive position overseas could lead to the industry facing difficulties in disposing of its crop. The brandy industry is also a major outlet for wine grape production and the Government is concerned that any reduction in the existing brandy differential could add to these difficulties.
The Government also considered the proposal for an increase in the protective margin accorded local whisky; In the light of consumer preference, this proposal seems unlikely to improve significantly the pattern of potable liquor consumption in favour of the Australian whisky producers. In view of these other factors it has been decided that the existing protective margins and relative’ excise duties applying to potable spirits, should remain unaltered.
– I present the twenty-third report of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, together with minutes of evidence.
Ordered to be printed.
– On behalf of the Public Accounts Committee I present the following reports of the Committee:
Ninety-first Report - Treasury Minutes on Seventy-third, Seventy-fifth and Eighty-seventh Reports.
Ninety-second Report - Index to First- to Eightyninth Reports.
I seek leave to make a short statement.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The ninety-first report contains Treasury minutes on your Committee’s seventy-third report relative to the Department of Social Services, the seventy-fifth report which relates to expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund 1964-65, and the eighty-seventh report relative to the report of the Auditor-General for the financial year 1965-66. The observations of your Committee on these Treasury minutes are contained in Chapter 5 of the ninety-first report. In particular, the attention of honourable senators is invited to our remarks concerning the qualifications of internal audit staff and the re-organisation of internal audit establishments in the Department of Social Services.
The ninety-second report comprises an index of the first to the eighty-ninth reports of the Public Accounts Committee and relates to the reports of the first six committees. The need to provide members of the Parliament, departments, universities and other institutes of research and learning with a current index of reports has been recognised by successive committees over the years. With this in mind, index reports have been presented by your Committee in 1958, 1959, 1962 and 1965. Since the previous index report was tabled, however, there has been a very marked increase in the demand for your Committee’s reports in Australia as the public interest in our work has quickened and as new universities and other research organisations have been established. Concurrently there has also been a sharp rise in the demand for our reports by like committees and institutes of learning in overseas countries. Whilst your Committee regards these trends with considerable satisfaction, they point to a growing need to service a widening area of interest with a current index of reports. I commend the reports to honourable senators.
Ordered to be printed.
– I present the twenty-fourth report of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances.
Ordered to be printed.
Senator BISHOP (South Australia)- byleave -I move:
That the Senate take note of the twenty-fourth report of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances.
I seek leave to make my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Senator HENTY (Tasmania - Minister for Supply - by leave - When announcing in the Senate last week that the Government proposes that the next Senate election should be held on Saturday, 25th November, I said that when all States had agreed on the timetable for the election I would inform the Senate of the details.
I am now able to say that all States are in agreement on the timetable, which is as follows:
The issue of writs, Friday, 13th October 1967;
Close of nominations, Friday, 27th October 1967;
Polling date, Saturday, 25th November 1967;
Date for the return of writs, on or before Thursday, 11th January 1968.
Motion (by Senator Gorton) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to establish a College of Advanced Education in the Australian Capital Territory.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill before the Senate is to give effect to the Government’s decision to establish in Canberra a tertiary institution to be called the Canberra College of Advanced Education. The College will be an autonomous institution, responsible to the Minister for Education and Science but governed by its own Council. Till now advice on the establishment of this institution has been given by an Interim Council which was appointed last December and I should like at this point to express the Government’s thanks to the nine members of the Interim Council whose intensive preliminary work has culminated in the presentation of this Bill. I propose to re-appoint the Interim Council until the new Council is established and begins to operate, which, under the provisions of this Bill, it must do within 12 months of the date on which the Act comes into force.
The Bill sets out what the functions of the College will be. It will be an autonomous institution charged with providing in the Australian Capital Territory courses appropriate for professional and other occupations which by their nature require tertiary education. Courses provided by the College need the approval of the Minister to be provided, and the College is to provide particular courses, if required to do so by the Minister. The detail and method of providing courses are, however, the responsibility of the Council itself. The Council is charged with concern for the welfare of students, with the duty to advance, develop and apply knowledge and skills which are relevant to the work of the College, and with providing adequate facilities for those persons admitted to undertake the various courses it will be providing. The College will award its own diplomas and certificates, these words diplomas’ and ‘certificates’ being understood in their generic sense as referring to qualifications and not in the sense in which the words are used in every day conversation.
As the College is to be a corporate body the normal provisions to achieve this are incorporated in the legislation. Provision is also made for the custody and use of a common seal. In general terms, the Council of the College is so constituted that its members will be representative of a wide area of interests, academic and otherwise, in much the same way as is the Council of the Australian National University. They will bring to their task a broad selection of skills and a wealth of varied experience and knowledge.
Honourable senators will note that the ViceChancellor of the Australian National University or the Deputy Vice-Chancellor is to be a member of the Council of the
College. This is a deliberate decision aimed at providing from the outset a link between the College and the National University. The legislation provides that if the ViceChancellor does not choose to accept appointment to the Council, then the Deputy Vice-Chancellor may be appointed by the Minister. It is not intended that the ViceChancellor, if a member, should have the Deputy Vice-Chancellor attend those meetings of the Council which he himself cannot attend. Two members of the academic staff of the College are to be elected to the Council and provision is made for the Governor-General to appoint eight members to it. It is the Government’s intention, in recommending initial appointments to the Governor-General, to ensure that not all members so appointed are appointed for the same period of office. This will provide the desirable ‘staggering’ for the future. Pour persons may be co-opted as members by the Council. If it should happen that the person chosen as chairman of the Council is not already a member, then the Bill provides that such a person selected as chairman will be an additional member of the Council for his term of office as chairman only.
The Bill makes provision for tenure of office of Council members. Our intention is that ex-officio members will continue as long as they hold their substantive offices. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, if appointed, will be so appointed for a maximum of 1 year. The members elected by the academic staff will hold office for 2 years. One of these members will be elected each year and the Bill therefore provides that one of such members to be determined by lot will be elected initially for one year only. It also provides that at least one of those members will be elected from the senior teaching staff of the College. The determination of seniority is a matter for the Council to decide. Other members will hold office for a period of up to 4 years; the initial periods of appointment will be made so as to provide in effect, a staggering of the period of office.
At this point I think it appropriate to refer to some of the specific powers which this Bill seeks to give to the College Council. It gives it power to appoint its own committees, to manage and control the affairs and property of the College, to appoint and dismiss staff, to award diplomas and certificates, to determine the organisation of courses, and to control by statute the use of the land leased to it by the Commonwealth Government. This power covers matters such as the siting of buildings and the control of traffic and parking. It enables the Council to control the admission and enrolment of students, to determine fees, subject to Ministerial approval, and to exempt certain classes of students and staff from payment of fees. The Bill authorises the establishment of internal organisations of students and staff, the making of rules under College statutes, except in matters of traffic and parking, and allows the Council to act in the way best suited to promote the objects and interests of the College. In order to ensure that both the Parliament and the responsible Minister are kept fully aware of the activities of the College a clause has been included in the Bill to make it obligatory for the College authorities to present annually to the Minister a report of its activities, with financial statements for tabling in the Parliament. The financial and auditing provisions in general are similar to those in modern legislation. An example is the Act governing the Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
The Senate will note that the Bill includes a clause which prohibits discrimination against students or staff on religious grounds. This is a common provision in the legislation establishing our Australian universities. There is, for example, a similar provision in the Australian National University Act. The Commonwealth Government will bear much the same relationship to the Canberra College of Advanced Education as it does to the Australian National University. Financial provisions for the needs of the College will be made through the annual estimates of the responsible Department and the necessary financial provisions to this end, and for all desirable control of the College’s financial activities, are included in the Bill.
The Government has no doubt that the establishment of this institution will serve a real need in the tertiary education field in the Australian Capital Territory. It and the National University will complement each other, and it will, in its own right, develop into a college which will provide the range and standard of predominantly vocational education which is essential in this dramatically growing and developing area. Mr President, I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Tangney) adjourned.
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE i VIP FLIGHT
– by leave - Yesterday in the House of Representatives the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) made a statement in relation to the VIP flight which I now propose to make to the Senate on his behalf, lt will be understood that where the singular pronoun in the first person is used, I refer to the Prime Minister. The statement is as follows: lt would have become obvious, 1 think, to all members of the Parliament that in recent times lines of criticism have have developed in certain sections of the Press and also amongst some members of the Parliament directed against the conduct of the VIP flight. This criticism has been directed in such a way as to give quite a distorted picture to the public of the way in which the flight operates and the extent and nature of its use. I felt that the Parliament should have an authoritative statement before it so that any comment that might be made in future would at least be made against the background of an accurate and comprehensive statement of the recent history of this flight. I propose in the course of my statement to give the House some facts showing how the flight has developed over recent years. I use the term ‘developed’ in the context of the aircraft currently employed. There were nine aircraft in the flight in 1958. When the replacements have been received and the planes that they replace have been removed there will be nine aircraft operating again in the flight. Recent history will show that this is not a matter which has suddenly leapt ahead in recent times and indeed it will show that for several years Cabinet has been giving consideration to the problem which was arising with the obsolescence of some elements of the flight - the need to replace some and the need to have a more diverse range of aircraft for the changing and varying conditions to be found around the continent of Australia.
The VIP flight has actually been in operation for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 years, but it is over more recent times that criticism of its use has intensified. I, therefore, put these facts before the Parliament. I go back to November 1962 when the Cabinet decided to appoint a Cabinet committee to consider the replacement of the flight with modern aircraft. By April 1963 the committee had carried on its own investigation and had decided that there was a need, not only for replacement but for a more ready availability of aircraft to assist Ministers and to deal with the increasing VIP traffic coming to this country. The committee authorised the Minister for Air to investigate the possibility of immediate replacement of or additions to the existing flight pending the introduction of pure jets. It was decided to recommend to Cabinet that an order be placed for three DH125 aircraft at that time and that civil aviation aircraft supplement the operations of the Royal Australian Air Force flight. In point of fact, while Cabinet endorsed the recommendation in June 1963 for the purchase of the three aircraft to replace three Dakotas and agreed that consideration should next be given to the replacement of the ageing Convair Metropolitans by aircraft of the BACIII type, it did not go ahead with the order of the DH125 aircraft because in January 1964 it decided in favour of Mysteres as being more suitable for Australian circumstances. It also at that time agreed that the suitability of adding Viscounts to the VIP flight be immediately investigated.
This consideration went on through 1964 - when Cabinet decided to buy two Viscount aircraft to supplement the existing Convairs and Dakotas and to leave in abeyance the purchase of any jet aircraft. The Minister for Air was to keep the requirements of the flight under review, and in November 1965 Cabinet considered the whole question and authorised the purchase of three Mystere aircraft and two Hawker Siddeley 748 aircraft. These five aircraft were to replace five Dakotas which, at that point of time, were 20 years old. Orders were to be placed for two BACIII aircraft to replace two Convair Metropolitans which, at that time, were 9 years old.
It will bc seen from this recital of the facts that no aircraft actually has been ordered in the life of my own Government. I say that not because I do not accept full responsibility for, or approve of, the decisions which were taken earlier but because a picture seems to have been conjured up in the public mind that we have suddenly leapt into some expansion of the service here in Australia whereas, in fact, the decisions on which orders were placed were taken back in November 1965. I do not think that anybody who had any contact with my predecessor. Sir Robert Menzies, would ever argue that he was a spendthrift of the public money. I know of no public leader in my time who had greater regard for the careful use of public funds. I made the point that the fleet we now have was ordered back in November 1965. It replaced very old aircraft. In fact, my colleague the Minister for Air reported to Cabinet that the Chief of the Air Staff had told him that the Dakota aircraft had reached a point at which they were below reasonably safe operating conditions for use as VIP aircraft and that in a short space of time would have had to be declared unfit for such use.
As to the capital cost of these aircraft - again there has been an attempt to conjure Up a picture of a great splurge of expenditure in one year - this was spread over a period of three financial years commencing in 1965-66. It is perhaps typical of the kind of criticism we have had to face that one newspaper I saw recently stated that to increase the age pension by 50c would cost about $20m a year whereas we were spending $2 1.6m On these aircraft. Not only were the payments spread over 3 years; normally one can expect these aircraft to have an operational life of 10 to 15 years.
They cost $2 1.6m. I will refer to that matter in a moment. This was the cost of the aircraft only, the fly away cost, and included the price of spares and matters of that sort. I do not need to go into too much detail about the Dakota aircraft. They are well known to honourable members. They were great work horses in their time. When the time came for them to be replaced, the Minister pointed out that for our VIP aircraft there were two principal requirements. In the majority of cases the use of VIP aircraft involves the carriage of small numbers of passengers over the main routes of Australia. This is their role for a good deal of the time and for this purpose we need a small, fast reasonably comfortable aircraft. Secondly, there is a small but significant number of operations which involve the use of relatively undeveloped airfields of limited length. For these operations an aircraft equipped with turbo propeller engines was required; an aircraft with better takeoff and landing performances. The Mystere met the first requirement and the Hawker Siddeley 748 met the second requirement.
The Mystere is described customarily in the Press and by some of our parliamentary critics as a luxury jet.. I have flown in this aircraft several times. It has the great merit of speed. When I heard a member from another place talking about the chicken and bubbly and so forth which were available in the aircraft I wished he had been with me on Monday. We were flying over the Australian Alps. He would have had great difficulty in controlling either of those commodities at that time. The standards of catering are similar to those which have always existed in the aircraft. I am sure some could paint a pretty picture of the services and standards provided. But as one who has been a very regular user of the VIP flight, I find that salad, in which the ice has not been quite thawed out, and lacking the flavour of a home cooked meal, soon loses its appeal. .When we were coming back from Western Australia recently, after attending the opening of the North West Cape naval communication establishment, my wife thought that, in order to secure a change of diet for us. she should order some pies and sausage rolls. That was the luxury meal that we had on that occasion.
For the replacement of the two Convair Metropolitan aircraft, the Minister recommended the BACIII which was somewhat cheaper than the generally comparable DC9. As I have said, the need for special air transport available to the Commonwealth Government has been recognised for some 20 years and the business of Government would be certainly less efficient if the most senior Ministers had their work and travel restricted to the rigid timetables of the commercial airlines. I illustrate this point by a look at the Canberra airline schedules’. There were no commercial flights to Sydney today between 9.30 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. There is a 3-hour gap in the morning and a 4-hour gap in the afternoon on most days to Melbourne. There are no daily flights to Sydney after 9.15 p.m. or to Melbourne after 6 p.m. There are no daily flights into Canberra from Sydney after 8.15 p.m. and none from Melbourne after 6.30 p.m. At weekends, when the business of government, certainly in my own case, and in the case of most of my other Ministers, still goes on, the normal schedules are even more limiting. The schedules to other capital cities are even more restricted.
The work of government goes on around the clock and I think I can fairly claim to average an 80-hour working week. Work must continue even while we are flying to a destination. I am sure the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) could confirm this from his own experience. The aircraft serves as a flying office, with staff available. The use of executive - aircraft is common to governments of most other countries. This is particularly the case in the United States of America and Canada, where industrial development and distances provide comparable problems with those experienced in Australia; and the availability is certainly no less in Great Britain and other European countries. 1 mentioned earlier that when the decision was made in 1965 to re-equip, the VIP flight then consisted of nine aircraft, as indeed it has since 1958. We purchased two Vickers Viscounts second hand that were built in 1959 and 1960, two Convair Metropolitans and five Dakotas. The Convair Metropolitans and the Vickers Viscounts are no longer in production, so that even had we chosen to replace the ageing aircraft with others of the same type we would not have been able to procure them. The VIP flight remains a flight of nine aircraft, and For some time still it will include the two Vickers . Viscounts, which however have only a limited operating life to run.
I can give the House some idea of the extent of use, and, indeed, the character of use of the aircraft. From January to June of this year the aircraft were used by the Governor-General of Australia on forty-one occasions, by myself on forty-six occasions, by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) on thirty occasions and by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) on twenty-two occasions. It will be seen that apart from those relating to the Governor-General - who is required to make frequent journeys for ceremonial purposes - those figures relate to the three most senior members of Cabinet. No other Minister reached double figures in his use of the aircraft, and seven Ministers did not use the flight at all. Other users were visiting VIPS. The service is available to, and has been used by, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) and by officials, including the Service chiefs.
It might be of some interest to the House to have an indication of the actual VIP use of this flight in the past 12 months. The users included Prince Charles, the Prime Minister of Thailand, the Queen Mother, the New Zealand Minister of Defence, the New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister, the Canadian Secretary of State, the British Secretary for the Colonies, the President of the British Board of Trade, the Prime Minister of Malta, the Prime Minister of South Vietnam, the Governor of the National Bank of Cambodia, the Malaysian Minister of Defence, the British Secretary for Commonwealth Affairs, Princess Alexandra, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Foreign Minister of Israel, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, the SecretaryGeneral of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the Indian and Pakistani parliamentary delegations. Some of these visitors had large retinues and official staff. For instance, on one occasion it was necessary for us to provide two Viscounts and one DC3 in order to transport a visiting party around Australia. For ceremonial visits there is always a large number of persons to be carried and a large quantity of luggage, and this often necessitates the provision of more than one aircraft.
Particularly in relation to VIP users of the service, the serviceability of the aircraft at the time is a matter of importance. These people are holding to tight schedules on significant public occasions. I found, in arranging to welcome the Prime Minister of New Zealand, that two of the aircraft we had sought to make available to him were unserviceable, and a third aircraft had to be found. Last Friday, when I had to attend in Sydney with the President of Italy, I found that two of the Mystere jets, one of which I would have normally used, were unserviceable, and a third aircraft had to bc made available. In other words, some margin of utility has to be available if these tight schedules are to be met. In the case of visiting VIPs in particular we usually have to have standby aircraft - this applies most certainly in the cases of members of the Royal Family and visiting Prime Ministers - in case they would otherwise be unable to carry out their commitments.
The use of these aircraft is strictly limited and controlled, and only two Ministers have authority in relation to this. Other than in my own case and that of the GovernorGeneral or a member of the Royal Family, the use of the aircraft is part of the responsibility and exercise of ministerial authority of the Minister for Air. In cases where he entertains some doubt as to an application he consults with me, so that, between us, we exercise, on behalf of the Government, the responsibility in relation to this service.
In simple terms, thanks to this service, Ministers can travel long distances quickly, they can work on their way in reasonable comfort and with security for classified documents, and when they travel together they have useful opportunities for continuing discussions and for consultations. The use of executive aircraft is common these days, not only with governments but with large companies in various parts of the world. I know of one European company with a turnover smaller than the defence vote of this country which maintains a flight of the same dimension as ours. There would be at least half a dozen American companies that maintain a flight of the same dimension as our own. Proportionately. I would say without hesitation, the flights maintained by the governments of the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom would all be considerably larger - even taking the difference of population into account - than the Australian flight.
What is often lost sight of, quite apart from the service provided for Ministers, officials, the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and others, is the role that the flight plays in the training of Air Force personnel. It provides a valuable training medium in a variety of directions, and many transport pilots have received a course of training in VIP aircraft before passing on to the work of transport pilot in the Air Force proper. The hours flown count towards the qualification of airmen in various aspects of their air service. It is this training role which makes the problem of costing, to which I will refer in a moment, complex if a clear and not misleading picture is to be available to the public.
As to the use of these aircraft by VIPs coming to Australia, it will be a matter of common knowledge that the number of such persons is increasing considerably as Australia’s significance and economic importance grow throughout the world. I am sure that all honourable members will have been struck by the increase in interest which heads of government, senior political figures and senior industrial figures from other parts of the world are manifesting in Australia these days. Aircraft of the VIP flight, as I have indicated, are available to Royal Australian Air Force pilots from all branches. These aircraft provide training for pilots in modern aircraft and a necessary opportunity to build up their flying time to the level required by the Service.
The test as to whether a reasonable use is made of the flight is, 1 suggest to the House, a matter of the responsibility of those directly concerned, and they are the Minister for Air and myself. If 1 felt that the Minister for Air was not behaving responsibly in relation to the service, 1 could take action. If the public thought that I was not behaving responsibly in the role which I play in relation to the service I have no doubt that it would take action against me. This has a bearing on the problem of costs. I have looked into this matter to see whether a dissection of costs is feasible as between uses of the aircraft, including training purposes for which the aircraft are used, and to make a dissection in such a way as to present a realistic picture. I have no doubt that the Air Force could come up with a figure showing the total cost of operating the service, but if you wanted a realistic picture there would necessarily have to be some division between the training role of the aircraft and its ether uses. The training costs would vary, in respect of a particular aircraft, almost from flight to flight, depending on which members of the crew are undergoing training and the duration of that training. If there were several Ministers in one aircraft, should the cost be spread over the various departments which they administer? If there were in the one aircraft three or four senior Service officials - perhaps the three Chiefs of Staff-is the cost spread through each of the Services?
It is my understanding that the Public Accounts Committee, having looked at this general problem in other directions, has come to the conclusion that it is not satisfactory to try to spread over a number of departments the cost carried by a particular department for services rendered to those other departments. But I have no wish to deny to the public or to the Parliament information which should reasonably be available to them. It has never been my practice to do so. This flight operates as an essential element in the structure of government. If ways and means could be found of determining costs in a realistic way - not a misleading way which would present a false picture to the public - I would be only too willing to see that course pursued. I do not know which would be the most appropriate body to do this. I imagine that the Treasury contains more expertise on these matters than any other area of government that I could point to and I would be willing to have the matter examined there.
Before I conclude perhaps I could deal with what I might term some of the mythology that has developed around this subject. I have already given one or two illustrations of how far fetched some of the criticism has been. Seeing that I have been involved in one or two of these criticisms perhaps I could give the facts. I know that a picture has been conjured up in the public mind of frequent use of these aircraft by members of my family. There has been only one instance since I became Prime Minister on which members of my family have travelled on an aircraft which was not an aircraft carrying me to my destination. In that instance the aircraft was proceeding to Melbourne to pick up four Ministers for the return journey to Canberra.
May I interpolate here to say that I was one of those Ministers. The statement continues: That was the extent of the incident about which criticism was raised on that occasion.
One or two of my friends opposite have’ been making gibes about the use of an aircraft for a fishing trip. The facts of the matter are that being in Rockhampton - nobody has challenged my use of the aircraft to go to Rockhampton - I proceeded in the aircraft to Townsville. It was not necessary for me to proceed to Townsville in that aircraft. I was picked up in Townsville in a privately owned aircraft and taken to my destination, which was Dunk Island. The aircraft belonged to a friend, who had come from Sydney earlier, and he could just as easily have picked me up at Rockhampton as at Townsville.
What critics overlook is that a Prime Minister is never able to divorce himself from his job. He is never in a real sense absent from his duty. I had to have staff with me from Rockhampton to Townsville. Wherever I go my staff must be available. They have to keep in touch with the enormous machine that runs the business of this country. They were stationed by me. I repeat that in a very real sense a Prime Minister is never off duty. I only wish that sometimes I could be. That particular weekend was the first in three on which I had not been tied up with official functions. I hope that not too many honourable members opposite will begrudge me an opportunity to have a little recreation and fresh air occasionally at the weekend. That is the extent of the incident for which they would level criticism.
The other matter about which I would like to clear the air is what I regard as a malicious and cruel presentation of an episode in which my colleague, the Treasurer, was involved when his young daughter was seriously burned. His doctor advised that she should be taken as speedily as possible to a Sydney hospital in case skin grafting had to be carried out. The allegation was made that an aircraft was specially provided for this purpose. An aircraft had been previously ordered for the Treasurer, as was his entitlement. He travels around with a mass of classified documents and normally works while on his journeys. All that he did on this occasion was advance the aircraft’s departure time by half an hour in order to see that his young daughter was given a proper opportunity to have hospital treatment. Some of the newspaper editorials directed towards this episode showed how malicious and unreasonable some elements of the Press can be when a public figure or a politician is involved in a matter. I take this opportunity to put the facts before the House.
I hope that I have given honourable members enough detailed material to enable them to see the operation of the service in its true perspective. If there are to be criticisms let them be honest criticisms, not politically motivated or designed to demean the politician in the eyes of those who are always too ready to accept criticisms of those of us who sit in this place. With this background I hope that honourable senators will be better qualified to deal with comments about this matter when they come under their notice.
I present the following paper:
Royal Australian Air Force VIP Flight - Ministerial Statement, 4 October 1967 - and move:
That the Senate take note of the paper.
– We are discussing not only the question as to whether there has been an over-use of and indulgence by members of the Government parties in the use of VIP aircraft. We are also discussing parliamentary supervision and control of . public expenditure. The Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) claims in his statement that a distorted picture has been put to the public of the way in which the VIP flight operates and the extent and nature of its use. If a distorted picture has been put to the public it is the fault of the Government because in the Senate the Government has consistently refused to answer questions put on the notice paper as to the way in which the flight operates, and the extent of its use. The Prime Minister says in his statement:
But I have no wish to deny to the public or to the Parliament information which should reasonably be available to them. It has never been my practice to do so.
How does that statement stand up against the fact that on 8th March last Senator Turnbull gave notice of a question which since has remained unanswered on the notice paper? The honourable senator asked the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), who represents the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) in this chamber:
For each application -
That question has never been answered. Similar questions were placed on the notice paper on 5th April, 19th April, 4th May, and 19th May. Other questions have been put by members of this Parliament relating to the use of VIP aircraft but no answers have been forthcoming from the Prime Minister. So how can it fairly be said that the Prime Minister is not denying to the public or to the Parliament information which should reasonably be available? Who is responsible if a distorted picture has been built up of the way in which the flight operates and the extent and nature of its use? Why will not the Government answer the questions which have been placed on the notice paper as to the nature and extent of the use of the flight? The Prime Minister has not answered the questions asked by Senator Turnbull.
If the Government has nothing to hide in this matter, if all has been fair and above board, and if it can justify the way in which the flight has operated and the use of a fleet of nine aircraft for VIP purposes, then let the Government agree to the motion which appears on the notice paper of the Senate- that the accounts and papers relating to the flight be tabled in the Senate. If there is nothing to hide, the Government will agree to the motion; there will be no attempt to delay or defeat it. That will be the test of sincerity of the Government and of the Prime Minister. Honourable senators know that the arrangement has been made that at the conclusion of this debate the motion for the tabling of the accounts and papers relating to the VIP flight will be called on for discussion. We will see then what is the attitude of the Government.
I repeat that we are discussing the parliamentary supervision and control of public expenditure. The Opposition will never accept the view that the Government is entitled to keep from the Parliament accounts and details which will enable us to determine whether expenditure is justified and whether there has been an abuse of facilities. Both Houses of the Parliament have a duty to supervise the administration of the Government. The Government, by its refusal to answer the questions which have been asked in the Senate, is clearly frustrating the Senate in the exercise of that duty. If the Government can keep from the Parliament details of use and costs of the flights of VIP aircraft - I am not referring to the broad statement that the Prime Minister has made - we have reached in Australia an era of irresponsible government.
Mr President, some questions have not been satisfactorily answered even in the broad outlines given by the Prime Minister. Seven new aircraft are being purchased for the VIP flight- 2 BAC111 commercial jet aircraft; 3 Mystere 20’s; and 2 Hawker Siddeley aircraft. The fleet is said to consist of nine aircraft. The Prime Minister has never satisfactorily explained why there needs to be a fleet of nine aircraft for the purpose for which he has said they are to be used. Why are there to be nine aircraft? Why does there have to be a great fleet of aircraft? An analysis of the figures of use of the VIP aircraft by Ministers shows that 3 senior Ministers have had 98 flights in about 6 months and the other Ministers have made a maximum of 171 flights, making a total of 269 flights. On those figures each Minister has made on the average one flight a week during that period.
The amount of $2 1.6m is a considerable sum when compared with expenditure on other matters. This year only $25m has been provided for assisted passages for migrants. The wheat stabilisation fund will cost only about $13m this year.
– Compare like with like, senator.
– The total Commonwealth expenditure on education this year will be about only $51m more than last year. As has been said, the extra expenditure required to pay another 50c to all pensioners would cost less than $21. 6m.
– One annual payment or one recurring payment?
– One recurring payment. It is not a comparison of like with like, but it is useful to compare the expenditure on VIP aircraft with expenditure in other fields in order to demonstrate that it is a considerable amount of money to spend on such aircraft. It is important to remember that $2 1.6m represents only what is called the fly away cost of the VIP aircraft together with spare parts. It does not include all the other incidental expenses associated with the upkeep and maintenance of such a fleet of aircraft - all the associated capital expenditure as well as the current associated expenditure. It is a tremendous sum of money in anyone’s language to spend for the purpose which the Prime Minister has mentioned. The Prime Minister says that it is necessary to purchase these aircraft so that senior members of the Parliament may carry out their activities more efficiently and so that we may look after our guests from overseas. If one were considering the improvement of the efficient functioning of this Parliament - the expenditure of this $21. 6m is intended to improve it - it is clear that for sums very much less than that one could achieve a great improvement in the efficiency of this Parliament and of this Government. It is clear that the Government is denying to the Parliament the facilities necessary for its efficient functioning, although they would cost a minute fraction of this sum.
We believe that the Parliament should be provided with a full explanation of why it is necessary to go to the length of spending $2 1.6m at a time when Australia is short of money. Curiously enough, $22m is to be raised by way of loan in West Germany in order to build up our international reserves. On 28th September of this year it was announced that we were planning our first public loan in West Germany; that we hoped to raise 100 million marks or about $22m; and that we would have to decide whether the money should be kept in the original marks or converted into sterling or United States dollars. So Australia is not a country with abundant international reserves. It is a country that is starved of international reserves to the extent that we have to put ourselves into pawn to West Germany in order to build them up.
What is the justification for the expenditure of this great sum7 The Prime Minister says to us: ‘You have said the wrong thing about all of this. There has been an attempt to conjure up a picture of a great splurge of expenditure in 1 year. What is his answer to that? It is that the expenditure was spread over a period of 3 years. His denial is not of a great splurge of expenditure. He is saying that the great splurge of expenditure actually was not in 1 year; it was in 3 years. That is the Prime Minister’s answer. It is not a sufficient answer for me and I do not think it will be a sufficient answer for the people of Australia.
– Is the Leader of the Opposition suggesting that there should be no VIP flights at all?
- Senator Lawrie will have ample opportunity to put his own point of view. No-one on this side of the chamber would say that there should not be proper facilities for the Prime Minister of this country, senior members of the Parliament and certain people who come to this country. This is what is disturbing: The Prime Minister now reveals that for some time this fleet has been building up and it is clear that the build-up has been outside the arena of public knowledge.
– It is wrong that that should have happened. The Prime Minister said: ‘Everybody thinks that this has only just happened, but I want to say it has been going on for some years’. The Senate and the people of Australia are entitled to know why this great sum should be spent at a time when we are not able to afford any increases for the pensioners and when we have to pinch and scrape in the sphere of public activities. Honourable senators will remember that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon), in his Budget speech, said that even on matters of high national priority we had to curb public expenditure. That was the implication.
Why should this sphere of activity be regarded as predominating over other fields of public expenditure such as national development, conservation and expenditure through the States on essential public services such as the provision of power, water, sewerage, roads, education and hospitals? Why should those matters have to suffer in order that this vast sum of money may be spent on building up a flight of aircraft for very important persons? No-one has to go to the extreme to which honourable senators opposite apparently want to go; namely, of saying that we have to accept this either entirely or not at all, or that what the Opposition is saying is that the Prime Minister is to be denied any facilities and other persons are to be denied proper facilities. No-one has said that. No-one will say that.
But where is the justification for the expenditure of this vast sum of money? We have not heard it from the Prime Minister, and I doubt whether we will hear it in the Senate today. If the justification existed and if there was nothing to hide, let honourable senators opposite - particularly the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) when he stands up to’ answer - say why the questions on this matter were not answered. If what the Prime Minister says - namely, that he has no wish to deny to the public or the Parliament information that should be reasonably available to them - is correct, why have not the questions been answered? If what he says is true, does the Government propose to agree to the motion for the tabling of the accounts and papers so that everyone will be able to see what has happened; so that we will have not some details that are given to us by the Prime Minister - he said that he would give ‘some facts’ - but all the facts relating to this matter; and so that we will see what the extent of the use of these aircraft is.
We should be given answers to all the questions that have been asked, quite apart from Senator Turnbull’s questions. Why should not the Sena;e know how many VIP aircraft were purchased in earlier years; the date of each purchase and the purchase price of each aircraft; what was done with the aircraft; when they were sold; to whom they were sold; what prices were obtained for them; what personnel are responsible for their operation, care and maintenance: which members of the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Public Service and the armed forces are entitled to use them; when they have been used; and what the costs of the flights are?
One of the matters that any parliament is entitled to know is the cost of such facilities. Has the Senate ever heard such a childish explanation as was advanced by the Prime Minister when he said, in effect, that the costs of the flights could not be worked out or that it would be too difficult to work them out. He indicated that he would let someone try to do that. He said:
If ways and means could be found of determining costs in a realistic way- not a misleading way which would present a false picture to the public - I would be only too willing to see that course pursued. I do not know which would be the most appropriate body to do this. I imagine that the Treasury contains more expertise on these matters than any other area of government that I could point’ to and I would be willing to have the matter examined there.
He also said:
I have no doubt that the Air Force could come up with a figure showing the total cost of operating the service, but if you wanted a realistic picture there would necessarily have to be some division between the training role of the aircraft and its other uses.
Many honourable senators have had business experience. I put this to the Senate: Is not that a common thing that has to be done throughout industry? Does not industry have cost accountants to work out these matters; to make the necessary divisions in order to arrive at a proper estimate of the cost of operating any facility? This is well within the wit of the accountants. It is an insult to the efficiency of the people in the government departments to say that they could not work out a figure on the cost of the flights undertaken by these very important persons. That would be so if we were restricted to the use of the natural talent and acquired experience of the accountants. But we have available to us the marvels of this modern age, such as the computer complexes that have been built up in government departments. My recollection is that this year about $6m is being spent on automatic data processing. To <late approximately $30m has been spent on the acquisition and installation of equipment for this purpose. No one familiar with the use of these machines could deny that answers to these questions could be obtained simply by the use of proper accounting procedures and the use of the computer complexes which are now under the control of the Government. My recollection is that some criticism has been expressed to the effect that sufficient use is not being made of the existing automatic data processing facilities in government departments.
All that the Opposition seeks is the best answer that the Government can give. If the Government comes across difficulties, the difficulties can be explained. Why is not the Parliament entitled to the best answer that can be given by the Government to these questions, instead of no answer at all? The Senate and the people of Australia are entitled to know whether bona fide users of VIP aircraft are restricted in any way as to the passengers who may accompany them on flights. Can a bona fide user of a VIP aircraft use such aircraft for other than his own transportation? If so, in what circumstances? We are entitled to know what insurance arrangements cover the use of such aircraft.
The Senate has sat for many weeks since last March, but no answers have been received to these questions. The Prime Minister has obviously come forth with a statement on this matter only because of developments in this chamber on Wednesday last, when the Minister for Repatriation, who represents the Minister for Air, made it plain that no answers would be forthcoming. Only when it was indicated that, if necessary, steps would be taken in the Senate to compel answers to these questions - this was announced publicly - did the Prime Minister come forth with a general statement as to what was happening with the aircraft. That statement does not satisfy the Opposition at all; we intend to persist with the motion for the tabling of all accounts and papers. This issue has been magnified not only because of suspicion in the public mind that there has been over-indulgence in the use of these aircraft, that they have been used on unwarranted occasions, but because of the contempt shown to the Parliament by the Government and in particular the Minister for Air in refusing to answer reasonable questions on this subject.
I would like an early indication from the Government as lo whether it is prepared to agree to the motion for the tabling of all accounts and papers. Honourable senators may recall the terms of the motion. They arc:
That there bc laid on the table of the Senate, all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of
Parliament during the period of 1st January 1967 to 27th September 1967-
The clay on which I gave notice of the motion -
In particular all accounts and papers containing records of -
applicants and applications,
airports of embarkation and of call,
times and distances of flights, including waiting times, in connection with flights and any flights necessary to fulfil engagements,
the cost of and incidental to each flight, and
(he Department or service to which the flight was charged.
Senator Turnbull had asked questions relating to the matters contained in items (a) to (g)?
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– The critical question here, apart from parliamentary supervision and control, is whether -the expenditure of this vast sum of money is justified at this time. We condemn it as not being justified. We do not say that some proper facilities should not be made available, but we do say that the Government has over-indulged itself unfairly in providing these VIP aircraft for itself in these numbers and at this great expense at a time when the rest of the community, especially those in poor economic circumstances, have been denied reasonable treatment.
How can the Government justify this when expenditure from the National Welfare Fund, from which payments are made in respect of age, invalid and widows pensions, child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefits, medical and hospital benefits, homes savings grants and so on has been increased by only $40m? The Government has incurred an expenditure of $2 1. 6m on these aircraft. Whether payment is spread over 1 year or 3 years does not matter; the point is that this amount of money should not have been spent on these aircraft.
There has been no. stinting in providing luxury travel for very important persons. This may be all right at a time when we are able to deal fairly with other people in the community, but what justification is there for this over-indulgence when our pensioners, for example, are told: ‘The community cannot afford to give you anything more al this time. You have to put up with the increased cost of living; you have’ to put up with all the other disadvantages you have been experiencing; you have to live in conditions that are below the level of decency and dignity*. On the other hand, however, very important persons are entitled to the use of a fleet of aircraft so that there will be no limitations on their comfort and convenience. What is the excuse for this splurging? That is the Prime Minister’s word, and it is the correct one in this instance. The ordinary citizen may try to keep up with the Joneses; it is obvious that the Prime Minister is trying to keep up with the Johnsons.
One thing is clear: Had it not been for the actions of the Senate and of the Press no statement would have been made on the use of these aircraft. The Press was criticised by the Prime Minister in his statement. I, for one, reject that criticism. If we reach the stage in Australia where the Government can spend vast sums of money not only on the purchase of this huge fleet of aircraft for the use of members of the Government but also on maintaining those aircraft, and can do that without revealing the details to the Parliament, then we will be in a sorry position. If we did not have a free Press in Australia it would not matter what the Senate tried to do. It is obvious that the Government has shown contempt for the House of Representatives and for the Senate, and it is only because of the prodding by the national Press that the Prime Minister of Australia has been forced to come out with some kind of statement, unsatisfactory as it is.
We condemn this over-indulgence by the Government. On behalf of the Opposition I say that we take note of the statement. We do so with disappointment and dissatisfaction at its contents and the omission of such vital matters as the cost of maintenance of this great fleet, quite apart from the cost of setting it up in the first place. We reject the suggestions that have been made that because the Government had a fleet of minor aircraft - Avro Ansons - and because there were nine of the one type the Government was entitled to substitute jets and say: *We are not really doing anything different’. We regard this as a completely unsatisfactory statement in all respects. If the Government has any intention of allowing the matter to remain there, we have no such intention because-
– What is the alternative?
– The alternative is that the Government should see to it that answers are given to the questions which have been asked by honourable senators. If the Government is honest in its claim that it does not want to hide anything in relation to this matter, let it come forth and answer the questions which have been asked; let it bring the relevant accounts and papers into the Senate; let them become public property and let the Senate and the people satisfy themselves that there is a proper accounting for public expenditure and no abuse of the facilities which have been provided at tremendous cost for members of the Government and other very important persons at a time when the whole community has to be denied the education, the hospitals and the pensions that it should have.
– It is unfortunate that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) saw fit to use the extravagant language he used. However, that is something for him to decide for himself. It has been alleged that questions have not been answered. The Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) felt that the correct position could not be stated in answers to questions and that is the reason for his statement yesterday.
– Why was it not made 6 months ago?
– I have just told the honourable senator.
– Why wait until now?
– The honourable senator will have a chance to speak later. He is making a mistake if he thinks that he can shout me down. I repeat that this Government has nothing to hide in relation to the use of these aircraft; it has nothing to hide in relation to the purchase of these aircraft; it has nothing to hide in relation to the control of these aircraft and it has nothing to hide in relation to the operation of No. 34 Transport Squadron. I make those points at the start.
I remind the Opposition of the time when Air Force planes were provided for the use of the Prime Minister of Australia. Who introduced the system?
– Ben Chifley.
– Yes, of course he did. When did we start with a fleetof nine aircraft?
– The honourable senator is wrong, not for the first time. It was in 1958. The Leader of the Opposition spoke about the high cost of these planes - $21 m. He seemed to imply that this amount will be spent perhaps yearly. I point out that this fleet of planes which has cost this sum of money will be used for years. Surely we all recognise that. Then he said that the time was not. opportune to buy them. That reminds me of members’ salaries. The time is never opportune to raise members’ salaries, but when members’ salaries are raised does he tell us what could be done for pensioners with the money?
– There is unanimity then.
– That is right. The time is never opportune. The cost of this fleet of aircraft will be spread over years. He questioned the need for a fleet of this kind to perform the duties it is called upon to perform. All that I want to say is that I am very glad indeed that I am not a senior Minister of this Government, because senior Ministers have to work too blessed hard.
– We are glad, too.
– I am surethat the honourable senator is and I am very pleased that he is on the back bench. We see senior Ministers, members of Cabinet, meeting here at least weekly, sometimes several times a week, day and night. When this Parliament rises it is very often necessary for them to stay behind and perform their Cabinet duties. By reason of this fact normal commercial airline flights are not suitable and this is one of the reasons why a flight of this kind is necessary. We also had an admission from the Leader of the Opposition that the Opposition felt that proper facilities were required for the purpose. On the one hand he says that we need these aircraft; on the other hand he says that we do not. This would not be the first time that the Opposition could not make up its mind. The main criticisms that have been levelled against the work of No. 34 Squadron are, firstly, the costof operating the aircraft; secondly, the number of aircraft required to carry out the task; arid thirdly, the control that is exercised over their use.
– How many times have you used them?
– I do not know; 1 think about three times. I should like to inform the honourable senator that 1 have never yet abused any form of government transport. The day that I do abuse it will be the day, i hope, when 1 will be kicked out of this place. I think the Senate will agree that the Prime Minister has ably demonstrated the need in Australia for a transport squadron of this nature. I believe that he has also shown that the emphasis by critics on the cost of operating the aircraft has been misleading.
– But what is the cost of operating them?
– This is just the point that I made a little while ago. The important questions that should be asked by the Parliament are: Is the journey really necessary and, if so, is it performed in the most efficient and economic manner? The responsibility for ensuring that the answers to these two questions are’ in the affirmative is on the Minister for Air (Mr Howson). Perhaps I should first indicate to the Senate the general rules under which these aircraft operate. This is one of the things that the Leader of the Opposition asked and I shall tell him. In general, the people who are entitled to use these aircraft are the GovernorGeneral, senior members of the Government and other Ministers engaged on official Commonwealth business.
– Is electioneering official?
– Perhaps the honourable senator could ask the Leader of the Opposition that one. The squadron also provides air transport for visiting members of the British Royal Family, all foreign Heads of State or other high dignitaries who are official guests of the Commonwealth, and other important persons whose carriage is approved by the Prime Minister or the Minister for Air. In addition, of course, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition are entitled to use these aircraft and they do use them. Secondly, all requests for the use of these aircraft are made to the Minister for Air or to the Prime Minister. They are made to the Minister in the first instance, except for travel by members of the British Royal Family, the Governor-General and the Prime Minister. Before agreeing to these requests, the Minister first makes certain that aircraft are available in No. 34 Squadron to perform the task. He also ensures that no other suitable form of transport is available and takes into account the necessity for the proposed flight.
– The Minister just said that all commercial flights were unsuitable.
– I did not say anything of the kind. This is not the first time that the honourable senator has misconstrued and tried to put in people’s mouths words that are not correct. There are also clearly established rules concerning the carriage of passengers. In general, the categories of passengers who may be carried in these aircraft are the Minister concerned and his wife, members of his personal staff and officials of his Department.
– And his family?
– Does the honourable senator not want to hear it? If he keeps quiet he will hear it. In certain cases, the member of Parliament for a constituency being visited may also be carried as a passenger on the aircraft. This is a reply to the Leader of the Opposition. There are, of course, certain emergencies in which special arrangements are made which may depart to some extent from the general categories that I have already mentioned. The sort of situation that 1 have in mind occurred at the time of the bush fires in Tasmania earlier this year, when there were in Sydney a number of members of the Tasmanian Parliament who needed to return as quickly as possible to their electorates ir. order to take part in the rehabilitation measures.
– All Liberal members, were they not?
– I do not think that that interjection is worthy even of the honourable senator. No other form of transport was available to meet this emergency and quite rightly, I believe, permission was given for the use of a No. 34 Squadron aircraft for this purpose.
– No-one is complaining about that.
– The Opposition is complaining about everything else. It is nice to have some subject about which it is not complaining. If No. 34 Squadron had not been here, the aircraft would not have been available, so honourable senators cannot have it both ways. Similar controls are also exercised generally for the use of these aircraft by visitors from overseas and again, in general, it is ensured that no other suitable form of transport is available before these aircraft are made available for this purpose. The Minister for Air has been responsible for the control of these aircraft for nearly 3i years. During this period he has not had any allegations of misuse of the aircraft or of the carriage of unauthorised passengers. It is reasonable, therefore, that the Parliament can be assured that the use of these aircraft for the whole of this period has been justified and has been in the public interest. I should like to turn now to the other aspect of criticism, that is, whether the Squadron has performed its task efficiently. The first important matter is the number of aircraft required to carry out this task. The Prime Minister has already referred to the historical development of this Squadron and the fact that from 1958 onwards we had a total establishment of nine aircraft.
– Little ones.
– They were not all little ones. The honourable senator is trying to cloud the issue. Obviously he knows that the Opposition has not a case and he is trying to muddy the waters. In 1965 it was apparent that the time had come to replace some of the aircraft that had been in service for a total period of 20 years. Why, even senators - or some of them - wear out in 20 years. Some of these aircraft were reaching the end of the life for their type.
– Who wrote the speech for the Minister?
– The honourable senator did not. The Minister and his Department were asked to make recommendations concerning the most suitable aircraft that should be acquired to replace those that had become obsolete and inefficient. What would the Opposition have done? Would honourable senators opposite have said: ‘We will buy some more Dakotas’, if they could have picked them up anywhere in the world - probably worn out? Would they have got some more Viscounts second hand, as are the Viscounts that are already in the Squadron? Would they have got Convairs - again second hand? Is this what they would have done? Or would they have had the foresight to buy modern planes because of the importance that this country has reached today? We have got out of the horse and buggy days. Honourable senators opposite should realise this. We are not back in the old days - the bowyang days, as we have heard them referred to in this chamber occasionally. This nation of ours is an important nation today and it is worthy of something better than second hand, worn out types of aircraft to provide the Squadron that is necessary to supply transport under the conditions that I have outlined. There is no doubt at all that the Government has done the wise thing in deciding that replacements for these aircraft should be of a modern type, because this will save money in the long run.
– What about the-
– I know that the crows are bad in Western Australia and I think the honourable senator is one of the worst. The Minister examined the total flying hours of the Squadron over the years. Those flying hours included, of course, the training tasks of the Squadron and other communication requirements in addition to the carriage of VIPs. Over the 5-year period from 1962 to 1967 the average rate of increase in flying hour requirements has been 14% a year. Strangely enough, this is comparable with the growth rate of general aviation in Australia. In this field, the Government, as usual, is keeping up with the rate of progress in Australia. What a good thing it is for the country that we have a government that does not hinder the progress of the nation as the Australian Labor Party would’ have done had it been in office. It is believed likely that we will have the same rate of growth over the next few years.
It was realised that the Squadron had three separate tasks to perform. Firstly, there was the need to visit relatively undeveloped parts of Australia, particularly in the north, and- to visit Papua and New Guinea where the runways are short and of low standard. It is in respect of such areas that the Government’s critics would have come a bit of a thud if DC9s had been purchased. In the past the DC3 was used for this purpose. Those of us who are familiar with the DC3 recognise what a wonderful aircraft it has been. It was capable of landing on short airstrips and taking off again; it had a low stalling speed. It was a great old plane. However, it had its day and the time came when it had to be replaced.
The Minister and his Department then examined the new types of aircraft coming into service and eventually recommended that the Government purchase two Hawker Siddeley 748s. Those aircraft had the additional advantage of being compatible with the type of aircraft ordered for navigation training in the Royal Australian Air Force. So honourable senators will see that the Government has paid attention to certain other aspects of the Squadron. This is one of the additional reasons for buying these aircraft: They had been ordered for navigation training in the RAAF. The aircraft have now been in service for some months. They have demonstrated their suitability for the task for which they were purchased.
Secondly, the Squadron needed a small aircraft capable of flying rapidly between the major airports of Australia, carrying up to 7 or 8 passengers, in all types of weather, lt was required for journeys between Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and other places.
– How many passengers?
– They carry seven or eight passengers. I have had a trip in one of these aircraft and I enjoyed the experience very much. To give honourable senators an idea of their capabilities-
– Did the Minister have chicken and bubbly?
– No, I did not. Nobody else did, either. I was able to fly from Sydney to Canberra in half an hour. What is more, I have been told - not by the Minister for Air or the Prime Minister, but by mcn in the RAAF who know what they are talking about - that it is also a very economical aircraft. For these purposes it was considered that either the Mystere or the DH125 should be purchased. The Mystere - which was the aircraft I had the pleasure of flying in - was somewhat more expensive but it had a 30% better range and payload capacity and fitted ideally into the Air Staff requirements. After all, what is the good of having an aircraft capable of carrying 60 or 80 passengers, such as the DC9, when one needs to carry only 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8. In this regard the Government again showed wisdom in purchasing an aircraft of this type. Three such aircraft were purchased and I think most honourable senators know that they are now in service and are fulfilling our requirements. It is interesting to note that the first business executive aircraft charter company to be established in Australia also chose this aircraft as being the most suitable for this type of operation.
Finally, it was realised that the number of official overseas visitors to Australia was increasing considerably and that provision had to be made for their transport requirements. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) informed the Senate of the identities of some of the overseas visitors who have been in Australia and required transport and I will not repeat the names. Furthermore, there have been increasing opportunities to ask the Squadron to undertake visits to overseas countries. I believe that this requirement will grow in importance, because the success of these international missions has shown their importance to Australia and to the people of this country and have demonstrated the efficient performance of our international obligations. It was for this reason that the Air Staff was instructed to prepare a requirement for a larger aircraft than those at present in service. The two aircraft considered were the DC9 and the BACIII. The BACIII had a slightly longer range, a slightly higher top speed and the ability to take off from shorter runways. In addition it was much cheaper than the DC9. The Department recommended the BAC1 11 for those reasons. Yet today the Opposition says that we should have bought DC9s.
Critics have suggested that we have not taken into account the savings that might have been made by purchasing aircraft comparable with those operated by the civil airlines. On examination it was found that these savings were more theoretical than real. For instance, on occasions during the last few years we had asked one of the civil aircraft companies to carry out fourth line maintenance on one of our Viscounts. It was found that whenever that company had pressure on its own maintenance staffs to carry out emergency tasks on its own aircraft, work on the RAAF aircraft ceased and the time taken for overhauls became inordinately long. We did not achieve the savings which might be expected by having compatibility with civil aircraft. It is obvious that if we are to run an efficient service we must have our own range of spares and our own capacity for aircraft overhaul.
There has been some criticism of the cost of the aircraft. That criticism was uninformed, as usual. I remind the Senate that the cost of aircraft purchased for the RAAF is made up of two factors: The flyaway cost of the aircraft itself and the cost of an initial range of spares and ground handling equipment.
– Tell us about the Fill.
– The honourable senator will hear about that later. The Minister announced to the House in December 1965 the flyaway cost of. the aircraft at that time. He did not have the full cost of the range of spares and ground handling equipment but as soon as this information became available it was conveyed to the Parliament, in the middle of 1966, in the Auditor-General’s report. The figures have not altered since. Furthermore, I would like honourable senators to note that whereas it was indicated to the House in 1965 that the flyaway cost of the two HS748s and the three Mysteres, would be $5.4m, the actual flyaway price that we have now paid for the five aircraft, which were delivered in the last few months, was $5.584m. The original estimate was very close to the actual price paid.
I think I should add that we have now had some experience in the performance of the new aircraft. It is with pleasure that I am able to inform the Senate that we are getting a much better utilisation out of the new aircraft than we got out of the old DC3s and the Convair Metropolitans.
– Well, well, well.
– Is the honourable senator disappointed. The DC3s have already been disposed of and the Convairs will become surplus to our requirements in March 1968. I am told that there is likely to bc a demand for the Convair type aircraft overseas on account of the very strong frame. I come now to a point which has not been mentioned. Honourable senators should not forget that the proceeds of the sale of the aircraft at present in use by No. 34 Transport Squadron will be set off against the cost of the new planes. Apparently that thought has not occurred to honourable senators opposite.
– For how much will they be sold?
– I do not know, lt is a little too early to indicate the utilisation that will be achieved when all the new aircraft have come into full operation, but I am pleased to inform the Senate that with the improvement in performance there could be every chance of our being able to dispose of our secondhand Viscount aircraft within the next year or 18 months. If that proves to be the case, the Senate will be informed. At this stage it would appear that we could carry out a much larger task more efficiently with seven aircraft than we were able to do last year with nine aircraft.
At this stage it might be useful to give the Senate an indication of how the tasks for which we use the VIP aircraft compare with the tasks allotted by users of such aircraft in other countries. Reference has already been made to the large number of aircraft that are used in the United States Air Force. There is certainly no doubt that they have a very much larger fleet than we have and, of course, a very much larger task to perform. When the President of the United States visited Australia it was stated that he had three. Boeing 707 aircraft in his own personal fleet. The Senate will also know that in Canada there is much the same type of work to perform. That country has two transport squadrons,, one of which is run by the Royal Canadian Air Force and the other one, I understand, is run by the Department of Transport. The Royal Air Force also has a large number of aircraft, apart from those used in the Queen’s Flight, which can be obtained for international transport by requisitioning them from Air Support Command.
Several major companies both in Australia and overseas use their own fleets of aircraft for the transport of executives. One, for example, is the Philips electrical company of Holland, the annual turnover of which is less than Australia’s defence vote.
– The Minister is scraping the bottom of the barrel now.
– I am not surprised to hear the comments of honourable senators opposite. The six major companies in the United States each have a fleet of aircraft of at least the same size as the No. 34 Transport Squadron fleet in Australia. I have a list available of five Australian companies, all of which run their own fleets of private aircraft for the transport of their executives around Australia. Yet honourable senators opposite are saying that we should not have a fleet of that nature for the purposes required by the Government.
– That is what the honourable senator is saying. Certainly we have ordered the correct number of aircraft for the Squadron and we have selected the right types of aircraft to perform the tasks required. The Royal Australian Air Force has had long experience of maintaining aircraft as economically and efficiently as anyone else in Australia. We believe that the RAAF can carry out these tasks more economically and more efficiently than can any other organisation. Honourable senators should not forget that at the same time members of the Air Force are receiving training. I do not believe that either of the civil aviation companies in Australia could carry out the maintenance more economically than can the RAAF. It is not enough, for instance, to look only at the possibility of chartering aircraft for individual flights. I shall give one example as an illustration. When we are required to carry out a ceremonial task and the Government decides that aircraft must be obtained for the purpose, it is necessary beforehand to carry out a route survey in order to check the liming for the programme. It is usual for the forces to carry out dress rehearsals with the other Services taking part. We have to provide, of course, reserve aircraft in case of sudden and unexpected unserviceability. All these factors add considerably to the cost but must be taken into account in the planning of normal operations.
I repeat that Australia is now an important nation with definite responsibilities. We are a growing nation. Earlier I pointed out that in replacing the planes of No. 34 Transport Squadron that have given good service but which are no longer fit for the use for which we need them, the only proper thing to do is to buy modern aircraft. I think a very petty and narrow outlook is adopted by those people who criticise the purchase of the planes selected for this Squadron. I believe I have given the Senate sufficient information to indicate that controls exercised in the use of VIP aircraft ensure that they are used only in the national interest. I have proved that there is no waste or inefficiency in their operation and that the task could not be carried out more efficiently or economically in any other way. These are the questions that I think should be asked by the Parliament, and I have had pleasure in giving the answers that the Parliament is entitled to receive.
– I thought that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), who represents in this chamber the Minister for Air (Mr Howson), would have attempted to add something more informative to the statement made yesterday in another place by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) and which was read this morning in the Senate by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty). But no. The Minister tortuously floundered for about 35 or 40 minutes trying to justify what the Prime Minister had already told the Parliament and did not add one word to what had already been included in the Prime Minister’s statement. I have heard the Minister make some very poor speeches before, but in the poorest of them all I had never heard so many and such weak excuses as he has just put forward on behalf of the Government and the Minister for Air. Indeed, he appeared to repeat parrot fashion what had already been told to us by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Despite his many words he failed to tell us whether the Government would agree to table in the Senate all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of Parliament during the period from 1st January 1967 to 27th September 1967. If controls are being exercised in the manner asserted by the Minister, why does not the Government agree to the proposal contained in the motion proposed by the Lender of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy)?
The Prime Minister stated yesterday - the statement was repeated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and again by the Minister for Repatriation - that he had no wish to deny the public or the Parliament information which should reasonably be available to them. Surely the information which has been sought by honourable senators for a considerable time in questions placed on the notice paper should reasonably be made available. By their attitudes all members of the Government parties from the Prime Minister down virtually are saying to honourable senators who have posed questions on this subject, and in turn to the Australian people: ‘We think you are contemptible for daring to ask such questions on a matter of this nature.’
– They say that we are spoilsports.
– Yes. They say: We do not think the information you require is reasonable.’ The Prime Minister and Government supporters who have spoken on behalf of the Government on this matter merely have said: ‘We will tell you what we want you to know, but you can go and jump in the lake so far as getting any other facts is concerned.’ Indeed, this debate has come about only as a result of constant prodding and probing in the Senate of the Minister for Repatriation, who has repeatedly said in answer to questions: Put your question on the notice paper.’ Only because of the persistence of our questioning have we been able to obtain the ministerial statement that was made to the Parliament yesterday by the Prime Minister.
Surely the fact of the matter is that the information that has been given to date by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Government, and the Minister representing the Minister for Air, simply is not enough. The Government, because of its arrogance, contempt for public opinion, smugness and complacency, has only itself to blame for the embarrassment that it may now be suffering. By providing this Parliament with only snippets of information and by not being prepared to disclose to the public at large all the accounts and transactions connected with VIP aircraft, the Ministers and those who sit behind them on the back benches are manifesting a guilt complex about the whole matter.
Why cannot we have the details? Why cannot our questions be answered? What is the reason for the Government’s hesitancy? Government back benchers should not think that the criticism directed at the Government by the Australian people relates only to Ministers. Government back benchers also have a responsibility to the Australian public. Whether they like it or not, there exists in a large section of the community a feeling that all members of the Government parties, including back benchers, merely have to make a request and snap their fingers in order to obtain the use of VIP aircraft. The Government has been up in the clouds for far too long. It has been flying blind for quite a while. We want it to come down on to the ground for a few short minutes and answer some simple questions which are put to it on behalf of the Australian people. These questions seek reasonable information. They seek information which should be available to the Government and which should be in the possession of the Australian Parliament and the Australian people.
– The honourable senator is just spinning words. Let him get down to the facts.
– What are the facts? The Prime Minister has said that he has no wish to deny the public or the Parliament information that is reasonably available to the Government. There are now eleven questions relating to VIP aircraft on the Senate notice paper. One of them goes back to as long ago as 8th March - about 8 months ago. It seeks information which I suggest should be available to the Government. The information is required by a member of this Parliament. The Government has had 8 months in which to obtain that information and to place it on the table of the Senate. Yet no answer has been given to that question. Apart from that question, which was placed on the notice paper on 8th March, ten other questions relating to VIP aircraft are on the notice paper. Not one of them has yet been answered by the Government.
I suggest that the Government has been particularly touchy about the cost of purchasing these aircraft, as it has been about the cost of purchasing the F111 aircraft. For political purposes it is merely adopting the slogan: ‘Sit tight and keep quiet’. On 26th September last a great series of questions was put to the Minister representing the Minister for Air by honourable senators who sit on the left hand side of the Chair. Again we ran into a solid wall of frustration. I think Senator Turnbull was told that the answer to two of the questions that he asked was no, and then told that if he put his questions on the notice paper the Minister would see whether he could obtain the information that was sought. Answer after answer was evaded by the Minister. The answers were either a definitive negative or merely a suggestion that the question be put on the notice paper. So is it any wonder that the Australian people and members of this Parliament, having sought this information for so long, believe that the Government has something hidden in the cupboard?
What is the situation in respect of the cost of these aircraft? We know that on 1st December 1965 the Minister for Air made a statement in which he said that nine additional aircraft would be purchased for VIP purposes. They were two Hawker Siddeley 748s which at that time were estimated to cost $2.4m; two Mystere 20s which at that time were estimated to cost $2m; two BACH111s which at that time were estimated to cost $6m-
– At what time?
– At 1st December 1965, the date of the ministerial statement that was made on this matter in the House of Representatives.
– The Minister said that the Mysteres would cost $5. 4m.
– I suggest that the honourable senator look at the ministerial statement, from which I propose to quote. The Auditor-General, in his report for the year ended 30th June 1967, tells us that, including initial support equipment and spares, supplies and services, the two Hawker Siddeley 748s are estimated to cost $4.4m; the Mystere 20s are estimated to cost$6m; and the two BAC111s are estimated to cost $11.2m. In other words, in a period of about 20 months the total estimated purchase price has jumped from $ 10.4m to $21.6m. But what is the explanation for this increase?
Let us have a look at some of the other facts. Yesterday the Prime Minister said that the two Hawker Siddeley aircraft, as well as being used for VIP purposes, would be used for trainer purposes for the Royal Australian Air Force. But the Minister for Air, in the ministerial statement that he made in another place on 1st December 1965, said that all told eight Hawker Siddeley aircraft were being purchased for navigation and electronics purposes. He went on to say:
At the same time the Government has reviewed the requirements for VIP aircraft operated by the RAAF in 34 Squadron. The Chief of the Air Staff has made a recommendation to me that the Dakota aircraft, which have been in RAAF service since the early days of World War 11, should be retired from VIP service. .
– Was this statement made to the honourable senator or to the Prime Minister?
– This statement was made by the Minister for Air on 1st December 1965, as the honourable senator would know if he were prepared to listen. The Minister for Air went on to say:
As a decision has been made to buy HS748s as navigation trainers, the opportunity is being taken to purchase two further HS748s for the VIP service. The VIP version is considerably cheaper than the navigation trainer and can be purchased at a cost of approximately £600,000.
Now the Prime Minister; in his ministerial statement, tells us that the HS748s in the VIP flight are also to be used in part for trainer purposes. Apparently, after a great deal of public discussion and questions in this chamber, these two additional aircraft of the type that was required for VIP purposes are now found to be required also for trainer purposes in the RAAF. Why? What is the explanation?
I come now to the BAC111. It will be recalled that at the time of the purchase of this aircraft the Australian internal airlines were being given approval to purchase DC9 aircraft for their operations. Recently an article written by a Mr Macdonald, the aviation writer for the Melbourne ‘Age’, appeared in that newspaper. Among other things, this is what he said about the purchase of the BAC111:
The airline industry attributes the huge increase inthe cost of spares for the RAAF’s BAC111 to the Government’s decision to buy a British aircraft little known in this part of the world.
The industry says the BAC111 was bought to keep faith’ with the British industry, following the rejection of the aircraft in favour of the American DC9 by the two domestic airlines.
Hud the Government bought the same aircraft as the domestic airlines, it would have saved more than $5m in spares.
In the same article Mr Macdonald said:
When new aircraft are purchased in large numbersfor airline use, the stock of spares purchased to go with them can be as high as one-third of the basic cost of the aircraft.
But when only two aircraft are bought (and the only other BAC111s in service in this part of the world are in the Philippines), the value of spares required increases considerably.
It is puzzling why the Government did not assess (at least more accurately) the value of spares required when it ordered the BAC111s - one of the basic bookkeeping tasks associated with buying new aircraft
If DC9s had been purchased, the needs could have been rationalised between the RAAF and the two domestic airlines.
Both Ansett-ANA and TAA work to this system now.
The DC9 has a work capacity very similar to that of the BAC111, and could have been used in exactly the same way.
– Is the honourable senator talking of the stretched version?
-I am talking of the version cited by Mr Macdonald, the aviation writer. Obviously he is talking about the version purchased by the Australian Government, It will be very interesting to see, having regard to the statement made by the Minister for Air on 1st December 1965, whether these aircraft will be used for ministerial trips overseas as well as VIP use in Australia. One of the reasons given by the Minister for Air on 1st December 1 965 as to why the two BAC111s were being, purchased was this:
They will be ableto fly non-stop to any part of the Australian mainland and at the same time their range is sufficient to facilitate contact with countries adjoining Australia, as, for instance, New Zealand and countries of South East Asia. It is expected that the first BAC111 aircraft will be delivered in 1968 and the second in 1969. They will cos! about £l.5m each.
That, to my understanding, is $3m each. The Auditor-General’s report shows that the estimated cost for the two BAC111s now is $1 1,200,000.
There is one other matter that I must raise. 1 rather hesitate to do so, because I do not like bringing personal family affairs into the public arena. Yesterday the Prime Minister said that his family used the VIP aircraft on one occasion only and that the same aircraft had brought back four Cabinet Ministers from Melbourne. That was the statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday.
– He said: ‘Without me being present’. The honourable senator will remember that.
– That is so. On 8th March 1967, in another place, the Prime Minister was asked a question about the use of VIP aircraft by members of his own family. The right honourable gentleman replied:
If I am not acting in a responsible way in the eyes of the people, they will know howto take out on me any displeasure that they feel. It so happens that in this country there are many people, officials and others, who wish to get to know the family of a Prime Minister. This is very natural. It does not suit the convenience of members of my family to give up time from their professions or businesses and bring their families here with them simply because I say: ‘I want you here in Canberra for this occasion or for that purpose’. Frequently they’ travel at their own expense or at my expense, and 1 do not begrudge that at all. But there are occasions when 1 think it proper that they should be associated with me and should enjoy the same travelling arrangements as 1 enjoy when I am on official business for the Commonwealth.
Is not it interesting to note that on 8th March 1967, which was obviously the time to which the Prime Minister was referring yesterday, nothing was said by him about the aircraft returning to Canberra with four Cabinet Ministers.
I now wish to make some comment about the adequate and proper use of Air Force personnel. A lot has been said by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Minister representing the Minister for Air about the use of this flight for the training of Air Force personnel. In July last the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ published a series of articles on the life of the Prime Minister. One article, published on 19th July last, was headed ‘Mr Holt takes time off and talks about politics in his Portsea-bound red Pontiac’. In this article it was stated that the right honourable gentleman had flown from Canberra to Melbourne for the purpose of going to Portsea for the weekend, and no honourable senator would begrudge him the right to go to Portsea. But in the article this passage appears:
Wing Commander Addison is the Prime Minis,ter’s personal pilot, but he also flics other patrons of 34 Squadron. On Tuesday he had taken Lord and Lady Casey to Geraldton in Western Australia, on Wednesday he had brought the Holts from Melbourne to Canberra, and on Thursday - to keep up his flying hours - he had flown to New Guinea and back.
If Air Force personnel of No. 34 Transport Squadron have to fly from Canberra to New Guinea and back merely for the purpose of keeping up their flying hours, 1 ask whether they are being used adequately and efficiently in the best interests of the nation.
I suggest that on all counts the Government certainly could he accused of withholding information from the Parliament and the Australian people. It is certainly guilty of not answering legitimate questions that have been put by members in another place and by honourable senators. The Government, obviously because it has been embarrassed by public clamour for more information on the use of these aircraft, is now trying to get itself off the hook. Members of the Parliament are entitled to obtain for the Australian people the information which they seek, and which has been sought since as long ago as 8th March last. Therefore I support the motion proposed by Senator Murphy for the tabling of all accounts and papers.
– For Senator McClelland’s information, the motion proposed by Senator Murphy was that the Senate take note of the paper. This debate has nothing whatever to do with the tabling of all accounts and papers. That matter should be straighened out before the debate proceeds too far. It would appear to me that because of recent Press statements and the worry of some honourable members it was right and proper for the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) to make his statement in another place yesterday. It was right and proper, because a molehill can very surely be made into a mountain if it is not checked. I believe that the intention of members of the. Opposition is to use their influence to make a mountain out of this matter for one reason and one reason only - that is, that within a few short weeks the Government will have to face a Senate election. Members of the Opposition are trying to pull out odd things which they believe will give them an extra vote or two.
The VIP flight has been in existence for 20 years. It was not started by the present Government; it .was started by the Labor Party when it was in office. I do not decry that at all. I think the Labor Party showed great wisdom in starting it. I am right behind it, because if anything is essential in a land the size of Australia it is a method of quick transport so that people in responsible positions may avail themselves of it to go from place to place within the country that they run.
I mention these things because there seemed to be the thought in the minds of the two honourable senators who have spoken on the Opposition side that aircraft should not be used by Ministers and important people coming to visit our country to enable them to get round and see our country. Recently the very low frequency radio base at North West Cape was officially opened. A method of quick transport was available, through this squadron, to enable the Prime Minister and others to attend the opening, and was availed of by them. I point out, however, that very few, if any members of the Opposition, although invited, would take advantage of this way of getting to the opening ceremony. Imagine what would be the position when some , such ceremony took place at some place in Western Australia a little distant from the metropolitan area if we did not have these VIP planes which the Opposition seems to be opposed to our using. Say, for example, a mine at Marble Bar was to be opened officially. We are very rich in minerals, and such an event could easily happen. The Prime Minister could be asked to open the mine officially. Without VIP aircraft, without the opportunity to charter a plane, and having to take the ordinary methods of transport provided by the commercial companies operating in Australia, it would take him 8 days to get from Canberra to there and back. The very reason why we are operating VIP aircraft today is to enable the important functions of Government and decisions relating thereto to be carried out as quickly as possible.
What has the Government done? Up to a few months ago we were operating 5 DC3 aircraft at least 20 years old and 2
Convairs which were something in excess of 12 years of age. We also purchased two Viscounts which are now about 10 or 12 years old. The Australian Labor Party expects the Government and this nation to progress by the continued use of such aircraft as the 20 year old DC3s, which can do only 150 miles an hour. If the members of the Labor Party are not objecting to this, then why are they objecting to the Government’s purchase of modern aircraft at a cost of $21. 6m to take the place of these antiquated models which have been obsolete for at least 10 years?
– The election.
– Senator Branson has given the reason. He says it is because of the election. That is true. It is because of the coming Senate election. I believe that we are entitled to these aeroplanes. I want to say quite clearly, so that everyone will understand me, that if it costs $21. 6m to replace these obsolete planes with modern aircraft and parts, that sum is infinitesimal when compared with a total budget of about S6,000m.
Honourable senators opposite are claiming that the $21. 6m is to come out of the public purse this year. In actual fact, these planes will be paid for over a period of 3 years, so the rate is $7m a year. If we take as a guide the age of the planes that we are discarding, it will probably be 15 or 20 years before these new aircraft have to be replaced.
– The Prime Minister said 10 or 15 years.
– In actual fact they will cost the taxpayers of Australia a little over $lm a year, leaving out of consideration their resale value in 20 years’ time. Senator Cant said that the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) had said they would last for 10 or 15 years. The honourable senator apparently did not hear properly what I said. I said that if we take as a guide the 20-year old DC3s that we are discarding - planes that the Opposition would refuse to fly in - and allow the same length of life for the new aircraft, the new ones will last for possibly 20 years. Therefore, the cost, spread over the whole period, is quite small considering the amount of work they have to do.
Let us look now at this Squadron known as No. 34 Transport Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force. It is interesting to remember that the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) in another place has held, for the last 3i years, the portfolio which is responsible for these aircraft, and during the whole of that period until this time, with the exception of one or two questions that have been asked, no objection to them has been voiced by the members of the Opposition.
– We cannot find out anything. The Minister will not give us the answers.
– I am saying that no objection has been raised to the VIP flight until recently. The objection is being raised now. It was not raised 12 months ago. Again I point out there is a Senate election to be held soon. The ordinary member of Parliament is not able to use these aircraft. Under the conditions laid down, the questions asked before aircraft are allotted are: ‘Is the journey necessary? ‘If so, is it handled in the most economical manner?’ There are quite a lot of people entitled to use these planes. Those entitled to use VIP aircraft are the Royal Family, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, senior Ministers and members of the Government, the Leader of the Opposition and, in certain instances, the member for the district being visited, as well as high dignitaries who are official guests of Australia. Requests made to the Minister for Air are either granted or not granted on the availability of aircraft - if there is no other suitable aircraft available - and the needs for the flight. The category of passengers includes the Minister and his wife, his personal staff, officials and members of his Department.
Honourable senators should not forget that VIP aircraft have been used in cases of emergency. We recall the recent tragic bush fires that occurred in Tasmania. When members of the Tasmanian Parliament who were staying in Sydney required quick transport to Tasmania to enable them to be in their electorates, a VIP plane was immediately made available to them. No-one would be against that action. As I said before, these controls are exercised in a very strict manner.
– The honourable senator is labouring.
– I am labouring, am I? The honourable senator will be labouring when I finish my speech. I was one of a seven-member delegation from this Parliament that visited Brasilia. The seven members arrived at their destination by various routes. Some travelled by passenger ship and others travelled on commercial airlines, some with A class or first class tickets and others with tourist class tickets. When we arrived at Brasilia what did we see? We saw the American delegation arrive from Washington. This delegation consisted of fifty members.
– Now we are getting the story. We have to keep up with the Joneses.
– Most certainly. This fifty-man delegation included Press officers and staff. That American delegation arrived in a DC6B.
– That would be a lot cheaper than if they had flown in on a commercial flight.
– Yes. Yet Senator Poyser interjected that we have to keep up with the Joneses. The illustration I have just given sets out the very reason why Australia is buying two BACIII aircraft. The reason we are buying these aircraft is for everyone to know. It is thought that they will be required to take important Australians overseas. Is the Austraiian Labor Party against this? If the Prime Minister and his party wish to go overseas in one of these aircraft, do honourable senators opposite think that this is not right? Are they against this? If they are against it, I point out to them that their Party has never been against the use of official cars. I remember in the days of a Labor government before I came into this Parliament, seeing cartoons in the local newspaper illustrating streams of cars heading from Canberra to Sydney for weekends or going to Jervis Bay, where the Labor members had their own quarters, for holidays. Members of the Labor Party went there so that they could have a peaceful weekend. No problem existed at all about getting cars. Cars are not available in this way now. Let me go a little further into this comparison between the use of cars and VIP aircraft. Are they not used by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam)? Does he not take advantage of the VIP planes?
– Our leader does not use them.
– Is it not a fact that the Leader of the Opposition has used these aircraft?
– Senator Murphy has never used one.
– That is why we are having this kefuffle in the Senate today. Senator Murphy is not entitled to use a VIP aircraft. There must be a split within the Labor movement. Senator Cant says in horror: ‘Isn’t Senator Murphy allowed a VIP plane?’ The answer is no. That is why this debate is taking place here today. The Leader of the Opposition in another place is allowed the use of a VIP plane. I understand that he has taken with him people belonging to his Party throughout the length and breadth of Australia - to the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland. I do not know that he has supplied a list of the people who went with him. I have heard some rumours.
I wish to continue with my comparison concerning the use of motor cars and VIP aircraft. What happened when the former Leader of the Opposition in another place, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell) was in Sydney, when Marshal Ky visited Australia, heading those demonstration marchers promoted by the Communists and others in Australia against the visit of Marshal Ky7 Where was the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who is now the Leader of the Opposition in another place? I understand that he was taking a fortnight’s holiday on the Gold Coast with his wife. He had the use of a VIP car and driver.
– Do not all the
Ministers do that?
– No, they do not.
– Go on!
– ‘What was the cost of the services of and the overtime paid to the driver of that car, including the cost of his maintenance while the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition was on the Gold Coast? If honourable senators opposite want it like this, let us have it like this. We are quite happy. Senator McClelland asked why the Government, instead of buying the two BAC 111 aircraft, had not purchased the DC9 aircraft which the domestic airlines purchased and which are now in operation here? Let me set out a few of the facts which stand out regarding the purchase of the BACIII. The first reason is that the BACIII has a longer range. The’ second is that it is cheaper in operation. The third reason is that it has faster, more economical cruising.
Madam Acting Deputy President, I point out that the DC9 aircraft cannot operate from Canberra airport at maximum all up weight in high temperature conditions because of the length of the runway. Would not this condemn (hat aircraft at the start? If the DC9 cannot operate from Canberra airport at maximum all up weight because the runway is too short, would not this condemn it immediately? These facts were related to the particular models that were considered when the decision was being made to re-equip the No. 34 Transport Squadron.
The seating capacity of the VIP BAC1 1 1 will be thirty. The engines of the BACIII are Rolls-Royce Speys, and are not comparable with any other aircraft engines in Australia. Some consideration was given to buying the DC9 aircraft or similar aircraft because some people thought that if DC9 aircraft were purchased and one of the engines had to be repaired the domestic airline companies could carry out that work in their workshops. But we found that this does not always apply, because they are busily engaged repairing their own planes. On one occasion when we wanted one of the engines in a Viscount replaced or repaired we had to wait until it was convenient for them to do the job. Therefore, there was no advantage in that proposal. I think I have made it quite clear to the Senate that the Government is not running away from this question of the use of VIP planes. We intend to use them. I think that the people of Australia expect us to use them. We know full well that private companies in Australia are using their own planes because they find that that is the most convenient way to travel.
– And they know what it costs them.
– And the honourable senator knows what it costs to run our aircraft.
– They are costed out, in private companies.
– So are ours costed out. Does the honourable senator think that we do not know what these aircraft will cost? The Opposition does not understand the position. All it seems to be interested in is telling the Senate that the cost originally was Slim and now it will be $21m. The Opposition docs not realise that two things must be taken into consideration. The first is that the original price quoted for these planes in 1965 was their fly-away cost. The second point, which is of considerable interest, is the requirement for additional finance for the initial range of spares and ground handling equipment which must be supplied at a later date in respect of every aircraft. There were two quotes, but the Opposition is running on only one. It is interesting to note that the fly-away price was within a couple of hundred thousand dollars - a comparatively small margin - of the initial price as mentioned by the Minister in another place.
As I stated previously, the Government is right in equipping the nation with VIP planes which are modern and can transport important people from A to B quickly and cheaply. Because of the magnitude of the business of running this country it is absolutely essential that our top people have the fastest and most economical aircraft available to them on all occasions so that very important decisions can be taken and implemented expeditiously. I reject the criticism expressed by the Leader of the Opposition and other Opposition senators and their attempt to condemn the Government on the statement which has been tabled in the Senate today.
– At the outset let me say that I am not one of those who believe that our Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) and Ministers of State should travel the length and breadth of this country, or even abroad, like swagmen. 1 believe that our Prime Minister, his Ministers and other political leaders in Australia should have modern facilities of travel in the discharge of their multitudinous and onerous duties. After having spent a long period in the public life of this country I believe that the great majority of the people share my views. There is a section of our people, of course, which is always highly critical of those in public life and always caustic about the duties of parliamentarians generally without knowing very much about what is entailed, but 1 do not think that that section represents a big percentage of our people. It is generally regarded as embracing the sourbellies in the community.
However, whilst 1 believe that the Prime Minister, his Ministers and other leaders in political life are entitled to modern facilities of travel and other concessions and privileges,I believe also that they have accompanying obligations to see that those facilities and privileges are not abused, taken advantage of, extended to people they were never intended to benefit or made available to those who have no right to them. The Prime Minister, his Ministers and the other people who enjoy these privileges have an obligation to be most scrupulous in the handling of public funds. Just as they are expected to be most scrupulous in the handling of public funds, so they have an obligation to be most scrupulous in the handling of privileges which incur expenditure from the public purse.
I am satisfied that it is not so much the use of VIP planes about which people complain and to which the Press gives headlines; it is the apparent and indisputable misuse, not only of planes but also of other means of transport provided by the Government, which gives rise to complaint. This debate today has not been brought about so much because of the existence of the VIP planes; it has been fomented by the inept political attitude of Ministers in this chamber who exhibit contempt and disdain for anyone who seeks information on this or any other question. I cannot say whether they or those whom they represent here are responsible but I feel -I say this sincerely - that this debate has been fomented by the failure of Ministers to reply to questions relating to VIP planes. I believe that, had information been forthcoming, neither the Prime Minister nor his Ministers would have been placed in the position of having to make a public statement on the matter.
– They put themselves on the hook.
-I appreciate that, as one who can assess the position. On 13th May 1966 I asked a question in the Senate con cerning what I believed to be the misuse of a VIP plane. I asked:
I would have asked the self-same question about officials of any political party who had used a VIP plane to go to a conference such as this.
– The Government is too kind to the Opposition; that is the trouble.
– That might be so. I will not read the reply because it is too lengthy. It finishes with this sentence:
Particulars of passengers carried are not available.
That is the point that I want to make. I believe that these particulars should be available. A record should be kept of every person who is privileged to travel in an aircraft. Indeed, I would have thought that the Department of Civil Aviation would require a proper schedule Of passengers travelling on those aircraft. I repeat that this whole debate has been ineptly handled by the Government from the Prime Minister down. On a previous occasion, when there had been some Press publicity regarding members of his family travelling on one of these aircraft, if he had said that the aircraft had been leaving Canberra for Melbourne empty to bring back some Minister and that he had arranged for his family to go down - and left it at that - the Australian public would have been fair enough, I believe, to accept it.
– It was the truth, anyway.
– It was the truth. But then he went on to say that sections of the public were clamouring to see his sons and daughters. I have not any evidence in support of that. As far as my State is concerned, no-one has ever petitioned me to arrange for the sons and daughters of Mr and Mrs Holt or anybody else to come to Queensland. Queenslanders want visits by Ministers and they will not begrudge them the use of speedy aircraft to get up to Queensland as frequently as they can to assist the State Government to iron out many difficulties. Naturally, that statement brought forth public criticism. Every time a question has been asked in this chamber we have been given the cold shoulder. If 1 were anywhere else I might use another expression. The fact remains that we were just treated with contempt and disdain and it was inevitable that this discussion would have to come up, because Ministers will not be permitted to get away with treating the Opposition as nothing or of no account, because after all we represent a big section of the people. We are entitled to be respected and to have our questions answered to the best of the ability of Ministers and with greater expedition than that with which they have been answered up to now.
Now we come to the most recent statement. A lot of it is very good. I believe that the public will appreciate the history of the VIP aircraft and particulars of those who use them. No responsible person in the community would say that there should not be aircraft, at the disposal of the GovernorGeneral, who has to tra el the length and breadth of this great continent, or of the Prime Minister and Ministers. No-one, I think, would question that. Visitors from overseas need the use of these aircraft. That is well and good. Everybody goes along with that. But why would the Prime Minister, after all of his years of experience in public life introduce into this statement a passage that leaves itself open and lends itself to ridicule? He referred to having got tired of the lettuce that had not properly thawed out. I am a bit with him; I am not too good myself on that caterpillar food. He went on to say that they had requisitioned some pies and pastries. I give him the benefit of my medical advice to lay off them. That is why I am like I am; pastries and starches are no good. The Prime Minister has fostered a physical fitness campaign and I am sure that his wife is very, conscious of the necessity to keep- one’s figure in shape. If they take my advice they will not go for pastries and pies too often.
However, he introduced that reference. There was no necessity to do that. When I heard the Prime Minister’s statement 1 said to someone in my room: ‘I can see how the news boys will play on that tomorrow.’ To day 1 read the Melbourne ‘Age’ and it says Pie in the Sky’, lt was a presentation to the news boys. They are not always bright but one would have to be dull not to take that one up. Even I saw what was coming in that respect. As long as he goes along with VIP planes he will get the pie and the sausage roll for sure.
– Are the sausage rolls the Mysteres that they are talking about?
– Yes - or the pies; 1 do not know which. Not having had the privilege of travelling on one of these VIP aircraft I am not aware of just what die fare is, or of whether it is chicken sandwiches and bubbly. That would not appeal to me much, either, because I do not like either of them. I would sooner have corned meat and a bottle of Queensland beer any time in preference to chicken sandwiches and bubbly. I would get by on my choice in the heat of Queensland. It is a pity, that the statement contains a remark like that, which shows both a lack of understanding of the public mind on these things and the ineptitude with which this matter has been handled. A plain, open statement on the matter supported by facts and replies to the questions that have been asked would have satisfied the public. I said that I had never been on a VIP plane. I got very close to it prior to the election in November last year.
– Did the honourable senator see one at the airport?
– No, I got closer than that. The Prime Minister very generously stated some weeks before the election that he proposed to make a VIP aircraft available to the Leader of the Opposition - then Mr Calwell - and to the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party - myself. I thought: ‘This looks all right. He is very generous’. I did not think I would need it. However, I am told, when Mr Calwell was asked whether he was going to use a VIP plane he said: ‘Oh, no, no. The commercial planes will suit my convenience very well’. He carried out that intention till near the end of the campaign when he was forced into a VIP plane; I concede -him that. As an afterthought he said to his questioner: I will try to get by with the commercial planes. If I say I will accept a VIP plane,
Gair will get it’. So Gair did not get it because Mr Calwell would not have it.
– A pretty good reason, too.
– A pretty good reason. I did not think he feared me that much. I knew he was bitter but I did not think he feared me. However, that was how close I got to getting a VIP plane. Whether I will ever get close again, 1 do not know. The fact remains that we members of the Democratic Labor Party recognise the necessity for having some aircraft such as these for the convenience of the leaders of our Government and visiting VIPs. But do our needs warrant nine aircraft? Do they warrant aircraft capable of carrying 60 to 100 passengers? All the aircraft surely do not have to be big enough to carry a couple of football teams. It is at this point that the people start to complain about the abuse of these things; about living above our means.
I said a while ago that this debate became inevitable because of the circumstances and the way the matter had been handled by the Government. It became inevitable because of the publicity given to the purchase of these seven replacement aircraft at a time when the Government was displaying such a miserly, miserable and mean attitude to the indigent section of our community. It happened at a time when the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) was saying: ‘I could not consider increasing the pensions, not even by 20c, because this would involve mammoth figures’. But $2 1.6m for the replacement of seven aircraft was just a bagatelle. To say that the cost is to be spread over 3 years does not appease the man in the street. At the same time the Government took $16m or thereabouts oil the man in the street by way of increased postal charges. We managed to cut that sum down a little bit. In the light of all this, the Government could not expect to get away without having this matter publicly aired and debated.
I think there is something to be said for the resolution that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) intends to submit later. I think it is a good thing not only for the public interest but for the Government so that it can show that it has clean hands in this matter. The Government should not say what it said to me: That there was no record of the passengers carried. There must be a record.
– They tear the records up now.
– Do they? I feel that the Government should have come clean on this matter over the last few months. It should have told us something. Let it be a lesson to all Ministers that the Senate will get the information somewhere, somehow, sometime if it cannot be obtained in a legitimate way. The Senate has its rights even though we do not have the right to travel in a VIP plane. I elicited from the Minister the other day something which confirmed information I had received: That a member of the House of Representatives could accompany a Minister on a VIP plane but under no circumstances whatsoever was a senator to be found a seat on a VIP plane. Why the discrimination? Are we poorer people? Are we somewhat inferior to members of the House of Representatives? I have known of many projects about which a senator has been more devoted than a member of the House of Representatives, A senator represents an entire State and is interested in everything that is going on in his State, if he is active, whereas a member of the House of Representatives is confined in his interest to a limited area in a State. There can be no logical argument for putting an embargo on senators.
I want to make it clear that it is not on that account that I complain. I complain chiefly because of the secretiveness of the Government about VIP aircraft and the misuse of these aircraft on some occasions. I believe it is more than significant that this same document about the VIP Squadron was read by the Prime Minister in another place yesterday and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) did not consider it necessary to speak about it.
– That is not so. The Leader of the Opposition obtained the adjournment of the debate.
– He gol the adjournment of the debate. Why did he not continue, just as the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate has done today, and have the matter discussed? I say it is more than significant that the discussion on this statement was left to the Opposition in the Senate to ail its views.
– The Leader of the Opposition might have wanted to have the debate broadcast.
– He may have wanted to give a considered reply.
– He wanted to give it a considered reply. I think that might be nearer the mark, Senator Cavanagh. I go along with the honourable senator because the Leader of the Opposition in another place has good reason to consider this matter because he is equally as guilty and responsible as those members of the Government who have used the aircraft. He is reported in the Press today to have said that he believed that the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Country Party (Mr McEwen) and the Leader of the Opposition should have use of these planes. That is to the exclusion of Ministers. I consider that a Minister in charge of a big department would have more justification in using a VIP plane than the Leader of the Opposition, with all due respect. But he said that that was his order of priority. I think that a busy Minister who wanted to get away from his desk in order to open a project in Hobart or north Queensland should have the use of a VIP aircraft. On no account would I permit a VIP plane to be used to convey any Minister or the Leader of the Opposition on any mission related to Party organisation. The aircraft have been, used for this purpose up to now and I regard this as irregular and wrong. If they want to go to another State in order to organise their Parties, let them use the ordinary means of transport, not the VIP planes. Let the same concession be given to everybody who leads a political party, big or small, if they use VIP planes.
We are allegedly living in a democracy but honourable senators would be amazed at just how narrow our democracy is in practice. Those who say most about free speech are the first to deny it to anybody else. Those who clamour and claim so much about the rights of the people in the community have no thought for the rights of the minorities.
I have spoken about the misuse of concessions and privileges enjoyed by members of Government but in conclusion I want to say that this is not limited to members of Government. I know that whereas members of Parliament have not had the right to use Government transport and other concessions, public servants enjoy a pretty wide range of concessions. On occasions I have been very grateful to a private secretary to a Minister who has said to mc, since I have been in this place: ‘Could I give you a lilt?’ I have been very grateful because for’ a long time that was my only means of getting about unless 1 took a taxi. Only recently 1 was standing at a given point when I saw a black car driven up. I did not expect it to be. for me because 1 had not ordered a vehicle and was unlikely to have one waiting at that time. The driver was there for 50 minutes. He got out of the vehicle and bid me the time of the day. We had a conversation and I asked: ‘Who- would you be waiting for? Some of the Ministers that are here?’ He said: ‘No’. After the car had been there for 50 minutes a teenage girl came out of a building, got into the vehicle and away she went.
– Was she worth waiting for?
– There was a day when I might have been adventurous enough and enterprising enough to enter the vehicle also. I did not on this occasion. But I thought at the time about how that driver had waited 50 minutes for that girl. That is an example of how much abuse can go on. And who gets the blame? The Government gets the blame all the time, but in many cases it would not be aware of how loosely arrangements are made. I repeat what I said at the outset of my speech. I do not think the Australian people begrudge to the Government adequate means of transport for Ministers, VIP’s, the Governor-General and others. They question whether the fleet of aircraft to be assembled is warranted. They are conscious of the fact that the Government is spending $2 1.6m at a time when it is crying poor mouth and saying that it cannot give the pensioners an increase and cannot give to the returned servicemen what they seek.
It is only logic and common sense that the public get crossgrained about this matter and set out to give -the Government a rub-up with the aid of the Press, particularly when we employ expressions that give to the Press a good line for its headlines and to the cartoonists good material for their drawings. Had the Government been more forthright in this matter and had it shown less desire to cover up I believe we would not have had the necessity for this debate. The information would have been supplied to us and I think the curiosity of honourable senators in this connection would have been appeased.
– I wish to make only a short incursion into this debate to which I have listened for a considerable time, either here in the chamber or through the loudspeaker underneath my desk. I am not sure of the precise attitude that is being adopted by the Opposition, or even by Senator Gair. I heard the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) say, or I believe I heard him say, that in principle he was not expressing any objection to the government of a country such as this maintaining a flight of aeroplanes for the conveyance of those people whom they do convey. I gathered that that was the basis of bis remarks. Senator Gair has indicated much the same idea.
– We are tolerant, but we will not stand abuse.
– Yes. Yet a great deal of the debate has in fact comprised of speakers’ saying: ‘Yes, it is all right to have the VIP aircraft; but we should not really have them, or if we do really have them we should have something not as efficient or as effective, or it should not be done now because now the Government is spending money which we say would be better spent on pensioners.’ Let us get perfectly clear at least what is my own belief in this matter. I believe that in a country such as Australia it is necessary to maintain and to run a flight of fast and efficient aircraft to transport not only the Royal family, the Governor-General and visiting Heads of State, but also the Prime Minister, Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition in this Parliament. Canberra is not located in the centre of Australia. It is a very great country indeed, in terms of distance. At any given time functions are held which the people concerned wish to have attended by appropriate Ministers or the Leader of the Opposition. The opening of the North West Cape communication station is an example in point, although the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) did not attend that function.
It is necessary for a Minister or the Leader of the Opposition to have the chance to travel quickly, if he is to travel. If that chance was not provided, it would not be possible for him to travel so much. I will give some examples of occasions when I have used VIP aircraft so that I may indicate the things that their use makes possible. I well remember that on one occasion it was necessary for me to attend in Melbourne an engagement just before dinner - it was not a party engagement - and also to attend an engagement in Sydney just after dinner. The only possible way that I could attend both engagements was to attend the Melbourne engagement and then enter an aircraft to fly to Sydney. The flight took an hour and I was able to attend the engagement there. Without the use of a VIP aircraft, that would not have been possible. Perhaps it would not have mattered if it had not been possible for me to attend both functions, and perhaps nobody would have been hurt much. But both the organisations concerned required the presence of - not me personally - but the occupant of the position which I at the moment hold. Next week I am going to Tasmania and I propose to travel by VIP aircraft, if I am given one to use. I have applied but have not yet been told whether I may use a VIP aircraft.
– Is it awaiting the result of this discussion?
– The result of this discussion would make no difference whatever to my application and my hope that I would get a VIP aircraft. To obtain one would make this difference: I would be able to travel to Tasmania and attend the engagement on the same afternoon. I would be able to travel on Thursday morning and to arrive in Tasmania late that morning. In the afternoon I would attend a function there and I would attend another function there that night. At the end of the evening function I would fly back to Canberra, having been away for less than one complete day. Otherwise it would be necessary to leave Canberra on Wednesday.
– Because that is the way the civil aviation arrangements function. Senator Turnbull is continuing to interject. He has asked the reason why and I will tell him. It is because of the schedules to which the civil airlines fly and the time at which the functions I am to attend will take place. I happen to know this because, before asking for a VIP aircraft I worked out what it would be necessary to do if I used a civil airline. It would be necessary to leave Canberra on Wednesday night and spend Wednesday night in Melbourne. I would have to leave Melbourne early Thursday morning for Tasmania and stay Thursday night in Tasmania. I would have to leave Tasmania on Friday and get back to Canberra fairly late that day. All that time would be spent away from the sort of work which, whether it meets with general approval or not, must be done. Some of it is necessary in order to provide prompt answers which Senator Gair claims he does not get from me but which in fact he does get. I have used my case as an example. I know that it can be duplicated by other Ministers, particularly by the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn). These things would not otherwise be done.
– We approve of that.
– That is fine, but it has not been perfectly evident that everybody who has spoken in this debate approves of it. I agree that a lot of people have been saying: ‘We approve of it.’ But then they have made speeches indicating a certain amount of disapproval. I did not gain from the speeches of a number of honourable senators opposite the impression that Senator Hannaford has expressed.
– Would the Minister take a Tasmanian senator with him? He would take a Liberal senator, of course.
– No, 1 would not take a Tasmanian senator with me. Let us deal with this particular question. I would not take him, but that would not be as a result of my own decision. T do not make the rules and regulations as to who can travel on VIP aircraft. The matter was raised by Senator Gair. I think all honourable senators should take these factors into consideration. Firstly, it is not true, as was implied by Senator Gair’s statement, that members of the House of Representatives can travel at any time on VIP aircraft. His statement, baldly made, would indicate that any member of the House of Representatives can travel at any time on VIP aircraft. In fact that is not so. A member of the House of Representatives can travel on a VIP aircraft if he is travelling with a Minister to attend a particular function iti his own electorate. That is the limitation that is placed on travelling in VIP aircraft by members of the House of Representatives. I suggest that the position of a member of the House of Representatives travelling to a function in his own electorate must be considered to be rather different from that of a senator travelling to his State. Most honourable senators might not be disposed immediately to agree with me on that point. But it is true, is it not, that each electorate represented in the House of Representatives is represented by one man and that he is the only representative of that electorate; whereas there is no single Senate representative of a State? We are supposed to represent States. In fact we do. But each of us is not the only Senate representative of his State. Each State has tcn Senate representatives. That must bc taken into consideration in relation to the question raised by Senator Turnbull.
– Does the Minister believe that that policy will apply in the future?
– I will treat that question as if it were asked at question time and, because it relates to a matter of policy, make no reply to it. I believe that it is necessary for these aircraft to be provided; that it is proper for them to be provided; and that the Australian people are sufficiently grown up to accept that proposition. To that extent I endorse the opening statements made on behalf of the Opposition in this debate. But I reject out of hand the subsequent statements which have been made by various speakers and which throw doubt on whether these aircraft should be provided. I do not seek to run away from that issue. If there were any desire for a debate on the question whether these aircraft should or should not be supplied, I would be delighted to stand up before the Australian public and give the reasons why they should be supplied.
Senator McClelland spent a good deal of his speech complaining about two matters. One was that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), who represents the Minister for Air in this chamber, asked for questions to be put on the notice paper instead of answering them. If Senator McClelland looks at some of the questions that have been put on the notice paper he will see that they ask for a great amount of detail, such as who were the applicants to fly in these aircraft; at what airports did they board the aircraft; how many air crew were on each aircraft when it took off; and for how long was each aircraft away, lt should be perfectly evident to any fair minded person that , a Minister representing another Minister could not possibly do anything other than ask that such questions be put on the notice paper and that a Minister cannot force the Minister whom he represents to provide an answer to a question after it has been put on the notice paper.
– Questions on notice should be answered within a reasonable time.
– Senator McClelland’s complaint was that the Minister representing the Minister for Air asked that questions be put on the notice paper. I am saying that such questions must be put on the notice paper.
– But they are never answered.
– If the honourable senator is making a different complaint, he should not complain that the Minister representing the Minister for Air has asked that questions be put on the notice paper. His second major complaint was that no information was given on the cost of these aircraft or the cost of this flight. Yet he spent a considerable amount of time complaining about the information that had been given to him - indeed, to all honourable senators - on the capital cost of providing these aircraft. Let us have it perfectly clear in our minds that this capital cost was announced by the Government initially when the first estimate of the flyaway cost was made and subsequently when the estimates of the requirements for spares to keep the aircraft flying were made. Senator McClelland can have no complaint whatsoever that any information on the capital cost of providing these aircraft has been withheld from the Parliament or the public.
Then what complaints do we hear? An interjection was made while I was out of the chamber - I .think it came from Sena tor Poyser - about the recurrent costs or running costs of these aircraft.
– The operating costs; that is right.
– Honourable senators have called for papers and accounts. I wonder whether they have given any consideration whatever to the nightmare that it would be for an accountant to try thoroughly to dissect the recurrent costs of a flight of aircraft that is part of an air force station from which all sorts of aircraft are being operated all the time. I wonder whether .they have given consideration to how much questioning there could be of any accounts that purported to do that.
– -Accountants can work out the cost of a bolt for a Tiger Moth at Alice Springs.
– I have no doubt that they can do that. But we are talking about the operation of a number of aircraft. Could accountants tell us the cost of providing a spare tyre, or something of that kind, for one of these aircraft? Who could dissect how much of the time of the supply officer at the air force station, who puts in the indents in respect of all of the aircraft operating from that station, should be charged against an order for a tyre for one of these aircraft? What sort of accounting approach would have to be made to the general overhead of the air force station to enable that to be done? Would honourable senators opposite want some breakdown of the cost of the guards on the gate, the cost of the officers’ mess-
Opposition Senators - Oh!
– Those are the sorts of things that the accountants would have to go into.
– Let us be sensible.
– I suggest that the honourable senator stand up and say exactly what sorts of costs he is seeking.
– I might.
– I suggest that he do that. If he did, we would know just where we were. If it is suggested that we should give, on a business undertaking basis, an accounting statement of precisely what should be charged to particular aircraft that operate from a station from which many other types of aircraft operate, I am certain that such a statement could not be presented in a way in which it could not be questioned, unless it gave precise information that was asked for.
We heard from Senator McClelland about people training on these aircraft. If someone was costing a flight by one of these aircraft and it had on board all of its regular crew except one, but also a trainee who was not necessarily attached to the flight but who needed training on that type of aircraft, should that trainee’s wages be charged to the cost of the flight? I could go on and on indicating some of the difficulties that would be involved in trying to dissect these sorts of costs. Where it is easy to provide costs, as in the case of capital costs, they have been provided. I have no doubt that if a precise question were asked - for example, how much petrol do these aircraft use per hour when they are flying somewhere? - that information could be provided. But information on these other matters would not be easy to provide and could not be provided in a form in which it would not be subject to question.
I am surprised that, because of the desire of the Opposition, this subject should be debated in this chamber for the whole of the day, as would appear to be the case. Apparently there is no dispute between the Leader of the Opposition, spokesman- for the Government and other honourable senators on the point that this flight should be operated and that these aircraft should be available for use by the people to whom they are available. But there have been some suggestions that different types of aircraft should be provided. Those suggestions have just been made in passing. They have not been pressed by any spokesman of any significance. There is no doubt whatever that the “whole of the capital expenditure in this field has been accounted for to the Parliament and to the people”.
All that remains )n doubt in this debate, which at the wish of the Opposition has taken up most of the day, is whether some more accurate information on running costs could be provided. I do not believe that this subject merited the taking up of so much time. If the debate was warranted I would not raise any objection to it or seek to stop it, but I do express surprise that this length of time should have been taken up on this one aspect of the matter. The Government accepts responsibility for re-equipping this flight; it is not seeking to run away from that. It will argue, before the nation at any time, its right to do so. One small aspect of the matter is taking up so much of the Senate’s time-
– That is the Minister’s own view. He should not assume that all he is saying is accepted by the Opposition.
– That is the view to which the greatest amount of logical thinking of which I am capable has Isd me. One possible explanation of the debate is a desire to focus attention on this matter in the Senate because in another place there is a debate on the involvement of some controlling members of the Australian Labor Party in the sending to Peking of petitions in which the British Government is called a Fascist government.
– Senator Gorton knows that that is not true. I brought this matter forward last week.
– 1 do not know that it is not true. That is the only explanation that I can see for spending all this time on this one small matter. In fact I believe that there is a great deal of truth in the statement.
– It is unfortunate that the Minister for Education and Science (Senator Gorton concluded his remarks by telling the Senate that this debate is illogical, because obviously it is not. If the Minister was concerned about the time being taken up by the debate there was no real necessity for him to speak. He contributed nothing whatever to the debate. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), who represents the Minister for Air, read the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) practically word for word.
– 1 did nothing of the sort, and the honourable senator knows it.
– The Minister did give a few more facts. Actually Senator Scott is the only one who has spilt a few beans. If any one is to be blamed for this debate continuing let the blame rest on those who want to speak. If honourable senators believe that the matter is important, then they should speak on it. The fact that there is a waiting list of about twenty speakers shows the importance of this debate. Or am I wrong?
– Yes. you are wrong.
– I am wrong! Honourable senators are speaking, one after another, just to waste the time of the Senate? All I can say is that certainly Government speakers must be doing that. Some honourable senators on this side have a real reason for participating in this debate.
– And hearing it.
– The honourable senator will hear. I have a full hour. I support Senator Gair’s statement that this debate would never have occurred except for the arrogance and the contempt shown by the Minister for Repatriation to this House by refusing to give answers to the questions that were asked. I have stated that on other occasions. Today the Senate was told that the questions were not answered because in the time allotted for questions without notice the full story could not be given; it might be misleading. That is so much poppycock that it makes me blush to hear Ministers say it. If the Minister does not have all the facts needed to reply to the question he could explain the facts that he does have so that there would be nothing misleading in his reply.
– Some sort of answer is expected.
– That is true. The first question was asked on 8th March this year. I had to ask succeeding questions. I did that for a specific purpose. I had heard that the passenger lists on these aircraft were being thrown away. That was stated in another chamber. So I kept asking. The Minister knew that these questions would be asked, and he should have been able to obtain the list of people travelling on these planes.
Last night on a television interview it was stated that some government members believe that I have been raising the cost of VIP flights as propaganda because I have a shaky Senate seat. Let me say that every senator has a shaky seat except those in the first and second positions on the ballot paper in each State, and they are returned not because the people want them but because the people vote for a particular party.
– That is not true.
– I do not want to enter into a debate about the Australian Country Party’s No. 2 position in Victoria. The point is that I raised this question on 8th March. At that time there was no talk of an impending Senate election; it was thought that it might be held at the end of the year. I even went as far as speaking to a very senior Government Minister. I said to him: ‘You do not know how politically stupid you are. All you have to do is to answer the question and that will be the end of it. But if you do not answer the question I propose to keep raising it.’ Senator Sim, or somebody on that side of the House, tried to say that there will be no outcry from the public.
– I did not mention that.
– It may not have been Senator Sim. Apparently this debate has been engineered by the Press, the Opposition, some independent senators and the Democratic Labor Party because of the forthcoming Senate election. I ask every Liberal Party senator and every Country Party senator whether he has mentioned to the public in his own State the cost of the VIP planes. Has any honourable senator opposite approached someone who did not know that he was a senator? Do not honourable senators opposite believe that there is an outcry against the abuse of the flight? If honourable senators opposite do not worry about the outcry why should they worry because we raise the matter in this chamber? Obviously if the public is with honourable senators opposite it does not matter what the Opposition or I do; it will not help us one iota. I do not believe honourable senators opposite for one moment. They know as weil as I do that the public is completely against the misuse of VIP planes.
Senator Gorton is not in the House at the moment, but he may be tuned in on the speaker in his room. I would like him to know that I approve of VIP planes. At no time have I said that I disapprove of VIP planes. I said that they are a necessity in this country. All I asked for were guide lines. There must be guide lines as to who will use the aircraft. Yesterday the guide lines were given, but bow long will they last? Once upon a time motor vehicles were made available for Ministers, then for members, then for the whole Public Service. Senator Gair is worrying about a popsy entering a car after SO minutes. At an interstate airport one sees at least ten or twenty Commonwealth car drivers wait to pick up public servants. I do not have the use of a Commonwealth car, even though I am travelling on a free pass on Senate business. Public servants have the use of Commonwealth cars. This provision was extended further, as was seen only last year when honourable senators were provided with a car to travel to and from their homes to the aerodrome. The same will happen with the VIP flights; the privilege will be extended.
– The honourable senator has no proof of that statement.
– No? Originally the VIP planes were just for the Prime Minister and probably the GovernorGeneral. Now they are used by junior Ministers and the Chiefs of Staff. If the Chief of the Air Force, the Chief of the Army and the Chief of the Navy use these planes, why cannot departmental heads use them? Then their use will be extended and the flights will be open to everyone. All we ask is that the Government tell us the guide lines and that it keep to them. That is what we were asking for in the beginning. Now let me come to this question of chicken and bubbly. I did not say they had chicken and bubbly. I spoke of what were designated chicken and champagne dinners. In the House of Representatives yesterday, tears actually poured down my cheek as I sat there listening to the Prime Minister telling us of the sorrows of himself and his poor wife being bumped about over the Alps, braving gastronomic hazards. I thought to myself: ‘This is the real pioneering spirit. Here we have them going up there nibbling at their frozen lettuce and braving it throughout this terriffic flight.’
– This is irrelevant.
– No, it is not.
This is what he told us. It is in his statement. If the honourable senator thinks it is irrelevant, I do not. I am coming to the point. You just wait.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - Order! The honourable senator will address the Chair.
– So they were up there eating their poor pies and sausages - I hope with tomato sauce.
– I rise to order. The honourable senator said that tears were pouring down his cheeks. I was sitting beside him and there were no tears pouring down his cheeks.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! The point raised is invalid.
– All I can say is that they were very wet. Let me come back to this question of chicken and champagne. The Prime Minister stated that on this one occasion of the forty-six occasions there was no champagne. He forgot to mention that there were forty-five other occasions. It could well be that on those other fortyfive occasions there was chicken. The Prime Minister might not like champagne, but that term was used to indicate that there is any amount of drink available. I have been told by members who have travelled on this plane that this is so. What we are trying to get at is the cost of catering.
What I have been objecting to all along is the fact - we have not mentioned this today, and it is most important - that the cost of the VIP plane is charged against our defence vote. That is a disgrace to this country. It is a disgrace to members of the Government that they should allow this to happen. It is a disgrace that they should support an attitude so niggardly towards the defence vote as to charge it with the cost of our VIP planes.
– How is this handled in other countries?
– I do not know how it is done in other countries, and I could not care less. Here, in a country which is supposed to be fighting Communism throughout South East Asia, we are so niggardly in our defence vote that it has risen from only 1% to 2% and then 3% and, this year, 5% of the gross national product, and if it were not for the fact that advance payments were made it would not now be 5% of the gross national product. And we charge our defence vote with the cost of the VIP planes. I think we should be so ashamed of this that the Government should be shedding genuine tears over it. That has been the basis of my attack on the VIP planes. I have never said there should not be VIP planes.
Another point is that information about them should not be secret, but it is. I do understand that the cost of catering is actually accounted for separately, but we have to talk in the dark because no-one so far would give us an answer to anything. When I asked 2 days ago for Air Board order, section E, part 27/6, 3 (d), paragraph 26, which defines the policy on catering, I was told that this is a secret document and I cannot have it. The policy with regard to catering is secret. This is information that the enemy is itching for, and here am I, a traitor to the cause of Australia, demanding it. I do not know whether it is secret or not, but I am not allowed to see it. I am not even allowed to look at this secret document, but I have been told by an authority that this section for which I ask does define the policy with regard to catering.
– Does it prescribe the ingredients for sausages?
– I am not certain, because I am not quite sure whether the Prime Minister likes pork sausages or beef sausages. But here again, when I ask for something that could help us in finding out whether the accounting is separate, I cannot get the information. It is a secret document!
Again, it seems to me to be deplorable that the Prime Minister should tell us that pilots of the Royal Australian Air Force have to fly VIP planes because they need the training. This is something really good. The whole of the air defence of Australia is dependent on VIP flights. Do honourable senators honestly believe that Ministers would have untrained pilots? Of course they would not. The pilots used are trained pilots in the first place. In any case, if they need training, the RAAF should provide it. It should not be given by way of VIP planes. It is nonsense to say that we have to have VIP planes for the RAAF pilots to obtain training.
We are also told that these planes are used by defence officers. I do not know why they should be used by the head of each Service because, after that, will come the deputies, and so on it goes, and we eventually have the build-up. Further, we can have VIP flights offering great comfort, despite the Prime Minister’s battle over the Alps, but we cannot provide comfortable planes for the transportation of our wounded from Vietnam to Australia. Are not the members of the Government ashamed? Unfortunately, Senator Anderson is the only Minister in the chamber when I want to attack the Government, and he is one of the Ministers I like best of all. How can the Government really face up to the fact that it is not prepared to provide a decent air ambulance service from Vietnam to Australia, a policy which is condemned by nearly everyone except members of the Government itself, and yet it can provide these planes for VIP treatment in Australia? I think the Government should hide its head in shame also for this. I cannot see that any honourable senator on the Government side does not agree that decent planes should be provided for the wounded. Yet they do nothing about it. They would not dream of doing anything about it because it is much better to have around a VIP plane that can carry sixty people and put, say, five or ten people in it so that they can have comfort, and chicken and champagne, if you like.
– And pies.
– And pies. I cannot help the proletarian taste of the Prime Minister, but if he wants pies, let him have them. That is not my problem. I am beginning to think Senator Gorton is a hopeless Minister. At one time I thought of him as one of the best of the Ministers, but he gets so swept away with his own arrogance these days that he just cannot get down to basie facts. He tried to tell us that we cannot get costs for these things. He suggests that if a spare tyre were needed, the problem would be to know whether the blown out tyre was the fault of the Air Force or whether it was blown out by the last people who used the plane on a VIP flight. That is all nonsense. He can be so irrational when he wants to be. Any first class accountant should be able to tell us these costs. He should be able to tell us what each airman of each rank costs us per bour. It is only a question of doing it the first time, then it is a simple matter to work it out.
But we are told that we cannot possibly have correct accounting because if one department orders the plane and representortives of two other departments join in the trip, it is difficult to know how to apportion the cost. Surely the cost should go to the person who orders the plane. It must be a charge against his Department. If the Government is lucky enough for other people to want to use the plane at the same time, then let them do that. I am all for that, because it represents an economy. In fact, I would go further and say the Government could make this line a third airline. I have already given it a slogan. It is: ‘Go free, fly VIP’. It would save the Government money. If a Minister is going to Hobart in a 60-seater plane, I cannot see why he cannot take us all. Why should he not? But the Government says it is an economy to do that for departmental heads but it is not an economy when it comes to senators.
– Reg Ansett would not like it.
– No. But this is what is happening: The Government is forming a third airline. This one is free. Let me come now to the question of abuse of the VIP aircraft. I heard a very timid mouse speaking last night on television. It was the first time that I have heard him speak out at all about VIP aircraft. I refer to the Minister for Air. I suppose that he is rather overawed by the fact that he is a junior Minister and does not know very much about the matter, apparently.
– He allocates them.
– He allocates them, but he knows nothing about them. He said that I had not made reference to any specific instances of abuse of VIP aircraft. Well, I have in this chamber. The Minister, his secretary, or the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), who represents him here, have not kept themselves informed with what I have said. I will go through a few of these abuses.
First, let me say what is an abuse of a VIP plane. The Minister for Education and Science (Senator Gorton) is going to Melbourne to two meetings and then to Hobart for three meetings. How many of those meetings are political meetings? How many are in regard to the Liberal Party organisation? I do not know. Nobody knows. If the purpose of the Minister’s journey is just to go down to political meetings, is it correct that he should use a VIP plane so that he can get to another meeting?
– And charge it to the Defence vote?
– Yes, it is charged to the Defence vote. This is the basis on which I am attacking this matter. It is all very well for Ministers to say that they are busy. Many of the meetings to which Ministers go are political meetings. Even the Prime Minister took his aircraft to Rockhampton. I do not disagree with this, but there is an argument against it. He took his plane to a political meeting in Rockhampton. He said that, even so, he is still the Prime Minister and that he as well as all Ministers are on duty all the time. If they were on duty, they should not have been up there. They should have been back here or wherever they should have been on duty. Certainly they should not have been at political meetings. If Ministers wish to go to political meetings I do not think that they can use this as an excuse and say that they must have a private plane. I think that it is an abuse of the privilege of the use of VIP aircraft to take a VIP aircraft to go to a political meeting.
– Does that apply to the Opposition too?
– Exactly. I was asked last night whether I thought the Australian Labor Party, if it was in office, would be doing the same thing. I said yes, that I thought it would and that I would be attacking it too. That answers the honourable senator’s question. Let us look at what happened during the Dawson by-election. I do not know whether members of this Parliament think it is an abuse of the privilege of the use of VIP aircraft - I do - when a Minister takes two planes for electioneering. I have given this instance twice in the Senate before, so do not say that I have never given any instance of abuse. Apparently the Minister for Air cannot read or does not want to read. I have mentioned this matter twice before. Do honourable senators think that this is the right and proper use for a VIP aircraft, the cost of which is charged against the Defence vote?
– Was there not t Minister in New Guinea?
– The fact thai there was a Minister in New Guinea is incidental. The Minister who was in New Guinea should have offered the three members who were there a lift back on the VIP aircraft to save expense.
– Who was the Minister?
– I think that it was Mr McEwen, the Minister for Trade and Industry.
– He had two planes in Dawson?
– Yes, a plane for himself and a DC3 to go to smaller airfields. This matter has been mentioned twice. Noone has denied it. If it is not true, deny it; if it is true, tell us. That is why I have asked this question. The Government does not answer. If it did it could say that this was not true. If it had the guts to do so, it would have answered the question. Then again, a Minister came to Hobart and Launceston. He spent 3i days in Tasmania. He used a Viscount for himself and two departmental officers. Is that not an abuse of the VIP service? Was there any emergency? Was there any hurry about the visit which meant that he had to have a special plane? Do not honourable senators regard that as an abuse of the system?
The Prime Minister in his statement did not include ex-Prime Ministers, who are entitled to use the VIP flight. I have mentioned in the Senate twice that the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, on two occasions was given a VIP plane. Once, a plane was sent from Melbourne to Sydney to pick him up and take him back to Melbourne. Do honourable senators think that this is necessary? When the ex-Prime Minister went to a test match in Adelaide, he had a VIP plane also. Was that necessary?
I turn now to the famous case involving the Treasurer, Mr McMahon. I have nothing whatever to say about the question of his child being ill. People can have opinions one way or the other on that matter.
– There is an efficient hospital here.
– Yes. There are two arguments about the matter. There is a hospital here. I often wonder whether any of us, if we had sick children, would be able to obtain a plane.
– It was not a private plane.
– There are two sides to this question. Let us forget that matter. Let us get to the fact that the
Treasurer, according to the Minister for Air, had ordered a plane before the incident.
– I will accept that.
– He did. Is not that a misuse of the VIP flight? The Treasurer ordered a VIP plane to go to Sydney when a commercial flight left 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later - I forget which - than the time for which he ordered his plane. I am not quite certain of the time for which he ordered that plane. Why should a Minister travelling from Canberra to Sydney have a special plane when a commercial flight leaves a quarter of an hour either side of the time for which he ordered his plane?
– Was it before breakfast?
– No. This was at night. I say, and the public says, that this is a misuse of the service.
– Could not the commercial plane have been full?
– I have yet to see a commercial plane full. It could have been full.
– Of course it could.
– Yes, but there are usually two commercial fights out of Canberra at approximately the same time. I should say that the Treasurer would be on one of those planes if he wanted to be on it. Again I refer to the fact that at one stage the Prime Minister openly advocated the use of these planes for Ministers and himself and for their families. All right, if that is the stand let it be the stand. But yesterday in the other place, the Prime Minister boasted that his family had used a VIP aircraft only once. I am not worrying about the family using it, because I am making this point: The very reason why this service has been used only once is because a public outcry followed the first use of it by his family. If the Press had not taken the matter up this system of families using VIP aircraft would be widespread today. It is because the Press had an outcry against it that this service has only been used once. That is the reason why. The other matter I wish to raise is that the authority for the use of these planes comes from a junior Minister. How could he virtually refuse a senior Minister?
– He is answerable to the Prime Minister.
– He is answerable to the Prime Minister but, to me, it should be only the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister who should authorise the use of these planes.
– Have not they enough to do without that?
– I do not think that there are many applications to use these planes. I come to another point about VIP aircraft. Because President Johnson uses one, our Prime Minister is now using a back-up plane. A back-up plane went to Western Australia. I suppose that gave the pilots exercise. Was that the reason for taking it?
– 1 know that. It was filled up with members of the Press who were prepared to pay. There is no need for a back-up plane. Other planes would be available if anything happened to the Prime Minister’s plane. He could easily have obtained a plane from Perth to take him up.
– Has it been suggested that the plane that carried the Press was paid for?
– I was told that.
– To what account was that money credited? That is what I want to know.
– I do not know. I would like to know that also.
– We want a proper account.
– I can say only what I am told. A senator does not get any information from anyone about this matter. I understood that some members of the Press were allowed on that plane if they paid.
– Well, I do not want to see Air Force planes used for the conveyance of members of the Press for money.
– The Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) is to speak next. He may have the answer to this matter. Again I point out that I think it is quite wrong for the Prime Minister to take a back-up plane which is used then as a commercial vehicle for members of the Press when they .could have used other means of transport. It may be that we have been castigating the Government for its attitude towards the use of VIP planes. I have always felt that commercial airlines should be used.
I have always advocated that our commercial airlines should buy British planes, but unfortunately they have chosen to buy American planes. But I think the Government was wrong to buy two British planes out of the blue, so to speak, for the VIP flight. Much as I prefer the British plane, I think that step was economically unwise.
Secondly, I believe that the airline companies should each have been allocated one of the two BAC aircraft. It is of no use telling us the story that when a repair is necessary on a VIP plane Ansett-ANA or TAA - I presume it is TAA, being a government concern-
– Ansett-ANA does repair work. ‘ ‘ ‘
– Does it? The Government could put pressure on both airlines, if necessary and say: ‘We’ want our plane repaired’. After all, both airlines are completely within the Government’s control. It is nonsense to say that whenever a VIP plane needs attention it cannot be repaired by the private airlines because of pressure of work. If the two BAC planes had been allocated to the airlines they could have been used commercially and also as a standby for the VIP flight.
Now let me raise the question whether we should have so many smaller planes such as the 10-seaters. I believe that some that we have are not small enough. I am not sure what the Government is paying in interest on the money advanced to purchase these aircraft, but let me assume that it is 5% seeing that the normal commercial rate is 6i% or 7%. On that basis our interest bill would be $lm a year. A lot of planes could be chartered for Sim a year.
– The depreciation rate on aircraft for taxation purposes is 12)%. Until 2 years ago it was 25%.
– The amount that we have to pay is the point, and in my opinion that amount could well be used to charter aircraft. We have the companies here from which we could charter aircraft.
– How would the 20- year old DC3s go on that basis?
– No-one has said that we should have 20-year old DC3s. Now I come to the question of the operating cost of these planes. We just cannot get down to the basis of cost. Someone has told me that maintenance, including the’ cost of providing Air Force personnel, two stewards and so on, could amount to Si Om a year.
– What about depreciation?
– It would have to include depreciation. I should like to know the cost of maintaining this flight. No-one has yet told us, and I hope that Senator Anderson or the next Minister to enter the debate will give us the information, because I think it is vital. This is a cost which must be ascertained. Even if the Government cannot find out how much a spare tyre costs it should not go far wrong in making an assessment of operational costs including dep.reciation
No-one has yet told us what the BAC aircraft are for. Senator Scott has suggested that they are to be used for overseas trips. These planes hold anything from 60 to 100 passengers depending on the seating arrangements.
– Say 60.
– I could not care less whether it was 100, 60 or 40. How often will a party of 60 be leaving Australia, or even be transported within Australia? Obviously these planes can only be used outside Australia. On his last trip 1 think the Prime Minister took nineteen people with him.
– Is there any significance in the fact that there are sixty senators?
– I do not think so. Will someone tell us why we need two 60-passenger planes? I do not care whether they are DC9s or BACs. Why do we need two 60-passenger planes? I think this is an absolute waste of money.
I agree entirely with Senator Gair who said that this debate would never have occurred had it not been for the arrogance of Ministers who have refused to reply to questions. Most of us approve of having VIP planes. It is of the operating costs of those planes that we disapprove, together with the fact that those costs are charged to the Defence vote. That is a blot on the Government.
– I am bound to involve myself in an oldfashioned preliminary, before I reply to Senator Murphy and Senator Turnbull, by following a custom which seems to have disappeared from the Parliament and saying that I wish to express my interest, or lack of interest, in this subject. I have never had the pleasure of travelling in one of the Air Force aircraft allocated to its communications squadron. I intervene in this debate on the basis of the conditions laid down by the Leader of the Opposition who forecast that the debate was to take place on a split level basis, as it were. This afternoon the debate would be on the motion that the Senate take note of a statement by the Leader of the Government (Senator Henty) which, in essence, is a second reading speech, and the debate this evening would be along the lines of a Committee debate with a motion being moved, under the heading of General Business, for the tabling of papers in relation to the operations of the Government’s communications squadron.
I am using the term ‘communications squadron’ or ‘communications flight’ because it seems to me that the whole issue has been clouded by political use of the words very important persons’ - VIP. That is an old Army or Air Force expression which earned some currency prior to the last war and was used quite freely during the war. Now it has been translated into the civil field. I agree with Senator Turnbull that in the minds of people in our basically egalitarian society it connotes a class distinction which arouses, or tends to arouse, resentment. The term ‘VIP’ has that effect. It is not a very important people’s flight of Air Force planes; it is a communications squadron for transporting people, whether they be Ministers, Service chiefs or other appropriate and proper people, from place to place in the pursuit of the duties that the government and the well-being of this country place upon them.
– Is that definition laid down in any statute?
– It is a definition laid down by common usage amongst people who have been accustomed to the operation of communications squadrons. I am one of them. Many years ago I was responsible for transporting almost as many people in a week as Australian civil airlines carry in a year. I was also responsible for the alloction of communications aircraft. That is the name by which they have always been known in my experience. The VIP flight is a communications squadron. It. is no different from any other communications fleet. I remind the Senate that the Department of Supply transports Ministers and members of Parliament from place to place, either meeting them when they reach Canberra or providing a motor car with a Department of Supply driver - in the case of Canberra it is a Department of the Interior driver - to transport them from one place to another.
There is no more justification for the Leader of the Opposition to criticise the use of communications aircraft as a means of transportation than there is for criticising the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) for using a car and a driver. No honourable senator on this side of the chamber has the right to criticise the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) in another place because he uses a motor car to attend upon political business in its widest definition. Has the Leader of the Opposition any more right to do this than any Minister sitting here has a right to criticise the Leader of the Opposition on his use of a motor car? It is only a change in the process of transportation. It is not a change in the principle of transportation.
– The Prime Minister used the term VIP.
– I do not care a twopenny worth of gin what the Prime Minister said. This is the term that has crept into usage. It is not a transportation system for carrying very important people, unless Senator Cavanagh considers himself a very important person. I do not consider myself a very important person. I have no wish to travel in a communication aircraft. I am quite happy to get along in the way that I get along. I am quite happy to be able to take a car under appropriate conditions but I do not regard myself as a very important person.
– Is it not a fact that the honourable senator and I cannot travel in these VIP planes?
– I do not want to. That is the difference between . Senator Cavanagh and me. Senator Cavanagh and Senator Murphy apparently wish to travel in these communication aircraft. I have no wish to travel in them. That is why I began my remarks by saying that I wished to express my interest or lack of interest. I have no personal interest in who travels in these aircraft. I am merely approaching the problem of attempting rationally to explain what it is all about.
– In a very detached and objective way.
– I am a very detached and objective man. The President agrees with me. This is not a new problem. I am indebted to one of my colleagues on this side who has an historical sense and has looked into the question of communication aircraft. Apparently it is an area of history in which Senator Turnbull himself has been browsing, because there is a curious equation between some historical evidence and the questions that Senator Turnbull has placed on the notice paper and which have been taken up with such glee by Senator Murphy. I refer honourable senators to Hansard of 27th February 1948, wherein on page 308 there is an interesting series of questions which had been placed on notice and which appear under the heading ‘Royal Australian Air Force: Use of Aircraft by Minister’. Honourable senators may relate these questions to those on the notice paper that they have in front of them. Mr White asked the Minister for Air, upon notice:
– Did Senator Turnbull ask those questions?
– No, these questions were asked on 27th February 1948 of Mr Drakeford, the then Minister for Air. They continued:
Senator Poyser will be interested in that because he has such a question on the notice paper. The final question was:
I do not read out these questions as a matter of derision. There is no derision in me at all. But is it not a curious coincidence that these matters were reported in the Tasmanian Press on 27th February 1948 and the honourable senator from Tasmania who has been entertaining us for the last half hour or so asks exactly the same questions and has been consistently asking them?
Let me pass on. There has now evolved in the course of this debate some sort of apology. Honourable senators on the other side are now saying: ‘We believe in the principle of a communication squadron. We believe Ministers should have means of moving from place to place. We are not arguing against the fact that there is a communication squadron.’ But in fact they spend all day arguing against a communication squadron. The debate was not enhanced by the Leader of the Opposition who began this morning by arguing on terms of the highest parliamentary propriety that no-one had attempted to answer the question of Senator Turnbull of Tasmania and, therefore, he had taken it upon himself to place on the notice paper a question in terms exactly the same as the question that had been asked by Senator Turnbull.
I think Senator Turnbull is entitled to make some electoral mileage. He is an independent senator who is to stand in the forthcoming Senate election in Tasmania as an independent. As an independent, he has no policy. He therefore has to create a sort of side effect by which he can go to the people in Tasmania during the Senate election campaign and say: ‘I am the great tribune of the people.’ It is ‘Wilkes and liberty’. The ‘North Briton’ will come out in Tasmania. Senator Turnbull Wilkes will stump around saying Turnbull and liberty?. This is interesting, because it leads me automatically to this deductive process: Why is it that, this matter having been raised in the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister having made a statement, and the Leader of the Opposition in another place having moved for the adjournment of the debate, on the succeeding day - today - in the Senate the Leader of the Opposition informs the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) that the matter is to be brought on in the Senate, it is so brought on, and the Leader of the Opposition moves that the Senate takes note of the statement of the Leader of the Government in the Senate? Pursuing the deduction still further, one reaches the interesting conclusion that it is worthwhile for the Australian Labor Party to reinforce the efforts of Senator Turnbull so that it is possible - it is hoped - that Senator Turnbull will be re-elected as an independent senator from Tasmania by the support of the Australian Labor Party. That is what all of this business that has taken place all day has been about This is a delightful political conspiracy worthy of the Borgias at their best and Senator Murphy, I think, has displayed a political talent of that order.
We have now come to the bottom of the heap. This is not a genuine interest. It is not, as Senator Murphy and that spinner of words, Senator McClelland, claim, a matter of high parliamentary principle. No high parliamentary principle is involved in this at all. What is involved in this is an outrageous political attempt to ensure that in the forthcoming election an independent senator from Tasmania, who will be beholden to the Australian Labor Party for his return to the Parliament, will be elected. That is the reason, Mr President, why this debate was transferred from another place to this place. It was transferred to this place for this specific political purpose.
– That is as logical as Bugs Bunny.
– Senator Ridley can stand and argue about that. Part of this facet, part of this farrago of word spinning, was contributed by Senator Murphy who, unfortunately, ran out of gas a bit before 1 o’clock and laboured over the last 10 minutes while trying to fill in time. Part of the word spinning was done by Senator McClelland who could not produce facts. We are now involved in a repetitive process whereby a senator on this side of the chamber has to stand and make the facts quite clear. The re-equipping of this communications squadron was due to the fact - as has already been said - that every C47 or Dakota, whatever one calls them, was over 20 years of age. In other words, those aircraft have reached the end of their useful life. I understand from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, who is also the Minister for Supply, that these old C47s or Dakotas have been handed over to the Department of Supply which will be charged with the responsibility of getting rid of them. All I hope is that they are not got rid of to anybody who will operate them inside Australia because they are unsafe aircraft. lt is also clear that sometime in the middle 1950s the Government, because the Dakotas did not have the range and the necessary capacity, had to put into this communications squadron two additional aircraft. The Government purchased two Convair Metropolitans. They were the only effective aircraft available at that time to extend the range of the communications squadron. Those aircraft, of course, displayed some problems that are associated with all aircraft; that is, if the load is lightened and more fuel is put on board the range is increased; but if more fuel is added the passenger carrying capacity is reduced. The Convair Metropolitans have a relatively short range whereas in this country an aircraft with a range in the vicinity of 2,500 miles is required in order to get from Canberra to Western Australia, shall we say. The Convairs are nearly 10 years old and have come to the end of their life. In buying aircraft the Government had to consider various problems such as the size of Australia, short haul aircraft requirements and, finally, long range aircraft requirements.
In terms of a reasonable and rational analysis we required three separate types of aircraft to be introduced as new equipage into the communications squadron. That is why the Government, acting in accordance with the best technical advice available to it, purchased three Mystere aircraft. The Mystere is an eight to tenpassenger aircraft. It is very fast but has a short range. In addition, the Government purchased two Hawker Siddeleys and these phase in with Royal Australian Air Force equipage. Finally we come to the problem of the two BACH ls.
Earlier this afternoon Senator Scott made quite clear the reason for the introduction of the BACH ls into this fleet. It is true that they appear to be the aircraft orphans according to the Press, according to argument and according to this debate. Senator McClelland was one of the most vociferous advocates today in support of the purchase of DC9s, a ninety-passenger aircraft, instead of BACH ls. Senator Scott gave the clear answer to this suggestion. The capital of Australia is Canberra. The airport of this city is small relative to modern aircraft, and as Senator Scott stated, it is impossible to get a DC9, fully laden, out of Canberra. In hot weather, the load on the aircraft has to be reduced. The BACIII has a range of 2,500 miles. It can take the Prime Minister, officials or Ministers from Canberra to Western Australia - to Hamersley for example. This aircraft can take off from Canberra airport, fully loaded, and can be flown nonstop to such a destination.
– How about taking Western Australian senators some time?
– Senator Tangney has introduced openly a matter that interests a substantial number of members of Parliament. The resentment against the communications squadron is not that the Ministers are using it but that members of Parliament are not being invited to use it. This is true. As the Prime Minister made quite clear, the BACIII is an aircraft capable of carrying the Prime Minister and his staff - the people who sometimes have to encipher the communications he has to handle, his private secretaries and stenographers and the people who handle his communications and intercommunications whilst the aircraft is in flight. It has to be capable of carrying a pretty substantial staff.
When the Convairs and the Viscounts are disposed of there will be seven aircraft in this communications squadron. To the best of my knowledge Canada, which is comparable in size with Australia although it has a population of some millions more, has a communications squadron of twenty or twenty-three aircraft. The United Kingdom, which is a small island and is no longer an imperial power, has a communications squadron of various sorts and components, mixed up in the various Command structures, of about twenty-two aircraft. France, which is not much larger than New South Wales, has a fleet of about twenty-three communications aircraft. Australia, when the surplus aircraft are sold, will have seven aircraft in its communications squadron.
Finally I want to deal with the argument that charter aircraft can more effectively, more efficiently and more economically perform the functions of a communications squadron. Let us consider the United States of America which operates on a slightly different system from that in Australia. Pan American Airways has what it describes as an executive fleet which is available for charter. Pan American, for its initial order of Mystere aircraft - these much despised’ and adversely commented upon Mysteres - ordered fifty-six as its first order from Dassault. Those aircraft are equivalent of the three that we have in our communications squadron. They are exactly the same model as the one that is in some -disrepute in this debate. Pan American not only placed an initial provisional order for fifty-six of these aircraft but also has ordered a further 100.
I think it could be readily understood that no charter airline operator could afford to have three Mystere aircraft sitting in its hangars and hoping that it would be able to charter them often enough on sufficiently satisfactory terms to enable them to be profitable. I do not think Ansett Transport Industries Ltd would have a bar of such an enterprise. I am quite sure Trans-Australia Airlines would not have a bar of it. In the absence of such a system as operates in the United States there was no course open to the Government but to purchase its own aircraft in order to provide for the communication needs of Australia.
I have involved myself in two levels of arguments: One level was to display a rational understanding of the problem that the Government encountered regarding the re-equipage of this communications squadron; the other level is, in the circum stances, equally as important, and that was to show that this debate is nothing more nor less than a political ramp manoeuvred by Senator Murphy in the interests of Senator Turnbull and in the interests of the Australian Labor Party for the forthcoming Senate election. I reject the proposition that Senator Murphy advocated earlier in the day.
– We have just had from Senator Cormack a replica of the stand taken by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty), who is also Minister for Supply, and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). They have evaded completely the issue which is the subject matter cf this debate. The Government was requested to give information to the Senate and to the people of Australia on such matters as the maintenance costs and the running costs of these aircraft, and associated items that should be made available to the Parliament. In order to gain some information I have been studying the reports of the AuditorGeneral. I have found that he has been remiss in supplying scanty information to the Parliament. At page 162 of his report for 1965-66 the Auditor-General said:
In November 1965, the Government approved the purchase of new aircraft to replace the Dakota and Convair Metropolitan aircraft of No. 34 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force Base, Fairbairn. The approval also covered the purchase of associated support equipment and an initial range of spare parts to support one year’s operations. Types of aircraft and the current estimates of costs are -
Certain items of equipment, the cost of which is included in the estimates, are to be procured in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Expenditure during 196S-66 on the purchase of these aircraft amounted to $6,423,845. In addition, an amount of $136,068 was expended on the purchase of the two second-hand Viscount aircraft referred to in paragraph 202 of my Report for 1964-65. . . .
– All calculated to conceal the real purpose of the aircraft.
– That is the information that the Senate and the people of
Australia are trying to get. This Parliament is the only instrumentality available to the people to get this information for them. The Government and the Ministers, right up to the Prime Minister, have shown contempt. They are treating the Senate and the people of Australia with contempt by completely evading the issue. Senator Cormack referred to Senator McClelland as a word spinner, but he only attempted to repeat the evasions of other speakers in support of the Government. Although four or five honourable senators opposite have spoken in this debate, still no sign has been given that anything will be done to clear up the matter. Senator Cormack referred to word spinning, but all I heard from him was a mumbling of nothings in an ersatz Oxford accent which conveyed nothing to me. When he made his main points-
– Which main points?
– That is it. He summed up his speech in two main points that actually meant nothing. He imputed that this matter has been raised only for political motives. He said that we were questioning the right to re-equip No. 34 Transport Squadron. We have every right to criticise the re-equipping of No. 34 Transport Squadron at the standard and expense that this country has been involved in. We of the Opposition believe that the VIP flight has become a very handsome and elegant status symbol and that the aircraft that have been procured, plus the minor ones, will become the foundation of a respectable little private airline - an international airline, for that matter. I can picture the Prime Minister and other Ministers arriving at Thailand and being met by a squadron of motor cyclists. I can see one BACIII arriving right on time with the VIPs and another one arriving with the baggage. That is really going all the way with LBJ. We saw a dummy run when LBJ arrived in this country. The Government is engaging in the same sort of attempt to impress the public and to win friends and influence people. Unfortunately it is taking place at a time when there is a call for economies and there is difficulty with our overseas balances.
Senator Murphy pointed out that at present we are borrowing from Germany marks of an amount equivalent to that necessary to pay for the fleet of VIP air craft. By simple arithmetic, at an interest rate of 5% it will cost $1.2m a year to pay the interest alone. There is no record of that in the Auditor-General’s report and we cannot find in the Budget papers any mention of where that amount is to be charged. Who is to pay the bill? After all, most other departments are required to give details of their expenditure right to the very smallest figure. The accounting systems of most other departments are most meticulous. The best equipped department to work out what the final costs will be is the electronic data processing section of the Royal Australian Air Force. It is far ahead of other departments. It has developed a very good programming technique in using very technical equipment. If it were given the job of calculating the costs that would be the simplest thing for it to compute. But evidently the Government is suffering from what I call the arrogance of numbers. It has been too long in office. That is the trouble with this Government. Government supporters have their feet, off the ground. They have gone into orbit, so to speak, in the matter of prestige. Ministers give their time and energy. They have a full time job. I admire the work of Ministers, who have an 80-hour week. But they are still Ken Anderson, Denham Henty and Dame Annabelle. They are not getting so far into the sky that they certainly cannot be as ordinary mortals and have to have this great fleet of aircraft. I believe that a lot of money is being wasted on prestige and status in the purchase of these very sophisticated aircra’ft.
The costs of running the VIP fleet have been combined in the defence vote for the last 20 years. We say the time has come for the Government to be forced by public opinion or by the Senate to divulge the figures relating to the VIP flight. After all, the figures are getting into a very high bracket. The interest amounts to over $lm a year, and 70% of $2 1.6m is to go for spares and other things, plus maintenance charges and whatever is associated with the running of a fleet of aircraft such as this. The time has come when the costs cannot be tucked away in a corner of the defence vote. They have to be separated. That is the purpose of this exercise in the Senate today. The Prime Minister has said in one of his statements on VIP aircraft that in the past Ministers have been inhibited in their use
Of such aircraft by fear of criticism. The criticism has come. I have never heard of them being inhibited, and the figures given by the Prime Minister do not reflect such a situation. He had over forty trips in 6 months and the Governor-General had a number. I would like to ask why the Prime Minister gave figures for only 6 months. Why could he not give the figures for 12 months, or for the past three years? He said that Ministers were inhibited by fear of criticism. They would have to do some powerful travelling to average more than two trips a week. Ministers have averaged a trip every 4 days or about two trips a week over the period, so they have not been inhibited. The criticism is only just starting. I do not know whether it will have any effect in reducing the opportunity for flights or whether Ministers think they can evade the criticism and can increase the number of trips. The Government has developed an arrogant attitude towards the Parliament and the people of this country.
This problem could have been solved very simply months ago. The ability to obtain the required figures must exist in the highly sophisticated Services of today. They must have the ability to cost all of their equipment and to find out minute details about their administration and personnel. Anything other than the highest level of efficiency would not be good enough. If that is the position in respect of their other activities, it could quite easily be the position in respect of this matter. Details connected with the VIP squadron could be separated from other matters. The Prime Minister said that he could not see any way of separating the costs of various activities and therefore the costs of the VIP squadron were charged to the defence vote.
When asked whether some method of accounting could be used to prevent the extravagant use of VIP aircraft, his reply was that in the long run the public interest is the responsibility of Ministers and ultimately of the Prime Minister himself. That is exactly the point that we are making. The explanation of the actions of members of the Government is that they are in the public interest. This debate has never reached the stage where the availability of aircraft for special occasions has been criticised. The evasion of questions and the economics of this squadron are matters of public interest. Members of the public are entitled to obtain information. I believe that honourable senators will persist in asking questions and using whatever forms of the Senate are necessary to have those questions answered. Someone has to jump up off his tail and bring up the answers. The business of the Senate is being interrupted. When we consider the hours that are being spent today and the time and cost involved in the printing of, and other things associated with, questions on the notice paper over a period of 6 months or more, we see that this has become quite a serious matter. It could be settled very simply. It should be settled forthwith.
I read an article that appeared in the Melbourne ‘Age’ of 22nd August. It was written by Mr Hugh Armfield. He said that the Federal Government had decided that it would give full details of the cost of aircraft, spares and servicing facilities when the decision was made to buy new military aircraft. I do not know where he obtained his information. But if these details will be available when we buy new military aircraft, why are they not available now? The Mysteres are in use and the BACH ls are coming into use. As Mr Armfield pointed out and as has been mentioned in this debate today, we know the flyaway cost of these aircraft. We know what it costs in actual cash to buy the aircraft. But the other incidental charges are the expensive items. The Minister for Air (Mr Howson) has stated that the incidental costs run to about 70% of the cost of the aircraft. Seventy per cent of $21. 6m is about $15m. So this is a very important item.
I believe that there was a bungle in the estimating of the cost of these aircraft and that it has been covered up. I do not think the Ministers who made this decision would have been able to sell this idea to the other Ministers or to the Parliamentary Liberal and Country Parties had it been known that the prices of these aircraft would sky rocket. In 1965, at an estimated cost of $11.4m, perhaps it was reasonable to replace the VIP flight. By the sale of the Convairs and Dakotas the Government might have been able to amortise the expenditure. But the increase in the cost of these aircraft has been on “a scale equivalent to that in the cost of the Fill aircraft. It has increased from $11.4m to $21. 6m. It has almost doubled.
The Minister said that he did not intend to keep the costs of these aircraft secret. They have been divulged. They are public property. I suppose they would have been ascertainable from other sources. But there has been secrecy in that information has not been revealed to the Parliament in the appropriate form during the Estimates debates, when the accounts are presented for consideration by the auditors of the country and to be passed for payment, as in any ordinary business. This is the only section of the Budget in which it is obvious that that practice has not been followed. Therefore members of the Government have to accept the responsibility for the criticism that they have brought on their own heads.
In the course of this debate the Government will have learnt that a watchful eye must be kept on the privilege list as it expands. These matters have a tendency to become wider and wider. A few more people are added to the list from time to time. For instance, Senator Cormack and other honourable senators have implied today that senators arc jealous of a member of the House of Representatives who can travel in a VIP aircraft because he represents a specific electorate whereas a senator represents a whole State and therefore is not eligible to travel in a VIP aircraft.
– It shows his stupid mind, if he thinks like that.
– That is what Senator Cormack implied. Perhaps the fact that senators are excluded is good because it does not compromise them. Because they are not participants, they can view the scene from a distance. People often see things more clearly and in perspective when they stand back and are not involved in those things. When one is compromised his position is delicate. One of the great things about Australian parliamentary life is that members arc not compromised too much in business or other affairs and they can devote their parliamentary work exclusively to the good of the country. When one is compromised in relation to a certain issue, one becomes part of it and cannot disengage oneself. Here in the Senate we can disengage ourselves from issues. Minis ters are entitled to their transport facilities. But other honourable senators who are not compromised can come into the chamber and speak their minds. That is one of the great things about this chamber.
I believe that it is very important that we pursue this matter. It is obviously one to which we should apply ourselves. I mentioned before the prestige and status seeking that is going on in the world today. It is going on not just here in Australia. There seem to be competitions in many countries in which people try to outdo each other and try to show how sophisticated they are. When I was in South East Asia I was surprised by the amount of disturbance to ordinary public life that visitors can cause. I saw a host of motor cycles driving through crowds of people like the bow of a boat ploughing through waves. People going about their ordinary business, jogging along with balancing sticks across their shoulders, parted into the throngs on the side of the road because if they did not do that they would be knocked over.
– It started in Germany.
– That is right. There was the image of the Fuehrer and everything had to move aside for him and his VIPs. I do not like to see humanbeings being pushed aside like that. These people all had their little jobs of work to do, but they had to be disturbed because some visitors to their country wanted to drive along the road. I believe that this VIP treatment is being overdone when it requires the clearing of the roads and a host of police officers, who could be engaged on traffic control work, turning a drive along a road into a sideshow with their bright, shiny motor cycles.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m. (General business taking precedence of Government business)
Motion (by Senator Murphy) - by leave - proposed:
That consideration of intervening General Business be postponed until after the further consideration of the motion to take note of the statement on VIP aircraft and Notice of Motion No. 7. General Business.
– Do I understand from the Leader of the
Opposition (Senator Murphy) that the motion relates to two subjects, the continuation of the debate and Notice of Motion No. 7, or does it mean that we go on with the debate as it was proceeding before the suspension of the sitting and after that is completed proceed to Notice of Motion No. 7?
– The intention is that we proceed with the motion that has been under consideration by the Senate today and if that debate finishes before the Senate adjourns we then go on, as was agreed between the Government and the Opposition, with the motion under General Business of which notice has been given, which is Notice of Motion No. 7, for the tabling of certain accounts and papers concerning VIP aircraft.
Debate resumed (vide page 1235).
– When the sitting was suspended I had been trying to make the main point of my argument that the Government and even the Auditor-General had not given information which the Senate and the people of Australia were seeking. It has long been a tradition in the parliament of this Commonwealth that when a matter such as this comes up for consideration there is no effort to conceal, and obviously to conceal, the costs. I do not like to see this precedent created. I believe that if out of this debate comes an open policy of giving to the Senate the figures that it requires, it will be worthwhile. There is obviously, as Government supporters have contended and as we realise, nothing fundamentally wrong with the whole of this fleet from the point of view of abuse. I think the Senate generally agrees that these facilities have to be provided. There is, perhaps, contention about the standard of the fleet and whether we should try to compete with other countries or to exceed the standards that this country can afford.
The principle that I am putting is that we should be able to obtain all of the information that is available on a matter of expenditure of public funds. For the Senate to pursue the matter in this case is, I believe, warranted and in accordance with a long established tradition in this parliament. Comparisons have been made of the standards of the VIP flight of No. 34 Squadron. It seems perhaps a bit elaborate to have two flagships in the fleet and that, as Senator Murphy said, we not only keep up with the Joneses but also try to keep up with the Johnsons. The BACH ls are very sophisticated aircraft.
– On a point of order, Mr President, I ask for your guidance and a ruling in respect of this- debate which is, I gather, on a motion for the tabling of the papers.
– No. The motion is that the Senate take note of the statement.
– I believe that it is implicit in the whole question that we should be able to keep a check on expenditure on matters of this nature when a large amount of money is involved. The general public has been asked to accept the Government’s view that we must economise in the domestic field, that there are tremendous responsibilities on the Government’s shoulders in relation to the war in Vietnam, building up our defence forces, proceeding with national development, meeting crises that face us in so many fields, including education, and the justifiable demands of people who are dependent on social service payments for a fair share of the national income. A comparison has been made of the standard of our VIP aircraft- of the BACIII with all of its luxurious appointments - and the Hercules transport aircraft that are bringing wounded troops back from Vietnam. The Hercules is a noisy aircraft. It is expected that the wounded will wear earphones through which they will hear music on their way back to Australia. To the public at large it is quite justifiable that this comparison be made.
We believe that the first priority should be given to the area where it is most effective. If the Government has a sophisticated VIP transport fleet, the contrast between that fleet and the transport provided for our wounded soldiers should not be so great. There should not be any complaints about the standard of transport for our troops. As an argument for the selection of this particular fleet it was stated that the aircraft were capable of landing in Canberra with its limited airstrip facilities. This
Is the national capital and as a matter of priority an airstrip capable of taking any of the large international airliners should be provided in Canberra. In the ‘Sun’ of 23rd August 1967 Mr Fairhall is reported as having said that Boeing 707s could not operate from the airport near the hospital base at Bung Tau so their use would require the transfer of passengers at Saigon. He admitted that the C130E, the Hercules, was noisy and that improvements were being sought. Officials said at the time that the development of a pre-fabricated lined unit to fit into the Hercules was being investigated.
I mention this matter in order to show the difference between the matter of the Hercules and the approach to the highest level of sophistication in transport for our VIPs - the very important people. After all, the VIPs are our fellow men. They are greatly honoured by being selected to represent the people of Australia in this Parliament. But I do not think that the VIPs should allow this selection to go too much to their heads. I think they still ought to have the measure of humility which the Australian expects. All honourable senators know about the Australian characteristic. Australians are prone to regard the criticism of members of Parliament as a national sport. It has been an old Australian custom - I was going to say an old Spanish custom - and it is the responsibility of members of Parliament to try to restrict this criticism or to confine justifiable criticism to as narrow a field as possible.
I think it is right that the people whom we represent should have some type of rein on their representatives. Prestige, privilege and status seeking are involved in this very expensive fleet of aircraft. All those matters have arisen in this debate. In this Senate particularly we should be helping to maintain between the public and the Parliament the bridge which has existed for so long. Honourable senators should have ready access to accounts and details of the expenditure of public funds. That is the simple essence of the demand being made on the Government today: That it present an account of its economic stewardship in respect of the VIP aircraft. It is as simple as that. The Government has assured us that it can produce the figures and justify the expenditure. It is up to the Government to produce these details. Honourable senators on the Government side say that it is too difficult to sort out the details but they should apply themselves to the task in order to overcome the difficulty. Difficult problems take quite a time to solve and the impossible ones take a bit longer. If the Government feels that this is an impossible task it should spend some time on the job, do the necessary homework and then produce the figures to the Senate.
A strong argument has been put forward that the VIP fleet could be run by the private airlines in Australia - by one or, if necessary, by both. It was good enough for the President of Italy, a man of international stature, to hire an aircraft in order to travel about the country. I do not think it would be degrading for, or beneath the dignity of, our own Ministers to avail themselves of the same facilities. Mention has been made of spare parts and the like which are so expensive for these aircraft. The costs have been hidden from us. But such costs could be absorbed in a wider field - in the bigger fleets owned by the private airlines. I think some thought could be given to the private fleet being run by TransAustralia Airlines. I put this matter forward for consideration by the Senate.
Qantas Airways Ltd and the Department of Civil Aviation needed a similar type of aircraft to those in our VIP fleet but they purchased the British HS125. The performance of this aircraft is only slightly different from that of the very sophisticated aircraft that we have in the VIP fleet yet those concerns saved $150,000 on each of the lower priced aircraft that they bought.
These are matters that do, and should, occupy the minds of the people throughout Australia. There is no doubt that the Australian people are being asked to make sacrifices. I refer to people on fixed incomes; people such as retired bank managers who thought earlier in life that they were providing security for themselves and their wives in their retirement because they paid into superannuation funds or invested their savings. Now they find that the value of their savings and investments is diminishing because of the continuing inflationary process. They are now looking for value for their money. They are even looking for a supplement to their income. If this is happening to such people, how much more is it happening to those relying entirely on what is now almost a pittance? Any honourable senator who does the shopping as part of his family responsibilities realises how the cost of living is galloping ahead. We just have to look at the inflated prices of the ordinary commodities like milk, meat, bread and other everyday necessaries. They have become inflated over a short period, even since the introduction of the dollar currency. Incidentally, I think we were sold a pup over dollar currency. If the people to whom I refer have to make a sacrifice, it should be shared. They would not be able to indulge in the popular pastime of criticising parliamentarians if parliamentarians were fair dinkum and gave the answers.
The simple question being asked of the Government tonight in this Senate is that it come clean; that it put the papers on the table and show where these costs were incurred. If difficulties arose in compiling the costs the Government could allow for contingencies. It could say that it could not differentiate between a case of an Army General which cost $75, a case of an Air Vice-Marshal which cost $66 and a case involving a Rear-Admiral which cost $82. In selecting those figures I gave the Navy seniority as is its due. Even allowing for differentials the Government could present the figures to the Senate. If it did so the public would understand that whatever had been spent on the VIP fleet could be justified. Whatever the claim by the Opposition may be, the public is entitled to have the truth about matters of public importance and interest.
I support the opposition to the Government’s refusal to do so. I hope the Government will realise that it is under scrutiny. A searchlight is on the Government. The simple remedy is to assure the Senate that this matter will be completely cleared. The Government should show that it has nothing to hide; that it has only taken this attitude because of advice that there would be difficulty in sorting out these matters. I think that the Government, if it took this course, would not only do itself a lot of good but also add to the prestige of the Parliament of this country. The Government should do everything possible at every opportunity to enhance the prestige of the “Parliament.
– The motion before us is that the Senate take note of the paper relating to the VIP Squadron, although one would hardly realise it from listening to the contributions made today to this debate. It has been an extraordinary debate. It has become increasingly apparent throughout the day that it is an election campaign debate, aimed at the Senate election to be held on 25th November.
– We have heard that before.
– The truth can always bear repetition. I propose to refer in a very gentle way to some of the elements of this debate. My inclination at the outset was not to take part in the debate, but since I have travelled in VIP aircraft to a limited extent I believe I have a responsibility at least to stand up to be counted. Throughout the debate there has been a clear pattern of jumping on the bandwagon. It is the story all over again of the debates on the increased postal charges. The Opposition got to the point of discovering that somebody on the cross benches was making progress, or attempting to make progress in a certain debate. The Opposition then decided that it should attempt to seize the initiative and take it away from the cross benches. The pattern has been very evident to people listening to the debate.
As long ago as March Senator Turnbull set about making inquiries through questions and follow up questions about what he chooses to term VIP aircraft. The Opposition formed the view that the honourable senator may well have been getting publicity that the Opposition did not appear to be getting. It attempted to take the initiative away from Senator Turnbull. It was late September before the Opposition moved in. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) has given notice of a motion he proposes to move. In fact, his motion takes all the substance out of the questions of Senator Turnbull, which still appear on the notice paper. It is a political device. We live in a political world. This move by the Opposition is what is known as political bower-birding.
The approach and presentation of the Opposition in this debate have had all the elements of political campaigning. Indeed, the corridors are ringing with stories that the Opposition in another place will not take any further the debate there on VIP aircraft. The Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) brought a clear light to bear on this subject in another place. Yesterday he made a clear statement. Here in the Senate an attempt is made to swing it along in a pre-election climate. The Hansard report when it comes out tomorrow will show that all honourable senators opposite who have spoken in this debate have backed away from a straight out repudiation of the principle of having No. 34 Transport Squadron. This again is politics, I suppose. We would have had much more respect for honourable senators opposite if they had said: ‘We do not believe in it and we will do without it’. They have not done that. They started off by saying: ‘We think it is all right for certain people in certain categories to travel in VIP aircraft’. Then they brought up every conceivable argument to suggest why the VIP flight should not bc in existence. This is politics at its worst. It is politics which in my view lacks the force of sincerity. For that reason I think the Opposition has failed in its presentation.
I want now to deal with some of the comments that have been made in this debate. It should be remembered that there is nothing new in having a special squadron such as No. 34 Transport Squadron, or the VIP flight if you prefer to call it by that name. The principle existed during the life of the Chifley Government. As Senator Cormack pointed out this afternoon a series of questions was asked by a member of the then Opposition, from this side of politics. Those questions were identical to the questions being asked today and they were asked in almost identical circumstances.
– Did the Minister say that Senator Cormack gave the answers?
– I did not say that. I said that he indicated that the same types of questions as are being asked today were asked during the life of the Chifley Government. A special squadron such as No. 34 Transport Squadron is not a new concept at all. We move to the next stage - the replacement of the aircraft in No. 34 Transport Squadron. The argument has been used in a vague sort of way that the money spent on replacement aircraft should have been better spent. Who will suggest that the aircraft did not need to be replaced? They are Dakotas with almost 20 years of life and Convairs with between 10 and 12 years of life. Among the replacement aircraft are Mysteres. Senator O’Byrne is one of those who referred to them as luxury aircraft. I have travelled in a Mystere and to call it a luxury aircraft is just sheer extravagance. I want to warn any person who thinks that a tall person can even sit comfortably in a Mystere aircraft that he is due for a rude awakening. Some honourable senators may have travelled to New Guinea in the old DC3 aircraft in which one had to sit sideways. There are similar seat provisions in the Mystere aircraft.
The Mystere is a small plane. It is very fast and very effective. For that reason it is very suitable for the work for which it has been purchased - for inter-city flights and flights of that nature. I do not think anybody could fairly argue that they are not suitable for the purpose for which they have been purchased and to call them luxury aircraft is absolute nonsense. They are not. I imagine that a person of the build of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) would suffer some discomfort in them. Any of the tall members of the Ministry who travel in them will suffer discomfort because they are very small aircraft.
At the outset the Opposition said that it did not dispute the principle of the establishment of this Squadron. Then honourable senators opposite used all the arguments contrary to that view. They even produced the argument that we should not have spent the money on purchasing the replacement aircraft because it could have been used for other things - for example, for Hercules aircraft to bring servicemen back from foreign service, stretcher cases and the like, lt is a very weak argument because the Hercules is a very big aircraft designed to do a particular job. The health people in the armed Services have said that for the type of work that the Hercules is doing it is indeed a suitable type of aircraft. The alternative would be to charter aircraft. 1 can imagine that all sorts of problems would emerge if an aircraft chartered for a short term had to have all the interior altered to make it suitable to carry stretcher cases.
I mention in passing, although 1 do not suppose it is relevant, that after the accident in which we were involved I had the experience of bringing my wife and my private secretary back from Perth on an aircraft in which some of the seats had to be pulled out to make room for stretchers for my wife and my private secretary. If that sort of thing were done on Boeings and that sort of aircraft, they certainly would be nowhere near as comfortable as the big Hercules transport aircraft which are specially fitted out to carry patients. I thought that argument was a bit off beat.
Another argument that has been used is that these VIP aircraft will cost $21.5m and that sum of money would provide child endowment at the rate of 50c per child. That is a puerile argument. People who use it might just as well pick on some other item and say that if money was not spent on it more money could be distributed from the National Welfare Fund. We could do away with the Hansard reporters and provide more money for people who receive benefits from the National Welfare Fund. Such an argument does not stand up in an economic sense. In all matters of government, the Government has to make a determination on what field it will enter and then it has to budget for that. It is puerile to choose a particular item in the Budget and say that if money was not spent on it something could be done in some other field.
– Is it the Hansard report of today’s proceedings that the Minister wants to do away with?
– That may be. There is always a smark alec in every community. I suppose we have to live with smart alecs in the Senate in the same way as we have to live with them in the community. Being a tolerant man, I can appreciate a little story. Let me come back to my point. The argument that if this $2 1.5m were not spent on these aircraft we would be able to spend it on something else brings me back to where I started. It is another way of members of the Opposition saying that they do not believe in the fundamental principle of having VIP aircraft. They shy away from that proposition. They start off by saying: ‘We do not disagree with the proposition; we think it is all right for the Prime Minister and other people to use VIP aircraft’; but then they produce the argument that if the Government did not spend this money on these aircraft it could increase child endowment by 50c. Is not that another way of saying: We do not want these aircraft at all. We would rather increase child endowment by 50c’? It is a politically ill informed argument that I find great difficulty in comprehending.
We are not living in the horse and buggy days. We are living in a world in which Australia has become an important nation. I do not have to tell even Senator Keeffe his geography. He knows that Australia is a big country. A big country such as Australia, with the development that is taking place, cannot be administered without the use of fast aircraft to enable people to go from place to place quickly. After all, the Commonwealth Government is managing the biggest business in this country. It is managing the country. Members of the Government have to be able to move quickly from place to place. The suggestion that there is a great advantage to the Prime Minister or any other member of the Government in having these aircraft is complete nonsense. They only make the task of a Minister a jolly sight harder.
I remember that in the olden days, before aircraft were used, if a member of Parliament was asked to speak in one part of his electorate he could say: T am sorry. I cannot attend a meeting there because I have to be at the other end of my electorate and it would take me 3 or 4 days to go from there to the meeting’. I suppose that still happens in some electorates because of the lack of commercial air services. It is easy for someone to say: T cannot be there because I have to be somewhere else’. But with the advent of aircraft, especially VIP aircraft, there is a greater ability to go from place to place. Most parliamentarians are conscientious. With the aid of VIP aircraft they can go to places that they could not go to before and do things that they could not do before. I have found that this makes the task of government and the physical task of a Minister even more arduous than they were previously.
I have travelled in VIP aircraft a few times, although not many times. I have been able to represent the Commonwealth of Australia and the Prime Minister by taking an aircraft from Canberra to Sydney in order to attend a function, and then have been able to come back to fulfil my duties in the Senate. That would not have been possible if only ordinary commercial aircraft were available. As Minister for Customs and Excise, accompanied by my staff I have been able to visit customs establishments in Western Australia and to be on the road for a week. Even if I had the time I could not have done that other than by using the VIP Squadron. It would have taken a month or so. Obviously a Minister would not have that time available. I have been able to take with me my own staff and a very senior member of the Department of Customs and Excise in the person of the Assistant Comptroller-General on the general side. I have been able to visit places such as Port Hedland, Dampier, Barrow Island, Broome, Darwin and Groote Eylandt. Having my officers with me, I have been able to discuss problems that have emerged in relation to my Department and decisions that have had to be made.
I say quite frankly to the Senate that had I not been able to obtain approval to use VIP aircraft it would not have been possible for rae to do those things. I would not have been able to afford the time and I would not have been able to take a very senior officer of the Department from Canberra. We would not have been able to look at the different situations that we looked at. We looked at the setting up of a new customs establishment at Dampier. I was able to make a charter flight from Dampier to Barrow Island in order to look at things there. As Minister for Customs and Excise, I have responsibilities in relation to the handling of crude oil. I was able to talk to my own officers who had never before met a Minister for Customs and Excise. I was able to talk to subcollectors at Port Hedland, Broome and other place and to come to grips with their thoughts and their problems. I was also able to take with me my staff who were stationed in Darwin when, accompanied by the Administrator of the Northern Territory, I visited Groote Eylandt and Gove. At the moment the department is dealing with problems associated with ships that will berth there and the clearance of passengers through customs.
I am only a very junior Minister, but I administer a department which has officers all over Australia. Unless the Government had VIP aircraft available, which could be called upon in particular circumstances, I would not have been able to make the trip that 1 have just mentioned. I have no inhibitions about using VIP aircraft, and I am sure that in his own heart no honourable senator would have inhibitions about it I deplore the quite apparent political approach to this debate. We must grow up and realise that good government demands that those people who have responsibility should be able to move quickly to a place and return quickly from it.
The use of charter aircraft has been suggested. Having regard to the enormous size of the continent and our population, charter aircraft would not be a practicable solution to the problem. On occasions 1 have used charter aircraft. There is always a great degree of delay in getting charter aircraft into position. Also it is questionable whether the type of charter aircraft available in Australia would bc able to cover the distances that would need to be covered. I used charter aircraft to go from the Dampier area to Barrow Island and from Brisbane to Moonie. 1 have used a small charter aircraft to go from Canberra to Sydney. To argue that charter aircraft would be a practicable proposition is to think small and to look at the problem in a small way. As the Prime Minister very properly pointed out yesterday, the passengers carried in these VIP aircraft will include visiting members of the Royal Family who from time to time will have to be flown across the continent, and Heads of State who come to Australia. Is it suggested that the Heads of State should be transported by charter aircraft? That suggestion is unrealistic.
I am committed probably more than any other Minister by virtue of the fact that I live in Sydney and therefore am more accessible. Often 1 am called upon to meet VIPs arriving at the overseas terminal. When Ministers of State or Heads of State from other countries arrive at Mascot aerodrome I extend the hand of friendship to them on behalf of the Government of Australia. They arrive at all hours of the day and night. Their itinerary has been worked out on a government to government basis.
Quite often one of the VIP aircraft is at Mascot to pick them up and fly them to Melbourne or Canberra or wherever they have to go once they leave the commercial flight. They then begin to fit in with the special itinerary that has been worked out for them.
We do not want to go back into the past and say: ‘No, we cannot have these VIP aircraft. They will cost too much money. The extra money involved in their cost could give so much extra to so many groups in the community.’
– But that is how the Government evaluates money every time one of these VIP aircraft is used.
– That is not the way to evaluate the situation. I am responding to an argument that has been put forward in the debate already. We have to acknowledge that the use of VIP aircraft has become recognised all over the world, not only by governments but by the private enterprise sectors. Recently the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales purchased an aircraft to facilitate travel by senior officers and executives. We have to grow up. lift our sights and recognise that VIP aircraft are part of the world in which we live. We have progressed from the days when members of Parliament arrived here by train and had to stay. We progressed to the days when we arrived by motor vehicle transport, which had developed rapidly. Today we all arrive by aircraft - with a few exceptions, for reasons I do not want to dwell upon. To the extent that it has become more efficient for ordinary members and senators to use aircraft, it has become more essential that for executives of government, and indeed of the Services, and people of consequence, VIP aircraft should be available - not a squadron of aircraft which are 20 years old and are at the end of their lives but a squadron which is efficient and is able to move quickly bearing in mind geographical and other conditions. I say to honourable senators opposite that VIP aircraft are part of the world in which we live and that what they have been saying today indicates a step backwards. Honourable senators opposite are not. forward looking. They are prepared to live with the arguments of the past.
– Who said that?
– I say that to you, senator.
– I did not say that.
– I am not saying that the honourable senator said it. I am saying that this is my impression.
– The Minister does not have the capacity to understand.
– lt is all very well to interject but sometimes the honourable senator should take a bit in return.
– T ask the Minister not to misrepresent me.
– I would not deliberately misrepresent the honourable senator. I believe that his argument today let him down; he did not have his heart in his work. The same may be said of Senator Murphy. I think that everybody, as he walked out of this place at the suspension of the sitting for lunch, felt that the Leader of the Opposition had not got his heart in his work, that he was lagging a bit.
– You are leaving the same impression with us.
– That may be, but I am standing up for a system that has been in existence for some time and I am supporting the principle that Australia is never going to progress and succeed if we adopt the attitude the Labor Party is adopting in this debate. For example, Senator O’Byrne said that people are becoming critical, that they do not like to think that we might be using the VIP aircraft. He adopts the attitude that because people might think in this way we should go backwards. Surely the challenge is to go out and explain the position to the people.
– That is what you have not done.
– It is what the honourable senator has not done, because he should explain to the people that there is a need for this service. The Prime Minister indicated yesterday that in its consideration of this particular problem of the assessment as to where the cost for this squadron should lie, the Public Accounts Committee recognised-
– Did you say the Public Accounts Committee has taken this flight into consideration?
– I ask the honourable senator not to use his legal tactics on me. I am merely saying that the Prime Minister indicated that it is the view of the Public Accounts Committee that the question of assessment as to where the proportion of the cost for this squadron should lie is a very difficult one to determine. He also indicated that if there were some proposition put to indicate that some Government department - he thought that no doubt the Treasury Department would be the most likely one - could apportion the cost of No. 34 Squadron between the various departments, he was prepared to have a look at the suggestion. I think that was a reasonable and sensible approach to take.
Having said ail that, I merely want to repeat that I as a junior Minister have, on a limited number of occasions, used the flight. I have done it in order to meet the responsibilities I have as a Minister. To me it would seem necessary in the interests of good government that this should be done in certain circumstances and for that reason, although at the moment we are only taking note of the paper, and because of the nature of the debate, I find myself in disagreement with the arguments that have been put forward by the Opposition.
– 1 hope that I can contribute something constructive to the debate. There has been a tendency for it to develop into a type of mud slinging and an attempt to seek political gain.
– Not on this side of the chamber.
– I am making no accusations against any individual, especially the interjector, who has not as yet had the opportunity to exercise his powers in whatever way he desires in this debate. Let me say at the outset that 1 am no paragon of virtue. 1 am not opposed to anyone using his position to gain political advantage if he so desires. That is not contrary to my beliefs, although I do feel that a debater gains more by saying something constructive than he gains by seeking a temporary political advantage.
Honourable senators on the Government side have suggested various reasons for the initiation of this debate by the Opposition.
They cannot agree upon any common denominator for its initiation. They have suggested that it is because of a debate that is taking place in the other House with respect to Hong Kong. It was also suggested that it was launched in an attempt to ensure that Senator Turnbull was returned as the fifth senator for Tasmania in the coming election. The Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) has just suggested that it was initiated because of the forthcoming Senate election.
The Labor Party has nothing to hide in connection with Hong Kong. We would welcome an opportunity to debate that matter in this place. As to the Senate elections, the Australian Labor Party hopes and believes that it will emerge from the elections with three Labor senators for Tasmania. We also believe that Senator Turnbull cannot win one of the remaining two seats. We do hot think he will be returned, but we would welcome his return if we secured three of the scats, thus reducing the number of government senators for Tasmania.
It is admitted that the abuse of a privilege is something which causes grave public concern. If we can establish that there is abuse of privilege in the use of these VIP aircraft, then obviously it will be to the advantage of the Opposition in the forthcoming elections. On the other hand, if it is proved that our allegations and the propaganda we might seek to use are groundless, then obviously we will lose as a result of the debate.
My interest in VIP aircraft was aroused for the first time last Tuesday. When I entered this chamber I was not interested in the use or misuse of VIP aircraft, but the series of questions that Senator Turnbull was asking indicated clearly to me that the Government was seeking to hide something. Further, a delay for as long as from last April in furnishing answers to simple questions on VIP aircraft is not consistent with the usual practice of the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) in another place, and this leads me to believe that there is some power higher up that does not want to make public the information we are seeking on the operation of these VIP aircraft. Eventually we reached the stage where the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) tabled notice of a motion seeking certain information.
Because we have the numbers in this chamber to carry the motion which the Leader of the Opposition proposed we were promised a statement relating to VIP aircraft. The making of a statement was the method adopted by the Government to avoid having to answer the pertinent questions contained in the motion.
– Why does the honourable senator say that?
-Let us look at the motion. It is:
That there be laid on the table of the Senate, all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of Parliament during the period of 1st January 1967 to 27th September 1967, in particular all accounts and papers containing records of -
applicants and application . . .
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - Order! The honourable senator is getting outside the question before the Chair.
-I was invited to go outside the question we are debating.
– No, the honourable senator was invited to say why we were not doing it.
– I cannot see how we can show why the Government is not doing it if we cannot refer to how we differ. What is sought in the notice of motion given by Senator Murphy is not answered in detail by the statement hurriedly prepared and presented to the Parliament by the Prime Minister as justification for the action of the Government. Nor does that statement provide us with the opportunity for any inquiry.
Regarding the whole question of VIP aircraft, if there was any doubt as to whether they are justified, I do not think that there is any doubt any longer, in view of the statement delivered by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister quite rightly associates the use of VIP aircraft with the great figures who have arrived from overseas and who have used them from time to time. It is essential to have some form of air transport for the purpose of conducting tours for overseas visitors be they heads of states or ministers. On the home front the question arises as to the use of VIP aircraft by senior ministers or junior ministers. We must be convinced from the statement made by Senator Anderson that for the first time he, as Minister for Customs and Excise, can now visit some customs offices and that such visits would not. have been possible without these aircraft.
The stage has been reached now where we all agree that there should be efficient, modern and fast air transport for distinguished visitors and those persons in Government or in Opposition who in the past have used these services. No question or argument arises as to the need for such aircraft or for such a convenient and fast method of travel between one point and another. Therefore, the infantile speech made by Senator Anderson - who told us all to grow up - was in defence of a proposition which was never attacked. No disagreement exists between the parties on this point. It is agreed that there should be this modern transport.
The Government is responsible for the use that is made of the public purse. We, as members of this Parliament, are responsible for the custodianship of the affairs of the Commonwealth and have a responsibility to ensure that we are supplying the required services at the cheapest cost and by the most efficient methods. We, as the Opposition, have the right to challenge the Government regarding these matters. Firstly, the use of VIP aircraft must be subject to public audit and public scrutiny.
I have been prevented from referring to and answering the questions contained in the notice of motion. But let us see how these questions have arisen. As has been stated already, on 5th April of this year Senator Turnbull placed on the notice paper a question directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Air, Mr Howson. The responsible Minister here is the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). Senator Turnbull asked:
That is a very short period. Senator Turnbull’s question continued:
For each application -
Obviously, the question could be answered easily. It has been on the notice paper since 5th April and no answer has been forthcoming. The answer could have completely exonerated the Government of any allegation of abuse in connection with the use of the aircraft. The Government could have answered the question if it had a clean slate. But must not someone become suspicious that there is some truth in the allegations when the answer was not readily available and when, if everything was fair and above board, an answer would exonerate the Government in respect of any accusations at that time of improper use of the VIP aircraft. But an answer has not been given.
While we have responsibly admitted the need for fast aircraft, we must ask whether there has been any abuse in the use of those aircraft. The Prime Minister said in his statement justifying the use of these aircraft that there was a delay of approximately 3 hours between commercial flights from Canberra to Sydney and a delay of approximately 4 hours between commercial flights from Canberra to Melbourne. But each Minister has a responsibility to arrange his or her work so that, if possible, he or she can use a commercial flight. Of course there might be some justification for the use of a VIP aircraft if it was essential for the Minister concerned to journey to Sydney on some urgent matter and if he would suffer a delay of approximately 3 hours in waiting for a commercial flight. But we see nothing in the statement delivered by the Prime Minister that at the time the VIP aircraft was used for the flight to Sydney a commercial flight was not available to that destination. I asked some questions on this matter on Tuesday last. I am advised - and I believe that this information is correct - that on a Friday between 5 and 5.30 four aircraft leave within that half hour from Canberra Airport for Melbourne. One is for the Governor-General; one is for the Prime Minister and his staff; one is for TransAustralia Airlines; and one is for AnsettANA.
– ls the honourable senator suggesting that these are regular flights?
– I am informed that on most Fridays these flights leave for Melbourne. As I say, this is information that I have received from outside Parliament.
– Did the nightwatchman give it to the honourable senator?
– Yes, but I could have received it officially if the Minister for Air had answered my questions. Even if my information is unreliable, it must be given some support by the fact that the Minister will not answer the question as to where the VIP aircraft were and where they came from. These are the accusations that have been made. The Prime Minister said that he has had only forty-six flights on VIP aircraft within the last 6 months. Why 6 months was picked, we do not know. Was it the most advantageous period to select for the purposes of the argument? Why was it not 12 months or 3 years?
– I should think, to be fair on this point, that the 6 months period was chosen because that period is mentioned in the notice of motion in the name of the honourable senator’s Leader.
– If there is justification for it, we shall give the benefit of the doubt to the Prime Minister. But let us take the matter no further than giving the benefit of the doubt to him. Nothing has been produced to show where these flights went. Even one flight could be an abuse of the privilege if it was for purposes that our society would not accept as a justifiable use of that aircraft. No answers have been given to questions as to where the flights go. How do we know where they go? Information has been given that one aircraft took the Prime Minister and some members of his party to Rockhampton, in Queensland, and that it then went to Townsville where the Prime Minister caught a private plane to Dunk Island for the purpose of fishing. I should think a Prime Minister who knows that these matters are subject to public scrutiny and perhaps magnification in the event of any abuse should have been more careful than to use VIP aircraft to take him even part of the way for his necessary relaxation over that weekend. We would not wish to deprive him of it.
But there are questions to be answered in this context. While the Prime Minister was having his relaxation over the weekend, was the crew of his VIP aircraft stationed at Townsville for the purpose of returning the Prime Minister to Canberra? If so, what was the cost of keeping the air crew there? These questions must be answered. We have sought answers since April last year but none has been forthcoming. Why? This failure to answer questions must- create suspicion in the public mind about the purposes for which these aircraft are used, and that suspicion will remain until our questions are answered.
We are indebted to Senator Cormack for pointing out that even as far back as 1948 senior Ministers of the then Labor Government were using RAAF planes as a fast method of transport.
– One plane.
– I do not know how many there were. I do not wish to condemn that government. I only remind the Senate that questions were asked by Mr White, the then Liberal member for Balaclava, of Mr Drakeford, the Minister for Air, relating to Mr Drakeford’s use of an RAAF plane. Mr White asked: What was the cost of Mr Drakeford’s visit to Tasmania? What plane was used? How much petrol was consumed? Were our dollar reserves depleted by reason of the trip? How many crew members were involved? How many passengers made the trip? Senator Cormack said that questions along the same lines were being asked in the Senate today.
When the Liberal Party is in opposition it seeks to find abuses of privilege for political propaganda purposes. On the occasion to which I have referred the Labor Government gave a complete reply to Mr White’s questions even to the extent of stating how much petrol was used, what the flight cost and so on. It exonerated itself completely by justifying the use of the plane. We cannot say definitely that the Liberal-Country Party Government has abused its privilege in relation to the use of aircraft. All that we can say is that the Government is secretive. It is simply ridiculous for the Government to say that it can not tell what a particular flight cost. That kind of explanation will not be accepted by anyone. The cost of each air mile travelled by each plane can be assessed, if there was nothing to hide, the questions on the notice paper would have been answered.
The Prime Minister’s statement and the motion that the Senate take note of it will not exonerate the Government or save it from having to answer the questions which have been asked by honourable senators. I am sure that I would have the support of Senator Turnbull if every evening, on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, I asked why answers had not been given to the questions on the notice paper. The Prime Minister’s statement justifying the use of the planes is no reply.
There was a suggestion that aircraft be chartered as an alternative to using the VIP flight. Senator Anderson said that he did not think that would be practicable. If that is so, surely the Government must be able to demonstrate that it is more desirable to have our private fleet of aircraft than to use the cheaper method of flying by charter aircraft. How can we, as persons responsible for the public purse, decide that the best method of investment in planes is to have a VIP fleet when we do not know what it is costing us to operate them and when we cannot compare that cost with the cost of chartering suitable aircraft?
There is another point which must be remembered. Costly aircraft must be kept in operation to return the value of the investment. For this reason commercial and even privately owned aircraft are used as much as possible. We have been told that the Government is disposing of aircraft that are 20 years old, but we have not been told how many air miles those aircraft have flown and whether the engines are old or obsolete by virtue of the air miles travelled. I am informed that aircraft will deteriorate quicker in idleness than they will in flight. That is the reason they are kept flying. Senator McClelland has told us that it was necessary for the pilot of the Prime Minister’s plane to fly to New Guinea without any VIPs aboard for the sole purpose of keeping up his flying hours to retain his licence. That is what is happening with these aircraft. Would it be too difficult to add the cost of that flight to the cost of flying the
Prime Minister to north Queensland or somewhere else so that we could ascertain whether it would be cheaper to use a charter aircraft?
If we must have a fleet of aircraft perhaps we could manage with fewer than we have now and give that fewer number more frequent use. The suggestion was made to me that the aircraft could be used to bring members from various States to Canberra for the parliamentary sittings and return them home at the weekend. It was stated that this would be cheaper than for members to use commercial airlines, and the planes would be available most of the time for VIPs. These are all questions that we, as elected representatives of the people, have a duty to resolve. But how can we resolve them unless we have the information we are seeking in our questions?
As I stated last Tuesday, my interest in this matter was aroused because it became obvious that the Government was endeavouring to hide something. The attempt that has been made to debate the Prime Minister’s statement today makes it even more obvious that the Government has something to hide. We have not been told what cost would have been involved had alternative means of transport been used instead of the VIP aircraft, to what extent the planes are being used or whether they are being used to full capacity. No-one on the Government side has attempted to meet the criticism that has been directed at the use of the VIP fleet. All that we have been told is that we must have these planes and that everyone agrees that there must be a number of them.
As I have said, my interest was attracted to this matter last Tuesday for two reasons; firstly, because I felt that I had a responsibility to try to make the Government’s secret public and, secondly, because when the Government has something to hide there is a tendency to ignore the Senate and questions asked by honourable senators. It will be recalled that on Tuesday 26th September Senator Turnbull directed a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Air relating to catering on VIP aircraft. He said:
I am always hopeful. I ask: ls the catering on VIP aircraft carried out by the Royal Australian Air Force? In view of the fact that an unlimited variety of food and alcohol is available on VIP planes, I ask whether the expense is charged to the Prime Minister’s Department or to our war 1 effort through the defence vote. j
I should have thought it would have been easy to say who was paying for the pies and sausage rolls that were eaten while the plane was flying over the Snowy Mountains. The Minister replied:
I can answer only one aspect of the honourable senator’s question - that is the aspect regarding the food and alcohol. To that I can certainly give the answer no.
I do not know what ‘No’ means in that context.
– It means the opposite of ‘Yes’.
– The question is whether the expenditure is charged to the war effort or to the Prime Minister’s Department and the answer is no. Obviously that is an answer without meaning. We have the enlightenment by the Minister tonight that it means the opposite of ‘Yes’. What ‘Yes’ would have meant in that context, we still do not know. The Minister went on:
In regard to the other queries raised by the honourable senator, if he will place his question on the notice paper I will see whether the Minister for Air is prepared to give him an answer.
Here we are to rely on whether the Minister for Air is prepared to give an answer, ls this not in itself worthy of the condemnation of the whole of the Senate? Have we not an entitlement to this information? Why is there some doubt about whether the Minister for Air will give an answer? Why should the question be placed on the notice paper, where a similar question was placed last April, to which the Minister has not been prepared to give an answer.
Then Senator M’cManus asked the Minister representing the Minister for Air a question in relation to questions asked by Senator Turnbull. Senator McManus said:
Is it not an insult to the authority of the Parliament that a senator requesting information in regard to VIP aircraft should obviously be refused an answer?
The Minister replied:
The question … is: ls it not an insult that these questions should not be answered? That is a matter that is outside my province and I. cannot help him in regard to it.
There was no apology; it was not an insult. One can imagine the hostility that this created amongst those who were not so much interested in VIP aircraft by this attitude that we would get no information, that the Government would treat our questions with contempt and that we could do what we liked about it. This prompted Senator Murphy to ask a question, to which the Minister replied:
This is a matter that is entirely within the province of the Minister for Air. I have taken the steps that I take normally when questions arc asked of me as representing another Minister, that is, to pass these questions on to the Minister concerned and give him an opportunity to provide answers. I cannot do more than this and those are the steps I took in regard to these questions.
I do not doubt that the Minister faithfully did pass them on, but are we to be treated in this way, with the Minister saying in effect: ‘I passed them on. Whether he replies has nothing to do with me’? I, in all my innocence, asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether I could get some information as to the department to which the cost of food and drink supplied on VIP aircraft was charged, in order to assist in the debate on the Estimates. He replied:
To assist in the debate on the Estimates, as soon asI get the informationI shall let the honourable senator know the answer to the question that he asks.I trust that this will be in time for consideration when we are dealing with the appropriation for the relevant department.
If we are conscientiously to discuss the Estimates, we must know the answer to this question. The Leader of the Government says that he will endeavour to get it. If we have not the information for the purpose of discussing the proposed appropriations for either the Prime Minister’s Department or the Department of Air, we should adjourn the Estimates debate until such time as we get the information, so we will know what expenditures we are considering and where provision is made for the pies and sausage rolls that are being eaten.
Later last Tuesday Senator McManus insisted on some information and Senator McKellar replied:
I repeat that I am not in a position to answer that question, but 1 draw the attention of the honourable senator to the fact that VIP aircraft are available to the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition and are freely availed of. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing to hide in the use of VIP aircraft. If the honourable senator cares to put his question on the notice paper, no doubt whatever information is available will be made available to him.
There we see an attempt to sidetrack the issue, with the suggestion that the sins are not all on the side of the Government, that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) also is using the aircraft to some extent. The Minister’s reply, in effect, was:I do not think there is any abuse or anything to hide. Put your question on the notice paper and in April of next year remind me that the question is still on the notice paper’. The Minister later said:
I would not think that the Minister for Air would be amenable to threats uttered in the manner just used. That is my reply to the question that has been asked.
That was in reply to Senator Murphy’s question to the Minister in these terms:
Would he inform the Minister for Air that an absolute majority of the Senate would like an answer to the questions asked by Senator Turnbull . . . ?
– I do not think the honourable senator is quoting that in its context. I think it would be fairer to quote the whole of it. Senator Murphy uttered a threat.
– I thought I had mentioned a threat. I do not want to do an injustice to the Minister.I shall read the whole of the question. Senator Murphy said:
My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Air. Would he inform the Minister for Air that an absolute majority of the Senate would like an answer to the questions asked by Senator Turnbull and, if the Minister is reluctant to give the answers voluntarily, the Senate will take whatever steps are available to it to see that the answers are brought forth.
There is the threat.
– There is no threat in that.
– It was a drastic threat, was it not, that we were to insist on our rights? If the Minister has not the decency to recognise the prestige, the rights and the status of the Senate, and if he does not supply the information, we are to insist on our public rights as representatives of the people of this country. That is the threat. What a drastic threat is offered! In reply to a question by me as to whether the Minister would obtain a reply to my question, the Minister said:
Once again, I will do as I have done in the past. I will transmit this question to the Minister for Air.
I have marked some more passages but possibly sufficient has been said, and anyone who desires to examine the questions further will see that was the attitude. I do not blame the Minister representing the Minister for Air in this chamber. He is in a difficult position. I do not doubt for a moment that he has faithfully transmitted the questions to the Minister for Air and 1. do not know what he can do if no reply is forthcoming.
As I said, it is out of keeping with the previous attitude of the Minister for Air not to supply information when it is requested of him, as he has done on every question other than questions on VIP aircraft. We have a responsibility. We want to know where these flights were made. We want to know the cost of these flights, for the purpose of carrying out our responsibility as representatives of the people, and we cannot get the information. At the very time when it looked as though the threat made by the Leader of the Opposition might come to fruition the Prime Minister said: T will give you a statement’. But the statement simply evaded every question which had been asked. The questions are on our notice paper at the present time. The statement merely said that if we had any respect for the Minister for Air and the Prime Minister we would accept that they were not abusing their privileges in the use of VIP aircraft. We do not know these things. Any person could innocently abuse this privilege. The cost of the VIP aircraft must be subject to accountant’s examination and public scrutiny.
I join with other honourable senators on this side of the chamber in saying that we want more information on this matter. We want the full facts. It will give a great political advantage to the Opposition if the Government has something to hide but the Government will be completely exonerated if it has nothing to hide. The Government should extend to the Labor Party when it is in Opposition the same courtesy as the Labor Party extended to the Liberal Party when the Liberals were in Opposition.
– I only wish to comment on two matters raised by Senator Cavanagh. I always acknowledge his debating ability. Senator Cavanagh referred to questions quoted by Senator Cormack which were asked by Mr White, a Liberal member, of a former Labor Minister for Air in 1948 about the use of his own personal Service aircraft.
Senator Cavanagh said that the Minister gave a full and frank reply. He said that all the Opposition asked for now was the same courtesy as was given by the then Labor Minister to a Liberal member of Parliament. I looked up this question in Hansard. Mr White asked:
What is the number of flying hours covered by the above aircraft when flying the Minister or at his direction?
The Minister, Mr Drakeford, replied:
This information could be given only after a very full and detailed examination of all entries in the log books over a period of years.
– Senator McClelland read it in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’.
– It might not have occurred to the person who wrote the article that probably the real reason why the captain of the Prime Minister’s plane flew the aircraft to New Guinea - I am merely putting a point of view - was to familiarise himself with the terrain. A commercial pilot is not allowed to fly over certain routes if, over a certain period - I think it is 35 days or less - he has not been over that route. He must again fly that route with a training captain in order to familiarise himself once more with the terrain. Despite the report in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, it may well be that the reason why the Prime Minister’s pilot flew to this area was to keep himself familiar with the terrain. If he had to go there then there would have been no problems.
– The only weakness to that argument, 1 think, , is that it is contrary to what the pilot said.
– Did the pilot state that?
– Who said he stated it?
– It was reported by the aviation correspondent.
– I question whether the pilot stated that to the aviation correspondent. I would question whether a pilot of the Royal Australian Air Force would make a statement to the Press. I am not naive enough to accept that argument. To come back to the beginning of this debate, 1 say we became accustomed to Senator McKenna’s leadership of the Australian Labor Party in the Senate. We recognised his great debating ability and the substance and logic of his arguments. Since Senator Murphy has been Leader of the Opposition we have become accustomed to froth and fury with little substance and little logic. His speech today provided another example of this. I can never ascertain whether Senator Murphy’s fury is simulated or real.
– He worries the honourable senator.
– He does not worry me. Of course there is nothing new about VIP aircraft. With Senator Cormack, I am rather inclined to the view that a better term to describe them is ‘communications aircraft’. But use of the expression ‘VIP aircraft’ has been in existence for some 20 years. I do not think their use has been questioned much in the past. One must search for a reason for the sudden interest in the operation of VIP aircraft. I think it is obvious - and 1 am not going to dwell on this subject or labour it - that the real reason is that this is a political exercise, and nothing more than that. I do not criticise the Opposition for engaging in political exercises. That is the Opposition’s right to do so. But let us recognise this for what it is.
Senator Murphy claimed ; I think I am quoting him correctly - that the public had been kept in the dark about the purchase of these new aircraft. 1 suggest that this s not true. The former Prime Minister made a statement to the Parliament in November 1964, which was reported in the Press, to the effect that the Government was con sidering the replacement of the present fleet. On 1st December 1965 the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) made a full statement in the other place setting out the policy of the Government about the purchases that were intended. This statement again was fully reported in the Press. Therefore it is simply not accurate to say that somebody has been trying to hide the fact that these aircraft had been purchased. In 1964 and 1965 statements were made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Air.
Senator Murphy used a good debating trick. He said that the sum of $2 1.6m, which is the cost of these aircraft, could have been better spent elsewhere. I have been trying to work out just what the attitude of the Opposition is to VIP aircraft. In one breath Opposition senators tell us that they do not oppose the purchase of these VIP aircraft, that they are in favour of them; in the next breath they suggest that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. If the Opposition is to use this argument it should compare like with like, not unlike with unlike as Senator Murphy did. He threw into his argument the wheat subsidy, social services and one or two other things for good measure. Now the argument is advanced - Senator Murphy repeated it today - that the sum of $2 1.6m could be equivalent to an increase of 50c in the old age pension. This would be true only if this sum was being spent in one year. The fact of the matter is that it will be spent over a period of at least 3 years at an average of only $7m per year. On that basis I suggest that this argument does not bear much analysis.
– And the aircraft would be serviceable for 15 years.
– Not only are the aircraft being paid for over a period of 3 years - and I thank the Minister for Repatriation for his interjection - but they will be operated by this squadron for a period estimated at from 10 to 15 years. So this argument does not bear analysis. It shows how hard put was Senator Murphy to create any argument at all. A number of arguments have been advanced as to the types of aircraft that have been purchased and are to be purchased. This is always a matter of dispute. Anybody can argue that the airlines should have bought BACH ls instead of DC9s. I think Senator Poyser made that suggestion. The fact is that the Government on the advice of the Air Force chiefs had to consider aircraft that filled a wide variety of needs. We required aircraft that could fly over long distances at high speeds and which could supply reasonable comfort, that could land on and take off from outback airports, that could use existing airports such as Canberra, and which could satisfy many other factors. The Government was advised that the three types of aircraft being purchased were the three most suitable types.
Now we are told that it would be a good move to purchase DC9s which could fit in with the commercial airlines. Senator Scott gave the simple answer to that suggestion. When fully loaded DC9 aircraft cannot use the Canberra airport, particularly at times of high temperature. This would be a tremendous disadvantage. The DC9 aircraft hold 90 to 100 passengers. The BACIII which is being purchased by the Government is the small series which as a commercial airliner carries only about sixty passengers. Again it is not comparing like with like. The airlines need a particular aircraft to fulfil their requirements, which are not necessarily the same as those of a VIP flight. I think my friend Senator Poyser put the argument that the airlines should have purchased BACH ls. I am sorry that he is not in the chamber at the moment. I do not want to go into details. I simply say that the version of the BACII I available to the airlines was the small version - which is to be purchased for the VIP flight - and that it was quite unsuitable for the needs of the airlines. Its freight capacity is very much inferior to that of the DC9s. On the stretched version, which is only now becoming available, the airlines could nol receive from the makers a firm delivery dale. So there were very good reasons why the airlines purchased DC9s, quite apart from the fact that their engines are interchangeable with the engines of Boeing 727s.
I noted that the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his statement, while giving details of the use of VIP aircraft by the Governor-General, himself and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr McEwen) and a general statement of their use by other Ministers, was very careful merely to say that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) also had the use of the full facilities of VIP aircraft and left it at that. That is fair enough. The Prime Minister did not wish to make political capital out of this matter. I fully agree that the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should have the facilities of VIP aircraft freely available to them. I have noted today that except for a brief reference by Senator Cavanagh no honourable senator opposite, including Senator Murphy, has even acknowledged that the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader ot the Opposition have the use of those facilities and that they have been used by the Leader of the Opposition. I think I am right in saying that no honourable senator opposite has mentioned that. I am not criticising Mr Whitlam and I have no quarrel with him because he travelled around northern Australia with Dr Patterson in a VIP aircraft. They visited Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia but there has been no mention or acknowledgment of that by the Opposition today. There is no question that he may have been - I do not suggest that he was - abusing this privilege. The only people who are wrongfully using VIP aircraft, according to the Opposition, are the Prime Minister and members of the Government parties.
– Does the honourable senator believe that the Leader of the Opposition wrongly used the VIP aircraft?
– No. I ask Senator Keeffe not to misrepresent me. I made the point quite clearly that I am not saying that the Leader of the Opposition was wrongly using the aircraft.
– Then the honourable senator should withdraw what he said.
– lt is an old tactic for Senator Keeffe to misrepresent people. I said that the Opposition is charging only members of the Government parties and the Prime Minister with wrongly using VI P aircraft. There has not come from the Opposition one word of acknowledgment that the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition used a VIP aircraft. We are not accusing them of. wrongly using the aircraft. If honourable senators opposite wished to be fair and not to use the argument only for political purposes they would acknowledge that fact. Some months ago Senator Gair asked a question about a flight to Perth by Mr Calwell, who was then the Leader of the Opposition. It was reported that he took with him a number of members of the Executive of the Australian Labor Party.
– The argument applies to both sides.
– That is the point I was about to make. I am not charging Mr Calwell with wrongly using the aircraft, but the fact is that no honourable senator opposite has acknowledged the fact that Mr Calwell flew to Perth and reportedly took with him members of the Executive of the Australian Labor Party. If honourable senators opposite wish to be fair in this debate they should acknowledge this fact. They should acknowledge that abuses could take place on both sides. They should not charge merely the Government with misuse. There are queries as to whether Mr Calwell did or did not abuse his privilege.
– Misuse has not yet been proved against the Government.
– I leave the argument there. I simply repeat that the Opposition is playing politics and is not being fair in its arguments.
– Has the Prime Minister abused his privilege?
– I am not charging anybody. Senator Cant asks me whether the Prime Minister has abused the use of VIP aircraft. I am not saying that Mr Calwell was guilty of abuse. I am merely stating a fact and the honourable senator can draw his own conclusions from that fact. Honourable senators opposite refuse to acknowlege that the fact exists and I am merely pointing out to them that it does exist. I say that in all fairness they should acknowledge and and accept it. That is all I am saying.
It has been acknowledged that since 1958 there have been nine aircraft in No. 34 Transport Squadron. When the Squadron is fully equipped with new aircraft it will have seven. That is a reduction of two aircraft, which will be brought about because of the far better performance of the new aircraft. I think we have to grow up as a nation. A fleet of seven VIP aircraft by world standards is very, very small. Senator Cormack referred to Canada, a country comparable to our own. It has 25 or 27
VIP aircraft and I do not think the Canadian people quarrel with that. One honourable senator opposite asked whether we had to keep up with the Johnsons. That is an absurd argument because President Johnson has two or three private aircraft - Boeing 707s or DC8s. We are to have only seven small VIP aircraft. The Americans have a large number of VIP aircraft, as do the British. The British, including the present Labour Government, are very coy about disclosing information on the use of their VIP aircraft, which operate under Transport Command and are pulled out of service there for use for VIP purposes whenever required. There N nothing unusual about having VIP aircraft. It cannot be argued that by world standards or in comparison with comparable countries we are unduly extravagant. I do not believe that this argument will stand examination.
I come now to Senator Turnbull’s speech. I am sorry that he is not in the chamber now. As is his wont, he made sweeping statements, completely unsupported by any facts at all. He stated that he was not opposed to the use of VIP aircraft and then proceeded to condemn the whole proposition. He was having two bob each way, as he is accustomed to doing. He said that members of the public are completely against the use of VIP aircraft but that he himself does not disapprove of the use of them. He went on to say that the Prime Minister had laid down certain guidelines and that he had no quarrel with them. In fact, I think it is fair to say that he accepted them. But then he said that they would not last long and that in a few months other people would be travelling on these aircraft. Again he put forward an argument and did not support it with any evidence. It was merely an expression of opinion, but he put it forward as a statement of fact.
He put forward the interesting argument that unlimited food and drink are available on these aircraft. He made that as a statement of fact. Then he said: ‘Someone told me that’. He said that a member of Parliament told him that. He did not acknowledge who the member of Parliament was. But he made it as a statement of fact and then proceeded to qualify it by saying: ‘Someone told me that’. We do not know who the someone is. Let me say quite frankly that I do not believe that anybody told him that. He went, on to use other arguments in a similar vein. That was rather typical of him.
I read in tonight’s ‘Herald’ that he made a statement to a pressman several hours before he made his speech in the Senate. He said that according to the Prime Minister’s figures the VIP flight would make only about 500 flights a year. I do not know how he deduced that from the figures given by the Prime Minister. He made that as a statement of fact. But we do not know on what basis he makes his statements. We are not told. He also said that somebody told him that the operating costs would be about $10m a year. When asked: ‘Who gave you those figures?’, he said: ‘Someone told me’. I believe that Senator Turnbull destroyed his own proposition out of his own mouth by the snide arguments that he advanced. Surely if he stands up in this place and makes these charges he should be prepared to state the sources of his information and substantiate them. I submit to the Senate that on all counts and from first to last he has failed to do that.
The argument has been advanced - I think quite seriously - that these VIP aircraft should bc leased to the commercial airlines, which presumably would then use them and when they were required make them available for VIP purposes. I find that argument extraordinary. If the commercial airlines were to lease or charter these aircraft, when they were required suddenly they might be in Perth, Hobart or anywhere else, or they might be unserviceable because of the requirements of the airlines. That argument has no basis whatever. I do not believe that the commercial airlines would be prepared to purchase aircraft of a suitable type and hope that they would be used from time to time for VIP flights. I do not think that argument has any basis either. That proposition would not fit in with the requirements of the airlines. I find it quite impossible to accept.
I come to my final point, which I do not believe has been mentioned. I notice that the Minister for Air referred to it in 1965. lt must have been a- consideration when types of aircraft were being considered for purchase, lt is that these aircraft arc available for use by the Royal Australian Air Force in time of emergency. It becomes quite clear that the types of aircraft that are purchased must fit in with RAAF requirements. Aircraft will be required to move Air Force personnel over long distances at high speeds. The BACIII is a suitable aircraft for that purpose. The other smaller aircraft would be used for command purposes, to move commanders and their staffs. The fact that these aircraft might also be used by the RAAF in time of emergency must be a primary consideration in having this flight. The aircraft must be available for Service requirements.
I do not accept the argument that there is any mystery about the purchase of these aircraft or their use. I go back to the point that I made earlier. The Opposition in 1948 would have been perfectly justified in assuming from the refusals of the Labor Minister, Mr Drakeford, to state the number of hours for which VIP aircraft were used for his requirements that an attempt was being made to hide something. The Opposition did not assume that. I suggest that the Opposition today has no more right to assume that an attempt is being made to hide something than the Opposition had in 1948. Perhaps this was not a political issue at that time.
This is a phoney sort of debate. We have spent the whole day discussing the use of VIP aircraft. This debate is no more than a political exercise by the Opposition and Senator Turnbull. I do not quarrel with him. If he believes that he can gain some kudos in the electorate by using these tactics, that is his business.
– The Prime Minister must have been a party to the exercise.
– That is a rather foolish argument.
– The Prime Minister made the statement that we are debating.
– He made the statement because of the arguments that were being advanced and the accusations and allegations that were being made. In all fairness it should be acknowledged that he made a statement in which he set out the use of these aircraft. He was perfectly frank in that statement. Therefore, I find myself quite unable to support the statements made by the Opposition and the arguments advanced by it. I believe that the facts fully support the case that we on the Government side have presented; namely, that there is nothing to hide; that these aircraft are necessary; and that they are not being abused. Finally I suggest that if people make allegations about the abuse of these aircraft they should substantiate and prove their allegations instead of making sweeping statements and then leaving the whole case up in the air. That is not the way to advance an argument. It is not the way to prove a case.
– At the outset, I move the following amendment to the motion: ‘That the Senate take note of the paper’:
At end of motion add: ‘with dissatisfaction, and therefore that there be laid on the table of the Senate all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of Parliament during the period of 1st July 1966 to 5th October 1967, in particular all accounts and papers containing records of -
applicants and applications:
airports of embarkation and of call;
times and distances of flight, including waiting times, in connection withflights and anyflights necessary to fulfil engagements;
the cost of and incidental to each flight; and
the department or service to which the flight was charged’.
– Is this amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– I second the amendment.
-I wish to raise a point of order. Senator Murphy is out of his seat.
-I withdraw that statement.
– I am taking a point of order. The honourable senator should be in his seat or somebody else should second the amendment. My point of order is that the honourable senator cannot second an amendment when he is out of his seat.
– Mr President, may I speak to the point of order?
– Do not bother wasting time on the point of order.
– I will accept the statement that I was out of my seat when I seconded the amendment. Perhaps the
Minister is prepared to withdraw his point of order now that I have resumed my seat?
– The honourable senator is now in his seat and is entitled to second the amendment.
– I second the amendment.
– Order! The amendment was seconded by Senator Lacey anyhow. I do not uphold the point of order, but I do make the observation that it is wrong either to interject or to do anything such as support a motion from a seat other than one’s own.
– In the course of the debate earlier in the afternoon I was rather surprised to learn that my very good friend Senator Cormack stooped to the practice-
-I rise to a point of order. I had no indication that this amendment was to be moved. One would have thought that if an amendment was to be moved the Leader of the Opposition would have informed me. Standing order 125 states:
No Motion or Amendment shall anticipate an Order of the Day or another Motion of which Notice has been given.
The amendment moved by Senator Cant is substantially the same as the Notice of Motion No. 7 on the notice paper in the name of Senator Murphy, which reads:
That there be laid on the table of the Senate, all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of Parliament during the period of 1st January 1967 to 27th September 1967, in particular all accounts and papers containing records of -
applicants and applications,
airports of embarkation and of call,
times and distances of flight, including waiting times, in connection with flights and any flights necessary to fulfil engagements,
the cost of and incidental to each flight, and
the department or service to which the flight was charged.
The amendment moved by Senator Cant, and seconded by Senator Murphy, is:
At end of motion add: ‘with dissatisfaction and therefore that there be laid on the table of the Senate, all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of Parliament during the period of 1st July 1966 to 5th October 1967, in particular all accounts and papers containing records of -
applicants and applications,
airports of embarkation and of call,
times and distances of flight, including waiting times, in connection with flights and any flights necessary to fulfil engagements,
the cost of and incidental to each flight, and (g) the Department or service to which the flight was charged.’
There is one slight alteration, and that is in relation to the dates. In substance the amendment is exactly the same as the notice of motion which is standing on the notice paper. I suggest that under standing order 125 the amendment is outof order.
-I wish to speak to the point of order. There is another slight difference. The copy that the Minister received from the Government Whip is not quite in the same form as the amendment which has been moved by Senator Cant. There is a slight difference at the beginning, and perhapsI should tell the Minister of that difference. The copy received by the Minister shows that the amendment commences with the words ‘with dissatisfaction and therefore that there be laid on the table of the Senate’. There is that slight difference. The other matters in the amendment are such that the amendment is wider than the motion of which notice has been given.
– Where is the other difference?
– There is a wider difference in that the dates in the amendment are from 1st July 1966 to 5th October 1967
– What was the first difference?
– Order! I suggest that the amendment be read again. I ask Senator Murphy to read the amendment again.
– The amendment reads
At end of motion add: with dissatisfaction and therefore that there be laid on the table of the Senate, all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of Parliament during the period of 1st July 1966 to 5th October 1967, in particular all accounts and papers containing records of -
– The honourable senator is adding to this at the present time.
– As a matter of assistance to Senator Henty I am telling him the exact amendment that Senator Cant read out. That is the actual form in which the amendment was moved. The amendment is not the same as the motion of which notice was given. The amendment deals with the period of 1st July 1966 to 5th October 1967. I suggest that the amendment is in order and is not in conflict with standing order 125.
-I wish to speak to the point of order. The substance of the amendment just moved, without any doubt at all, is the same as Notice of Motion No. 7 in the name of Senator Murphy. The substance is the same; the wording is different. I ask that the amendment be ruled out of order for that reason.
-I too wish to speak to the point of order. The notice of motion for the tabling of papers was given approximately a fortnight ago. An adjournment of that motion was sought last Thursday after notification had been given that the Prime Minister intended to make a statement on this matter. As I understood it - I believe I so expressed myself at the time - that deferment of the motion was to give the Prime Minister the opportunity to make a statement on the matter. The Prime Minister has made a statement and the Senate, without invoking this standing order, has debated that statement today. The timely occasion to have taken this objection, if it were valid, was this morning, when Senator Henty moved that the Senate take note of the Prime Minister’s statement. It was that motion which anticipated the motion to table certain papers. If we are to act on technicalities, today’s debate on the statement made by the Prime Minister, is out of order. Cannot the Senate assess the situation in substance and realise that the whole question is as to whether or not the Senate is satisfied with the contents of the Prime Minister’s statement and whether the Senate asks for the tabling of all accounts and papers? The amendment simply gives expression to that point of view and, in my view, should be ruled to be in order. If any motion is out of order, the motion to take note of the Prime Minister’s statement is out of order, because it was that motion which anticipated the motion on the notice paper.
– by leave - I want to refer again to the proposed amendment, a copy of which has been given to me, and to point out one aspect of the situation. Eight o’clock tonight was the time for commencement of discussion of general business. I had given an undertaking that if general business were called on at that time I would call for discussion of a notice of motion No. 7 on the notice paper. At that stage, it was not I who asked that this matter be deferred. It was the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) who asked that we continue debating the matter we were discussing until it was disposed of and that Order of the Day No. 7 be called on if discussion of that matter were completed by 10.30 p.m.
I want to say further that I was given no indication whatever that the Opposition proposed moving the amendment of which I now have a copy. I point out also that the copy which has been handed to me does not contain all the words which I am now informed that the proposed amendment does contain. If this is the type of behaviour which we are to expect in this place from a responsible Opposition then I simply say that this place cannot work. It cannot work if the Leader of the Government is not to be advised that an amendment is to be moved, nor can it work if, after an amendment has been moved, he is handed a paper which purports to be a copy of the amendment but which in fact does not contain all the words contained in the amendment already submitted to the Senate. This is the worst experience I have had in my 18 years in this place. I have never seen this type of behaviour before.
I have referred to standing order 125 and pointed out that in substance the pro posed amendment is the same as the motion, notice of which is already on the business paper. I protest strongly at the lack of courtesy on the part of the Leader of the Opposition in failing to advise me in the first place that it was proposed to move an amendment. If he did not want to do that, then at least common decency and the practice of the Senate would suggest that the paper which is handed to me as Leader of the Government and which purports to be a copy of the amendment would at least contain the same wording as the amendment that was moved. In this case, that has not been done.
– I wish to speak to the point of order. I do not like the attitude that Senator Henty has adopted. Throughout today we of the Opposition have been accused of trying to make political capital out of the debate. We have not been doing that, because we indicated our attitude some weeks ago. In my view, whether Senator Henty was given notice that we proposed to move an amendment has no relevance to the purpose of standing order 125. Standing order 125 reads:
No Motion or Amendment shall anticipate an Order of the Day or another Motion of which Notice has been given.
Clearly the amendment proposed is an amendment the period of time to which the papers that are to be tabled will be related. That is an amendment of some substance. I remind the Senate also that it. takes in a period that has been under some criticism today, not by me but by other speakers. It takes in also the use of a VIP aircraft by the Prime Minister on a trip to Townsville. Therefore, the amendment relating to the time is a major amendment and not something in anticipation of a debate on any motion notice of which has been given previously.
– by leave - I would just like to answer what Senator Henty has said. If there could be any true suggestion that he was taken by surprise, there might be some substance in what be has said; but the very gravamen of what he is saying is that this is the same matter as that which is already on the notice paper, and he was expecting to debate it at some later bour. Therefore, there is no question of surprise here at all. It cannot be said that this is something that has been suddenly brought into the Senate and that he has been taken by surprise. How can that be said at all in the light of the rest of the argument? It is nice to say it is a terrible thing that is being done to him-
– Why do you not withdraw the motion?
– Senator McKellar suggests thatI withdraw the notice of motion. If the purists think that should be done-
– There are certain practices in the Senate.
– I shall be quite happy to do that. I will do that and I will test the Government and the Minister who has spoken.I now ask leave to withdraw notice of motion No. 7 standing in my name.
– Is leave granted?
Government senators - No.
– Leave is not granted.
– There is the test of the sincerity of the Minister, the representative of the Government, who asked me in the face of the whole Senate to withdraw the motion.
– I did not ask you to do that at all; I asked why you did not do it. That is the difference.
– Honourable senators are in a position to judge for themselves. The Minister plainly invited me in the face of the whole Senate to take a certain course. I endeavoured to take it and his own colleagues then repudiated the invitation that was given by the Minister. I would say there is no basis at all for what Senator Henty has said. It is true that there were a few words added to the amendment after a copy had been given to the Government Whip. They were added at the last moment and I took the earliest opportunity of assisting the Leader of the Government by telling him those extra words had been added to it. I therefore ask that the point of order be not upheld.
– I wish to speak to the point of order. The test of this matter surely is whether the words that have been used by Senator Murphy and Senator Cant are the same in substance. It is a question of substance and I submit that standing order 125 is relevant to the question of substance. I think, Mr President, that you should- rule that standing order 125 is applicable. I suggest with great respect that it is applicable because it says:
No Motion or Amendment shall anticipate an Order of the Day or another Motion of which Notice has been given.
There is notice of a motion standing in the name of Senator Murphy on the business paper. I submit that that original motion standing to Senator Murphy’s name and the amendment now proposed by Senator Cant are the same in substance. They are clearly identical in substance. The proposed amendment reads: all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of Parliament.
Those words arc identical with the words contained in Senator Murphy’s motion. So we have the question of substance established there. The amendment then goes on with the various points marked (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f) and (g). If I were to read out the words contained in the balance of the amendment and those contained in Senator Murphy’s motion, honourable senators would see that they were identical. Therefore, the Opposition cannot avoid the argument relating to substance. The fact that at the very last moment, after the proposed amendment had been circulated and after a copy had been handed to me personally by the Whip, it was altered, does not affect the position. I submit that the whole question is one of substance. There can be no argument but that the substance of the amendment proposed by Senator Cant is identical with the original motion of which Senator Murphy has given notice. It is obvious to me that the wording of the proposed amendment has been taken from Senator Murphy’s motion. I cannot conceive of any situation where, out of his own head, Senator Cant would produce identical words. Identical words are used. In the preamble to the notice of the motion and to the amendment we find these words:
That there be laid on the table of the Senate, all accounts and papers relating to the use of VIP aircraft by Ministers and other members of Parliament during the period of 1st July 1966 to 5th October 1967, in particular all accounts and papers containing records of–
That narrows the issue of substance. The body of the amendment and the notice of motion are in identical words. The notice of motion continues:
– First I read standing order 125. This standing order provides:
I note that there is some difference between the amendment proposed and the motion on the notice paper. Next, I quote the following passage from May’s ‘Parliamentary Practice’, Seventeenth Edition at page 399. The passage reads:
Stated generally, the rule against anticipation (which applies to other proceedings as well as motions) is that a matter must not be anticipated if it is contained in a more effective form of proceeding than the proceeding by which it is thought to be anticipated (a), but it may be anticipated if it is contained in an equally or less effective form.
In view of that version in ‘May’ I rule out the point of order. I call Senator Cant.
– In resuming my speech I assure the Senate that I do not intend to keep it very long. This afternoon, my very good friend, Senator Cormack, indulged in some tactics that I do not think were worthy of him. I was quite surprised that he did indulge in them. Whilst I know that in the heat of debate the essence of truth sometimes can be strained, in the interests of honesty it should be maintained by those speaking in the Senate. The matter referred to was a question asked upon notice on 27th February 1948 by a member of the Liberal Party of the then Labor Minister for Air. The question appears at page 308 of Hansard.
The question is broken up into nine paragraphs. The first paragraph reads:
The answer given was:
The next paragraph of the question reads:
The answer given was: 2. (a) Five personnel, and (b) rate of pay according to Service scales appropriate to respective ranks. Flights by the Dakota for Ministerial purposes are not frequent and involve a comparatively small portion only of the time of members of the crew who, when not so engaged, are employed on other flying as well as training and station duties as the commanding officer of the Air Force station requires. When at Canberra the crew carries out duties as required by the commanding officer of that station.
The third part of the question reads:
This was the answer given:
The next paragraph of the question reads:
The answer supplied was:
This was the next question asked:
The answer given was:
The next paragraph in the question reads:
The answer given was:
The next section of the question relates to something to which Senator Sim referred. It reads:
The answer supplied was:
The next section of the question reads:
The answer given was:
The final paragraph of the question is the one that Senator Cormack blithely threw into the ring to create a storm. This time let us look not only at the question but also at the answer. The question was:
The answer given was:
All I say is that in 1948 the then Labor Government and the then Labor Minister for Air could give information required in answer to a question in such a short time. But this Government refuses to give any information about the cost of these aircraft other than the capital cost. We are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied unless we get some explanation from the Government. It is not enough to say that the operation of the VIP flight is vital to the training of pilots. It is time the Government and Ministers set out to satisfy not only this Senate but also the Australian public. I support the amendment.
– Mr President, I wish to make some observations about the subject before the Senate tonight and to express my regret that the matter of playing politics with this question has intruded itself so very obviously, as has been proved beyond all shadow of doubt in the last few minutes. I suppose that in every age the administration of a nation has always been under fire by a certain section of the community which thinks that certain leaders are enjoying certain benefits in terms of accommodation or some comforts or in some fields which they may envy. I also suppose that it is true that in every age the group of people who lead the Opposition in that manner has seized upon any and every opportunity to become vocal in a particular matter. They cry out in mock indignation. They level a series of colourful charges, and accusations of extravagance and wastage of public money. These charges are unsupported but at least they form a vehicle for outcries about particular matters. Those matters collect a certain amount of publicity. The people who lead the cries think that they can get some public approbation. They think they achieve something. They acquire a particular and peculiar sense of achievement. This has been a fairly natural thing to do at all times. I suppose it is true to say also that it has applied to all forms of amenities, including the one that we are discussing now.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
I point out to honourable senators that to carry this motion at this point of time would mean that we would come back here next Tuesday at 3 p.m.
Question resolved in the negative.
– There has always been a certain amount of public outcry against administration and authority. The public has been critical of amenities that have been available to the Administration, including officers and secretaries. Sometimes there has even been criticism of the refreshment facilities and amenitiesi n this place. Through the years all those things have attracted public criticism. So itis with the matter which has been before us today relating to transport facilities for the Administration - Ministers and staff. In the early days there was criticism of travel by rail, later of travel by car and now of travel by No. 34 Transport Squadron. So today, after the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) was read, we were presented with the motion that the Senate take note of it.
The use of public transport facilities by Ministers has again come under fire. This is nothing new. The Prime Minister’s statement evoked a speech from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy). I must confess to a certain measure of disappointment at that speech because this is a subject which calls forth a certain amount of public interest and which lends itself to a degree of vocal expression. In my view the Leader of the Opposition did not make out a case to support his contention. He quoted from other people’s questions and statements. He did not back up his statements with fact or level the kind of criticism I would have expected from a man of his capacity.
The debate has covered a wide range of subjects. From time to time the matter of political advantage for one side or another was mentioned. It was stated that the debate was staged in this place to divert public interest from a debate in another place on another subject. I do not think that public interest could be diverted in this way from a debate in another place on another subject. My view is that the Prime Minister has stated the case relating to VIP aircraft. It was proclaimed in the newspapers of this country today, both on the front page and in leading articles. It is not news any longer so far as political purposes are concerned. I do not think the Opposition has gained for itself any particular advantage by this debate.
The Prime Minister traced the history of the VIP aircraft. He said that it went back about 20 years. During more recent times steps have been taken to gradually phase out aircraft which were completely out of date with modern transportation requirements and to replace them with aircraft better fitted to cover the vast area of this rapidly developing nation.
– The Senate is now debating a motion to take note of the Prime Minister’s statement relating to the purchase and operation of VIP aircraft, and an amendment which has now been moved to the effect that the statement is received with dissatisfaction and that the Senate wants accurate accounts and papers tabled in the usual parliamentary way of accounting to an elected parliament.
I regard it as almost axiomatic that papers are tabled when requested. I take as my motto in this regard an excerpt from Rabbie Burns:
Here’s freedom to him that wad read,
Here’s freedom to him thai wad write;
There’s nane ever feared that the truth should be heard
But them that the truth would indict.
If the Auditor-General fails to disclose to Parliament any impropriety and illegality in respect of expenditure, the main way in which the Executive accounts for the expenditure of public moneys is by presenting the documents to the Parliament for the Parliament itself to examine.
We have been told that the VIP aircraft flight has been constituted for 20 years. We have not been referred to one parliamentary paper or one excerpt from the AuditorGeneral’s report, and certainly to no statute in this Parliament which constitutes a squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force for the purpose of civilian transport. My colleague Senator Cormack has referred in a very partial way to a question that was asked in 1948 and is recorded in Hansard, but he read from the question only, with the implication that the answer coming from the then Labor Government Minister would be unsatisfactory to the present Opposition. I wish to place on record my distinct lack of appreciation for a fragmentary quotation of a document to the Senate. To omit reference to the answer is calculated to mislead the chamber. That is a course of advocacy that acquires no credit in any decent debating society.
In 1948 I seethed with resentment at the growing authoritarianism of the Labor Party. That is what drove me with energy to build up the Liberal Party and displace the Labor Party. But I am bound to say that Mr White, a distinguished Wing Commander who, as a member of the then Liberal Opposition, knew the implications of Air Force control, asked Mr Drakeford the question of 20th February and it’ was on 27th February that Mr Drakeford gave him a comparatively full and fairly detailed answer in terms which acknowledged the existence of detailed records and therefore, if it had been pursued, the question would have been answered in detail. I speak after communicating with the Auditor-General’s office this afternoon to ask his chief officer to give me information because I did not want to speak uninformed.
Following the advice that there was no record in his reports, I told him that I thought that his reports were a derelicton of his duty to the Parliament. 1 told him that. with the distinct notice that I did not want to say anything to his discredit unfairly. When I look at the Auditor-General’s reports on this matter, both last year and this year, I see that the terms in which they are couched are calculated to divert anybody from inquiry. Certainly nobody who reads the text of the reports has the slightest indication that these aircraft are not part to the ordinary, normal uses of Service aircraft. Certainly the reports in no way disclose or criticise the fact that appropriations that have been made by this Parliament for Air Force defence have now been constituted in the main and used and operated for civilian transport of political persons. In my book, if I entrust a salesman on my commercial staff with his vehicle and I find him using it at night to go to his trade union meeting or pursue his political obligations, my auditor of the commercial institution will call the attention of the executive to it. I think it is a grave reflection upon the deficiencies of the Auditor-General that there is nothing in his reports to inform this Parliament, to which he has a direct obligation, of the misuse of those aircraft inconsistent with the text of the appropriations that the Parliament has voted.
I also asked where I could find information in any of the estimates and I was told that there was no separate appropriation for Squadron No. 34. Therefore, I challenge anybody to justify the propriety from a parliamentary point of view of the use of money appropriated for Air Force defence for political campaigning, much less excursions of a political nature of another sort, and excursions of incidental nature. For my part, it is a grave reflection upon the growing trend in this place to find a concert of omission to disclose the actual fact joined in by the Auditor-General.
We have had brought to our notice that there have been public statements as to the nature of VIP aircraft. I have gone to Sir Robert Menzies’ statement of the triennial review of defence in 1964. I find there the briefest reference to VIP aircraft. I have been referred - and I am grateful for the reference - to a ministerial statement in another place on 1st December 1965 by Mr Howson. It is headed ‘Royal Australian Air Force’ and the first part of it is devoted exclusively to a question of Air Force train ing aircraft, lt is intermixed with a reference to the British VIP squadron and then it goes on to refer to VIP aircraft operated by the RAAF in No. 34 Squadron. It speaks of the purchase of the aircraft that have now assumed such prominence as to involve us in a debate not only today but for several days culminating in this debate.
The cost of this squadron’s equipment that Mr Howson stated on 1st December 1965 was $ 11.6m. Here we are, not 24 months later, and the cost - only estimated now - according to the Auditor-General, is $2 1.6m. I am not going to be dissuaded by references to wheat or social services. I just have some appreciation that the people I represent have to earn their money, and $10m in my book will never receive a vote of confidence until it is explained in detail, and that applies to the Estimates this year. After explaining the discrepancy between a quotation in December 1965 and the estimated cost today, the next thing is the justification for such expenditure for this purpose. It is necessary, I think, in a case like this, where abuse is so natural a tendency, to have guide lines as they have been called - rules, regulations, not made in the Cabinet room, known only in the secrecy of Cabinet and therefore incapable of examination or supervision but stemming from the authority of the Parliament, laying down the ambit of the use of these aircraft, with a proper system of record to ensure that one of the essential obligations of parliamentary democracy is accepted and observed.
We talk about building a parliamentary democracy in such handicapped countries as Vietnam but here we are drifting into the stage of neglecting and destroying the very corner stones of the foundation of a parliamentary democracy; that is, that on the public floor of the House of Parliament there will be men freely elected by the people, uninhibited, by any influences, including party influences, from making an independent examination of the propriety of expenditure and the justification of it from the point of view of the people whose money has been appropriated for the purpose. When these principles are laid down and the Prime Minister’s statement is considered to see whether it in any way complies with them, one is bound to say that the statement is a wholly ineffectual attempt to give to the
Parliament a proper accounting in respect of these aircraft.
There is nothing in what I have said that can be inferred to suggest that I am living in the horse and buggy days. There is not a thought in my mind to suggest that high officers of State, Prime Ministers attending ceremonial occasions, Governors-General and high dignatories on visits to this country should not have the most up to date means of transport worthy of the prestige ot this country. But it is beneath the dignity of the country that we should support people in high and responsible places who repudiate the obligation to be strictly accountable for those services. There is no question as to whether senators or members should ride in these aircraft; that suggestion should be kept completely out of the debate. This is a completely objective question as to whether the operation of a squadron which, in my view, has been improperly placed in the Royal Australian Air Force and which is used for civilian transport, has been accounted For according to standards that an independent Parliament requires.
Test this by just one consideration. I interjected during the debate this afternoon and said that for taxation purposes civilian aircraft operators are permitted a depreciation allowance of 124%. Up to 2 years ago the rale was 25%. That is to say, until 2 years ago aircraft had attributed to them a 4- year life, lt is now an 8-year life. Let us consider this. Depreciation, if we apply the accounting which 1 maintain is proper in the Post Office, will amount to $2.5m a year; an interest charge of 5% , if we make the charge which I. maintain is proper in the Post Office, will amount to another $lm a year; and the operational expenses should be properly adjusted. On this consideration it is puerile - 1 use the word advisedly - for anybody with any business experience whatsoever to suggest that when aircraft are being used for multiple purposes cost accountancy is unequal to the task of making a fair business judgment as to the allocation of the overall expenses to the particular purposes. It is the commonest business experience! To attempt to say that it is impracticable fills me with disquiet. It has been suggested that the appropriate organ of government to do this may be the Treasury and that lt is only a possibility that in that Department there would be found the requisite skill to enable this allocation to be made.
These matters put mc in the situation where I take leave to remind the Senate that I took the initiative in regard to the tabling of papers some 8 or 10 years ago. Finding that the Parliament had been unconscious of its obligations in this respect, I said that the practice of tabling papers had gone into disuse and that I wanted to revive it otherwise Parliament would lose one arm of its efficacy. I invite honourable senators who are interested in this constitutional safeguard to the democracy of our country to read that debate. At the time there were sufficient members on the Government side to defeat my motion. I think the Labor Party joined the Government on that occasion but I am not sure. The stage was reached when this practice was extinct or obsolete and had gone into desuetude. Since then, I have had the pleasure of having one motion for the tabling of papers accepted without resistance because, of course, certain changes have taken place.
If it were only to register the constitutional right of this chamber to see these papers, I would vote for the amendment; but I submit that there are potent reasons why, in this instance, the accounts and the papers should be laid on the table of this Parliament beside the Prime Minister’s statement to elucidate it and enable us to form a judgment as to just what operations have been carried on. Then I hope that an assessment will be made of the economy of the operation and the future of this squadron so as to ensure that the expenditure thereon will be in accordance with parliamentary principles.
– I was sorry to hear Senator Wright’s comments about the Auditor-General and the suggestion that the Auditor-General would be recreant of his responsibility in the performance, of his duty. I cannot follow this suggestion because I do not agree with the honourable senator in the slightest degree. The Auditor-General points out any misuse or misappropriations of government moneys. There has been no misuse and there have been no misappropriations. .
For 20 years Squadron 34 of the Royal
Australian Air Force has carried on under this system. It is one thing for the Senate to say that, although this has gone on for a number of years under Labor governments and under Liberal-Country Party governments, they now feel that it should be altered. Just because a practice has been continued it cannot be suggested that there has been the slightest misappropriation or misuse of the funds provided for Squadron 34 in the Defence vote. I suggest that the Auditor-General has not fallen down in any way in his duty as an impartial authority charged with examining these matters and reporting to the Parliament when he finds what he considers are misuses, misappropriations or maladministration.
I want to comment on some of the remarks which have been made during this debate. I particularly want to refer to what I consider was a really low, base argument. The argument is that an increase of 50c a week in pensions is equal to the amount of money to be spent on replacement aircraft for No. 34 Transport Squadron. As everybody in this chamber knows, the sum of $21. 6m has been spread financially over three years. The aircraft being purchased and to be purchased will have from 10 to IS years of operation. It is a completely wrong and base suggestion. An increase of 50c a week in pensions over the next 10 years would amount to over $200m, but only $2 1.6m is to be spent on aircraft which will be used for over 10 years.
The Prime Minister in his statement which we are debating referred to some of the difficulties which have occurred. He referred to the interposing of training. On this issue I again cross swords with Senator Wright. No. 34 Transport Squadron is used as part of the RAAF for training purposes. The Prime Minister pointed out that some of the Squadron’s aircraft are used for training. By flying in VIP aircraft some Air Force officers have accrued the hours necessary to make them competent in the Air Force.
Difficulties arise when four or five members of different Services travel in an executive aircraft. It is difficult to apply the costs against each of the Services. The same position arises when 3 or 4 Ministers travel with their staffs from different departments. Senator Murphy suggested that a computer would provide the answer. I point out to him that statistics must be fed into a com puter. It just cannot compute the facts if they have not been kept and are not there.
– They should be there.
– That is easy to say. The Prime Minister has said that he will ask the Treasury to examine the position to see whether a system can be set up to arrive at separate costs. It is of no use to say, as honourable senators opposite have been saying, that this is what should have been done. It is easy enough to say now, but Labor did not do it when it was in office. I believe that the Prime Minister’s undertaking will cover the situation, providing the Treasury finds a suitable system.
I want to refer now to some of the comments made in this debate. I believe they are really way out in misrepresentation. No-one can convince me that a Mystere is a luxury aircraft. I will bet there are not many members of this Parliament who can stand erect in a Mystere. It is a very fast but small commercial aircraft. It is not without interest that the first jet charter service in Australia very recently purchased five Falcon Mysteres for use in charter work. The Mystere is ideal as an executive aircraft, but it is not a luxury aircraft. It is very small. The two Hawker Siddeley 748s are replacements for the Dakotas. They have a very good capacity for short take-offs and landings. They are ideal for visits to outback areas. Honourable senators opposite may say that we should not visit outback areas. That is very interesting. I am not one who believes in sticking to the milk run between Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. The Australian outback is a most important area and the more frequently it is visited the better. The two DC3s replaced by the 748s were 20 years old, as were the three other DC3s. The Air Force told the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) that they were obsolescent. They reached a stage where they needed to be urgently replaced and they were replaced by two 748s and three Mysteres. In addition we have two Convairs. They are now about 12 years old.
– Mr Holt said that they are 9 years old.
– He said in 1965 that they were 9 years old. They are now about 11 or 12 years old.
– Mr Holt said yesterday that they are 9 years old.
– He said that at the time he was referring to they were 9 years old. I am content for the purpose of my argument to accept that they are 9 years old. I do not mind. I will tell honourable senators what happened to me. About 5 or 6 weeks ago I visited Queensland in one of these Convairs. The first Convair came down to meet me at Sydney and became unserviceable. The other Convair was sent and I went to Queensland in it on a 4-day trip to see contractors who are contracting with us for millions of dollars worth of goods. I went with a definite purpose - to encourage their interest in contracting for greater quantities of goods for which we are calling tenders day after day in the Department of Supply. I think I was successful in smoothing out difficulties amongst some of the contractors and in giving them answers to their problems. I travelled first to Brisbane and then to Toowoomba, Townsville, Cairns, and then across to Weipa. I came back to Innisfail where we have a research project conducted jointly with the British Government. Then about 40 or50 miles from Brisbane the Convair had trouble and eventually became unserviceable at Brisbane. That is an example of travel in what honourable senators opposite call a luxury aircraft.
– How did the Minister get home - by Ansett-ANA aircraft?
– I travelled with TransAustralia Airlines, because it suited me. TAA had the first plane leaving, and I was very happy to board it at Brisbane and to finish myjourney to Canberra to attend a Cabinet meeting. The point I am making
– The point the Minister is trying to make-
– With great respect, the point I am making is that, whatever else I have had, I have had 40 years business experience. No executive trying to cope with the problems of Australia and of the Australian Government would say, other than shortsightedly, that there is no call for executive aircraft for the top level executives of the Government.
– We have all said that all day.
– All right. What do honourable senators opposite say? Are they saying that we should not have replaced the five Dakotas which were 20 years old? We were advised by the Air Force that they had to be replaced. We replaced them with two HS748s. They are only small prop-jet aircraft, not jet aircraft. They have two engines, good landing possibilities and good short takeoff possibilities. The other aircraft that have replaced the Dakotas are three Mysteres. They are small aircraft with twin jet engines. What were we to do? Were we to keep the Dakotas or were we to replace them as we did?
-Has the Minister used VIP aircraft to attend meetings for political purposes?
– I use them on the business of the Government. That is the only purpose for which I have happened to use them this year. But that is only because the necessity to use them for other purposes has not arisen. I have no hesitation in saying that as a business executive I would use a VIP aircraft if I could cover an area that I could not cover otherwise or if I could visit the number of places that I visited in Queensland. That is what every modern business executive would do. It is done throughout the world.
What do we have in the rest of the fleet? We have the two Convairs about whichI have spoken. They are to be disposed of. We have two Viscounts which were bought second hand in the first place. We could not buy new ones because Viscounts are out of production. They are obsolete. Convairs are also obsolete. New Convairs cannot be bought now. So we were faced with the replacement of those aircraft. The Government chose the small version of the BAC111. There is a bigger version that carries about eighty-five passengers. The smaller one carries about sixty passengers in the tourist class and first class configuration.
– Why do we have to have BAC111s?
– Very important visitors come to this country. As we have seen, they come with retinues. When representatives of Australia visit other countries they are treated with the importance with which they are entitled to be treated as representatives of this great nation. With more and more presidents, premiers, prime ministers and other important visitors from the United States of America, Canada, India and other Asian countries visiting Australia, are we to say to them: ‘We cannot extend to you the courtesy and treatment that you have extended to our representatives when they have visited your country’? Are we to tell representatives of Asian countries who visit us that our growing nation cannot afford to treat them in the same way as they have treated us?
If our Prime Minister goes overseas, it is far better for him to go in one of these aircraft if he wants to make the trip quickly. Often commercial aircraft do not service directly from Australia the areas that he wants to visit. He can cover far more areas overseas, just as we can cover far more areas of Australia, by using these aircraft. What is the alternative that honourable senators opposite offer to us? They say that we should have bought the DC9. It is a much more expensive aircraft.
– Who has said that?
– It has been said over and over again in the course of this debate. Members of the Opposition have said that we should have bought the DC9 because its engines are compatible with other engines in use in Australia. But the BACH I is cheaper and has a greater range. As Senator Cormack explained, a DC9 fully loaded could not land on a runway in Canberra in warm weather. What are we to do when we pick up Presidents or Prime Ministers or other important visitors in Sydney and fly them over to Canberra in a DC9? Do we say that we are sorry but we cannot land at Canberra and that we will have to go back to Sydney? This to my mind is stupid. I believe that the BACIII is the right choice.
– I think the Minister is protesting too much and is overstating the case.
– I am not protesting at all. I am giving the facts and I am entitled to answer questions which were raised during the course of this debate. There is one other matter I wish to refer to which I consider to be most important. It has been made adequately clear that people such as Ministers who are travelling on official business for the Commonwealth cannot study confidential documents on civil aircraft. Also, such people cannot confer with their staff on a civil aircraft. However, a flying office is adequate to the needs of this situation.
– You do not get gravy out of the pie on your documents.
– The honourable senator refers to a pretty snide sort of comment which has been made by Senator Turnbull. The honourable senator runs his Senate campaign on this sort of thing. He has referred to all sort of extravagant things. Whenever I have been on a VIP flight I have never seen a bottle of champagne. I say that without any doubt. The extravagant kind of expression which the honourable senator uses does not really go over. Everyone knows that he has to have something with which to try to run his election campaign. He could never have a policy because he is a lone wolf. He docs not and cannot give any policy at all. He has to try to run his election campaigns with this sort of comment because he does not belong to either of the two major parties which could be in government. We understand this. He raises this type of snide comment on the provisioning of VIP aircraft.
It will be a bad day for Australia when this type of thinking is allowed to continue and grow. I have seen this before and honourable senators have seen it as well. First of all it concerned houses that members of Parliament had at Canberra. Then it was cars that were used by members of Parliament. Now, as we move into the modern method of travel, it is executive aircraft. It is now said that we should not have executive aircraft and that we are over-using or misusing them. I contest this strongly. I know of no misuse in regard to VIP aircraft. I know that the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) who controls their use would not be a party to the misuse of these aircraft. I say without question that I do not believe there has been misuse of VIP aircraft. Those Ministers who have used them have used them for governmental purposes and for the purposes for which these aircraft are provided. I wanted to make those comments on some of the matters which have been raised. 1 would like to answer many more matters, but the hour is late and I believe honourable senators would like to conclude this debate.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be added (Senator
Cant’s amendment) be added.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin)
Majority . . 10
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
Senator MURPHY (New South Wales-
Leader of the Opposition) - I ask for leave to withdraw notice of motion No. 7.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
Motion - by leave - withdrawn.
– I have to announce the notification of the appointment of members to the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, as follows: From the Prime Minister appointing the Hon. J. D. Anthony, Mr Drury, Mr Erwin and Mr Giles; from the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives appointing Mr Birrell, Mr Bryant, Mr Duthie, and Mr Luchetti; from the Leader of the Government in the Senate appointing Senator Drake-Brockman and Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood; from the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate appointing Senator Devitt and Senator McClelland; and from the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives jointly appointing Mr Barnard.
Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia)I present the fourth report of the Printing Committee.
Report - by leave - adopted.
Motion (by Senator Henty) agreed to -
That the Senate at its rising adjourn till Tuesday, 17th October next at 3 p.m.
Senate adjourned at 11.27 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 5 October 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1967/19671005_senate_26_s36/>.