Civil Aviation Amendment (CASA Board) Bill 2014 Bills

I was planning just to make some plain remarks about the Civil Aviation Amendment (CASA Board) Bill 2014. After Senator Conroy’s contribution, however, first I have to say that there is only one thing more stupid than a senator who claims to wear red underpants on his head—and that is someone who comes in here without having done his homework and then makes crass party political comments about an issue that had its origins in a Senate inquiry that was supported by all parties. His own people led an inquiry into both the ATSB and CASA, and the recommendations that flowed from that were for improved governance of CASA—including getting aviation experience, both technical and operational, on the board. The former government, who did not bother to respond to that Senate report prior to the proroguing of parliament, have let the country down by now turning around and taking a crass political approach to this. Senator Conroy should have taken the time to speak to senators on his own side in order to understand the background to these changes.

In the election policy put forward by the coalition, we had already started to respond to the recommendations of that report. Two key measures were flagged. One was this change to the CASA board. In the minister’s second reading speech he made it very clear that, as recommended by the report, these additional members will have operational and technical experience in the aviation industry. That will enable the board of CASA to, in an informed manner, set a strategic direction for the nature of the regulator and will also enable the board to hold the organisation to account for its delivery of that role.

Far from being a jobs-for-mates thing, as Senator Conroy just asserted, this change to the CASA board has its origins in an inquiry undertaken when the Labor government was in power. That inquiry was supported by all sides—Senator Xenophon, Labor, ourselves—and it recommended that the board should have technical and operational experience. If Senator Conroy had done his homework, he would have been able to provide a far more informed contribution to this debate, as opposed to giving a speech that was about as stupid as wearing red underpants on his head—his previously stated preferred position.

The coalition is putting this measure in place now because one of our other election commitments was to have a review of CASA’s approach to regulation and regulatory reform. Again, this was highlighted in the inquiry into aviation accidents. So the coalition government has pre-empted the fact that it needs to have that inquiry into regulatory reform. The actual recommendation was that it should perhaps be a Senate inquiry, but what the government has said is: ‘No, we will get an independent panel, including a well-respected Australian member as well as international members from the UK and Canada, to look at regulation in Australia—how the regulator is performing and what changes are perhaps required.’

When those recommendations are received, we want to have in place a CASA board that has the experience—not just the broader corporate experience that people like the current chair and others bring but specific technical and operational aviation experience—to look at the recommendations of the ASSR panel and make appropriate recommendations to government. Having that expertise will also enable the board to look at the recruitment of a new CEO or director of safety for CASA who will be able to implement the strategic direction the board wishes to set.

One of the problems we have had to date is that, because people have appointed directors in the absence of that ongoing strategic direction, we have had direction being set by a personality—regardless of which director we are talking about. Is it a big regulator? Does it impose regulations with a big stick? Is it a consultative regulator? Is priority put on education and empowerment of industry? In recent years we have seen a large swing in how the regulator approaches its role and its engagement with industry. For the benefit of the industry, and to make it both safe and sustainable, we need a consistent strategic direction. In its election commitments, this government, in responding to the thorough Senate inquiry—and I am very pleased to see on the Notice Paper that the government will be tabling a response today—looked to put in place the enabling capabilities to make sure that the review of aviation safety is handled in a way that starts to give that longer term strategic direction for CASA.

Senator Conroy said that there have been no concerns with CASA or ATSB, that they have done an exemplary job. He clearly has not done his homework and looked at the Senate report. That report made headlines around the country because it said that there were problems. It is clear from the number of submissions that have come into the review being headed up by David Forsyth that the industry also recognises that there are issues. The faults are on both sides. It is not all CASA’s fault. But has the organisation been an exemplary regulator in how it engages with industry? Has it recognised not just the need for the industry to be safe but the need for it to be sustainable as well? The answer to those questions, both from the Senate report and from the nature of submissions coming into the inquiry, is clearly no. The Productivity Commission has just released their suggested audit framework for regulators. That is going to be an interesting template against which to look at the approach that CASA has taken and the recommendations that come out of the review by David Forsyth.

This bill enacts one of the election commitments of the coalition, a commitment which, contrary to the accusations from senators opposite, is not about party political jobs for mates. It had its origins in a Senate report that called for better governance—governance informed by operational and technical experience. It is my pleasure to commend this bill to the Senate.