I come to the Senate following a career largely in the military and aviation over a number of hears. Having flown aircraft ranging from the venerable DC3 or C47 Dakota through to the most modern military helicopters and GA aircraft and flown all around this country, I am aware of the importance of aviation to Australia and to Australia’s community.
In South Australia alone there are some 400 regional airports and airstrips enabling passenger transport, freight and important services such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service to communities. Mount Gambier in South Australia, for example, is one of our busiest regional airports. It directly affects the employment of over 230 people and contributes some $29.7 million to the gross state product. Adelaide Airport employs over 16,500 people and adds $1.6 billion to the GSP. Nationally, the impact is even greater: some $13.5 billion directly to the economy, some 149,000 jobs, a further $11 billion into the economy because of the supply chain and another 97,000 jobs through that. So it is a significant contributor to our economy and to the way our society runs.
But it is a sector that is under some stress at a range of levels. Certainly for the larger operators—the high-capacity regular public transport operators—the global factors are having a huge impact. We have seen just this week, in fact, Qantas making decisions about maintenance that have affected many people here in Australia and also affect our sovereign capability to retain an engineering capability in country. Domestically we also see pressures—and not only upon the GA sector. You need to realise that aviation is a broad scope of people from your ag operators who spray crops to your aerial firefighters; your rescue services and air ambulance operators; the people who do the coast watch operations, the mail runs, the bank runs—there are a whole range of people who contribute to our society through aviation.
Many of them are under significant pressure, whether that be through excessive regulation or through the application of regulation that makes life difficult for them. Significantly, we saw that earlier this year with the release of the report into the Pel-Air accident at Norfolk Island, where we saw a number of issues with the regulator and ATSB that need to be addressed.
So it is a vital part of our economy, and I am pleased to say that the coalition has been listening to industry both prior to and post the election. We have had a number of meetings with industry, ranging from the one-man workshops through to larger engineering firms, smaller flying operations and large corporate organisations, to understand the pressures on them and how we as a government can try to take some of those pressures off. In the aviation policy put forward by the coalition there are a number of points that go to this. Certainly the topic of this week has been a lot about the abolition of the carbon tax and its impact on aviation fuels and businesses—and we are talking hundreds of millions of dollars of impact on the aviation sector here in Australia—but some of the other key points in the policy include looking at establishing a high-level external review of aviation safety and regulation in Australia which closely maps one of the recommendations coming out of the Pel-Air report. There is support for regional aviation, including new and better targeted en-route rebates. There is also an increased focus on recognising the importance of airports in Australia. Not only do we have to focus on things like Sydney’s second airport; but the government is also very aware of the fact that the airport infrastructure we have has its primary use as an airport. Whilst the commercialisation and leasing of some of the secondary airports has meant that there are non-commercial activities there, the key focus must remain on the aviation capability that that represents and the potential for that to grow to meet future demand in coming years. The government also has a priority on revitalising the general aviation sector through an action agenda and making sure that things like security measures, which can be an onerous imposition on airlines and airport operators, are in fact risk based and only to the extent necessary.
There are other aspects to the policy, but one of the key ones has been the review of regulation. I am pleased to report to the Senate that today the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Hon. Warren Truss MP, who has responsibility for aviation, announced the independent review of aviation. He announced the terms of reference and the expected outcomes as well as the panel.
I want to pick a few of the outcomes that this review seeks to achieve and to deliver to the sector. The review will examine and make recommendations as required on the aviation safety roles of CASA, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and other agencies. It will examine and make recommendations on the appointments process and criteria applied for key aviation safety roles within CASA and ATSB, again stemming back from some of the recommendations coming out of the Pel-Air report about making sure we have the right people with the right competence. That is task-specific competence. People may be very good and very competent, but for a particular task they need both qualifications and experience in that task to do the role.
It is also looking to review the implementation of the current aviation regulatory reform program, which has been going on an awful long time and has been creating much uncertainty in the sector. In South Australia, for example, as operators for the state government’s emergency medical service contract look to bid for that new tender, they are uncertain which rules they need to bid for. If the state government is not going to allow for regulatory change as part of the contract, it makes it very difficult for a company to bid—not knowing the standards to which they have to provide aircraft, numbers of aircrew, rosters et cetera.
The review will also look at the cost impacts on industry. That is one of the most important points. The government is looking to make sure that the aviation industry is not just safe but sustainable—that it is a viable industry sector for the future of Australia. Importantly, the review will also provide options to government for improving the oversight and enforcement of aviation regulations, including the rights of review, because we do see cases—some running right now—where companies have been shut down and, months after that, are yet to have their opportunity in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to put their case as to why they believe that decision was unfair. So there is a requirement to make the application of regulation appropriate.
The government’s whole focus on deregulation means that we have the regulation we need to be safe but that we make sure that it is quality, that it is informed by people who understand the industry so that it is best practice and, importantly, that its application not only maintains safety but also makes sure that, where there is an equal safety case but one has a more commercially viable application, that is the one that the regulator should be looking to implement so that the industry is sustainable.
I am pleased that Mr David Forsyth AM is going to be chairing the review panel. He is well-known in the aviation industry in Australia as the chair of Safeskies and the former chair of Airservices Australia and has some 30 years experience in safety management. He will be joined by Mr Don Spruston, a former Director-General of Civil Aviation at Transport Canada and Director-General of the International Business Aviation Council and Mr Roger Whitefield, former Head of Safety at British Airways, adviser to Qantas and former UK Civil Aviation Authority board member.
One of the important things that we are aware of is that aviation is not just the large airlines and the high-capacity operators. It also includes, as I said before, people right through the gamut of aviation. So I am very pleased to see that Mr Phillip Reiss, President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, will be involved in the review to make sure that the views of the general aviation sector are going to be taken into account.
The panel will be providing its report to the minister in May 2014, and there are opportunities for the industry at all levels to make submissions. I am pleased to see that the minister’s release talks about the fact that, while the review will seek the views of the CASA board and senior management staff, they will consult closely with industry. I encourage anyone involved in the aviation industry to take this opportunity to have their say to shape the future for a viable and safe aviation industry for Australia.