- Parliamentary Business
- Senators & Members
- News & Events
- About Parliament
- Visit Parliament
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
INFRASTRUCTURE AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO
- Committee Name
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Xenophon, Sen Nick
Sterle, Sen Glenn
Edwards, Sen Sean
Fawcett, Sen David
Ruston, Sen Anne
Gallacher, Sen Alex
Cameron, Sen Doug
Sinodinos, Sen Arthur
- Sub program
- System Id
Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Table Of ContentsDownload PDF
Previous Fragment Next Fragment
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
(Senate-Monday, 18 November 2013)
INFRASTRUCTURE AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO
Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
Australian Rail Track Corporation
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
National Capital Authority
- Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
- INFRASTRUCTURE AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO
Content WindowRural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee - 18/11/2013 - Estimates - INFRASTRUCTURE AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO - Airservices Australia
CHAIR: While Senator Xenophon is preparing himself, I was going to ask about the arrangement between us and New Zealand—
Senator XENOPHON: Please do.
CHAIR: and Norfolk Island or wherever it was. But someone has an opening statement.
Ms Staib : Yes, I do. It is very brief.
CHAIR: Righto; go.
Ms Staib : I have just completed just over 12 months in my role as Chief Executive Officer of Airservices Australia. Of course, safety continues to be a No. 1 priority and a key focus of my leadership. Airservices has a key focus on safety training, with disciplined, focused education and training for our people, and it is fundamental to how we maintain our world-leading safety record and reputation.
As you know, a loss of separation is one indicator of safety performance and they, of themselves, do not automatically signify a risk-bearing event. We have a very low rate of loss of separation compared to the rest of the world—substantially lower than Germany, the UK and the USA. But there is never a moment when we are satisfied with a loss of separation, and we are always striving for continuous improvement.
On that note, I just want to discuss one event in particular that received significant media attention. On 20 September of this year, just after noon, a loss of separation incident occurred approximately 20 miles west of Adelaide. Two Qantas aircraft were flying in opposite directions: Qantas flight 581 was westbound at flight level 380, and Qantas flight 576 was eastbound at flight level 390. The incident occurred in en-route airspace and involved one aircraft requesting, and being given clearance, to climb through the altitude of the other aircraft without an appropriate separation standard being in place.
The traffic scenario generated an Airservices short-term conflict alert and also a cockpit-generated traffic conflict alert resolution advisory, or a TCAS, was activated. Our alert looks ahead 60 seconds, while the TCAS looks ahead 30 nautical miles or two minutes at cruise speed for oncoming traffic. The controller took immediate action to descend the climbing aircraft back to a separated altitude. The other aircraft responded to the TCAS resolution by climbing. The estimate at the closest point of proximity was 700 feet vertically and 1.6 nautical miles laterally.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Qantas airline safety were immediately notified and kept informed. Our internal investigation of this event is well advanced, and ATSB have advised that they will complete their investigation by September 2014.
I think this demonstrates that, when we have humans in a very complex system, on the odd occasion human error could occur.
Senator STERLE: It wouldn't happen in parliament!
CHAIR: Come on.
Senator STERLE: Sorry; I was thinking aloud.
Ms Staib : In response to this incident I have established a task force to undertake a focused review to understand and address the factors which may have contributed to this incident. We are looking at four areas: technology, air space design, training and human performance. The task force is led by an air traffic controller who is reporting directly to me.
Aviation growth continues to be the most significant strategic challenges faced by Airservices Australia. We are now seeing the Sydney-to-Melbourne route listed as the second busiest air corridor in the world in terms of aircraft movements. Sydney to Brisbane has now been listed as the 12th busiest in the world. On 11 October this year we achieved 1,004 movements in Sydney in a day. This was the busiest day since the 2000 Olympics.
I wanted to touch very briefly on the OneSKY Australia project. That is the replacement of the national air traffic control system which we are carrying out jointly with Defence, with Airservices being the lead procurement agency. The tenders have closed and we have commenced evaluation of those tenders.
CHAIR: This was to be a brief opening statement.
Ms Staib : I just want to say one thing about our finance and then I will conclude. I am pleased to report that our revenues for the financial year 2012-13 grew by 6.4 per cent to $955 million. Our operating profit after tax was $63.1 million, and we delivered in the last financial year a dividend to government of $21 million. With that, I will conclude.
CHAIR: That was not too bad. When the alerts went off, did both climb or did one go down and one go up?
Ms Staib : One descended, at the instruction of the air traffic controller; the other ascended in response to the traffic alert.
Senator EDWARDS: Did you say the alert went off in the plane?
Ms Staib : There are two alerts. One goes off in our system, the air services system, in front of the air traffic controller. There is another alert in the—
CHAIR: So the air traffic controller gave permission? It was turbulent weather or something, was it?
Ms Staib : No. Our study showed that the weather was not a factor.
CHAIR: So why did he get permission to go down?
Ms Staib : Can you say that again, please?
CHAIR: The air traffic controller gave one plane permission to go up or go down, which put them into—
Ms Staib : What happened was that the pilot requested to ascend.
CHAIR: For any good reason?
Ms Staib : I do not know.
CHAIR: I have one final question. Was the guy who was doing the piloting in the right seat or the left seat?
Ms Staib : I do not know.
CHAIR: Those are all the things you will find out, though?
Mr Hood : If I could answer, the ATSB is investigating this particular incident. So all of those factors in relation to what happened in the cockpit will come out in that.
Senator FAWCETT: Thanks for your opening comments. I want to chase a couple of points you mentioned there. You said there was a $21 million dividend to government. Was it a $63 million profit?
Ms Staib : Yes, that is right.
Senator FAWCETT: Can I just clarify that the majority of your funding comes from charges as opposed to appropriations from government?
Ms Staib : Yes, all of our funding comes from charges. I receive no appropriation from government at all.
Senator FAWCETT: Given that the industry is consistently struggling to be competitive internationally and sustainable domestically, what is the rationale behind an agency such as yours, which is about providing a service and ensuring safety, making $63 million of profit and returning a dividend of $21 million to the government? In terms of an overall philosophy of having a sustainable and safe aviation sector, that makes no sense to me.
Ms Staib : It is in our legislation. There is a requirement that I have to do that.
Senator FAWCETT: That you have to make $63 million of profit?
Ms Staib : I have to operate as a business and make a profit. I am required to return somewhere between 30 per cent and 60 per cent of net profit after tax to the government as a dividend.
Mr Mrdak : These are long established arrangements for government business enterprises—they date back some time—that apply to commonwealth authorities and companies.
Senator FAWCETT: How does that compare with other countries? Do they have similar set-ups for their safety and service provision agencies?
Mr Mrdak : Where they are placed in authorities, yes, a number of comparable countries do require a business operation and also a dividend to be paid from those business operations. It occurs not just in this field but across a whole range of state and Commonwealth government sectors—and in comparable countries, yes.
Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.
Senator XENOPHON: Ms Staib, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, CASA, undertook a review of Airservices. It was a CASR part 172 review, and I have a copy of a report that was released via FOI. I should preface my questions by noting that you have only been in the position for 12 months, and obviously this review predated your time there, but it was quite a scathing report. It is not a reflection in any way of your leadership of the organisation; I want to make that clear. CASA made a number of findings. It referred to 233 noncompliance notices between May 2003 and June 2012. The review made 35 recommendations for Airservices. The majority of the recommendations—20—are to address deficiencies in Airservices management responsibilities. CASA identified a number of concerns regarding Airservices staffing levels; ATC training; supervision of air traffic controllers; the application of the SMS; breakdown of separation incidents; traffic information broadcast by aircraft, or TIBA, incidents; and the ability to provide an ATS. I found it very concerning reading. As a passenger, I have a vested interest, like the minister; we are on planes all too often. What has been done to address a quite damning report by CASA into Airservices Australia?
Ms Staib : The report was presented to me about a week after I got into the job, and of course I was very concerned about the report. Some of the detail in the analysis one could argue with, but I took the approach that the recommendations certainly could not be argued with. We immediately put in place a work plan to address the 35 recommendations, and I will give you some examples to hopefully give you confidence that we have tackled the issues that CASA identified. All the recommendations but one are complete. The one outstanding is a recommendation to put our software tool Metron into the Melbourne Airport, and that is scheduled to occur before the end of this year.
Let me talk to a couple of the recommendations. My approach was to commission independent reviews by eminent people to give me confidence or otherwise about our position. For example, the one on the air traffic control numbers seems to be a recurring theme. Back in 2009 there was a study done, but I commissioned a fresh study into the numbers. I asked a peer organisation, Nav Canada, to undertake that review. The report came back to say that Nav Canada thought our methodology for staffing and rostering was very sound. It was their view that we have the appropriate numbers of air traffic controllers to deliver the service that we need. One area, though, that we can improve is not so much the numbers per se; it is about how we employ the workforce. We are currently looking at ways to develop more flexibility, and that is around the different ratings that air traffic controllers are given. That is one.
Senator XENOPHON: Did you relate issues of training—whether ATC training is adequate or not? Is that something that has been addressed?
Ms Staib : Yes. We are a registered training organisation and we have just had our audit by the Australian Skills Quality Authority. We have been reissued with our certificate for our registered training organisation authority. So there has been significant restructuring of the learning academy—that is what we call it—where we deliver our training for air traffic controllers.
You also mentioned the safety management system. We commissioned a report into our safety management system, by Dr Rob Lee, to look at whether he felt we had deficiencies. He felt we did not. He felt we had a robust safety management system but we could improve it by increasing the integration of the various components of the safety management system. Also, CASA asked us to review our audit processes, and we commissioned PwC to look at the audit processes, including the audit committee that we have in place as well as the whole assurance and compliance regime we have across the organisation. They found that we had a very robust and thorough audit system.
Senator XENOPHON: Can I just ask you to pause there. I guess an easier way of dealing with these issues is to ask you whether Airservices Australia has formally responded to CASA's report on their organisation and whether—
Ms Staib : Yes, Senator.
Senator XENOPHON: There has been a formal response?
Ms Staib : Yes.
Senator XENOPHON: Is that publicly available?
Ms Staib : It is not publicly available.
Senator XENOPHON: Can I ask you to table that response?
Ms Staib : Can I take that on notice?
Senator XENOPHON: Is there anything in there that would be commercial-in-confidence at all?
Ms Staib : My recollection is no, so I can table that response.
Senator XENOPHON: Yes. Thank you.
Ms Staib : We have progressively—
CHAIR: I think you are entitled to take it on notice.
Senator XENOPHON: CASA wrote a report critical of Airservices Australia. I made it very clear to Ms Staib that it was not under her watch, at the time the report was prepared.
An honourable senator interjecting—
Senator XENOPHON: Well, it's true. It is true. The situation is that, presumably, Airservices Australia has given a formal response to CASA's report.
Ms Staib : Yes, that is correct.
Senator XENOPHON: So I am just asking for a copy.
CHAIR: Senator, we do not have an objection if the chief executive wants to do it. But, if she wants to think about it, she is entitled to think about it.
Ms Staib : Senator Xenophon, there have been several responses, in fact. There was the first response, and I have been providing the director with progress reports on our action plans. So we submitted our action plan to him, with the courses of action that we were taking, and also progress reports in regard to milestones completed. So there has been continuing feedback to CASA about our response to that report.
Senator XENOPHON: Okay. I would be grateful for copies of those. I just want to ask a question that I asked in another committee, to the Bureau of Meteorology, and it relates to the emergency landing of a Virgin Australia 737 at Mildura in June of this year—is that familiar?—and the ATSB has provided a preliminary report. I was a bit unclear—I did not quite understand the bureau's response—as to who has responsibility for the automated weather information services. I thought, initially, the answer was that Airservices Australia did. But who actually has responsibility for the AWISs?
Mr Hood : Senator, we are also obviously doing our own follow-up on the fog incidents in Adelaide and in Mildura. My understanding is that the airport is responsible for the maintenance of the AWIS, but we are following that up and if clarification is required of which agency is responsible—
Senator XENOPHON: So it is not necessarily the Bureau of Meteorology, it is not Airservices Australia; it is the actual airport?
Mr Hood : That is my understanding. But I am happy to take that on notice and provide a full response in relation to that.
CHAIR: Just pausing there, why would that plane—is this the one that held over the airport and then did an illegal landing?
Senator XENOPHON: Well, it wasn't illegal; it was all about running out of fuel.
CHAIR: Yes, but you wouldn't—
Senator XENOPHON: He was under the minimum.
CHAIR: But why, in god's name? It could have gone to bloody Woomera or anywhere else. Why did it hang around there if the weather was shit?
Mr Hood : Senator, we are also obviously—
Senator XENOPHON: Did Hansard get the expletive on your part, Chair?
CHAIR: But it's true. That could have been a fatal—just with a simple decision—
Senator STERLE: With the greatest of respect, Mr Hood was about ready to answer and you just both jumped in on him.
CHAIR: No, no.
Senator STERLE: I reckon he could mix it with the pair of you!
CHAIR: There is no simple answer. It was not very sensible to hold it—
Senator STERLE: Chair, he didn't get the opportunity! He was just about ready to answer and then Senator Xenophon picked up on your choice of language and then you were all into it.
CHAIR: But you will—
Senator STERLE: You are doing it again. He hasn't got the answer.
CHAIR: I haven't finished the question.
Senator STERLE: You did. You just spoke then.
CHAIR: You will concede that the guy could have diverted to Woomera or somewhere instead of risking a landing that could have been a catastrophe.
Mr Hood : There are over four million aircraft movements in Australia a year, very few of which cause us significant concern. I think it is fair to say this is a concerning incident. We are cooperating fully with the ATSB. It is our hope that the ATSB will establish all of the facts and make appropriate recommendations, on which we will act.
Senator XENOPHON: These AWISs, the automatic weather information services: who on earth owns them, controls them, is responsible for them? I am not any wiser now than I was this morning when I asked the Bureau of Meteorology. I am just trying to work it out.
Ms Staib : We will take that on notice. As we said, we believe it is the airport's responsibility, but we will confirm that.
Senator XENOPHON: So who runs Mildura Airport?
Mr Mrdak : Mildura council.
Mr Hood : I suppose this is one of the issues that is a line of inquiry for the ATSB. Anything that needs clarifying—these are the things that get uncovered in an incident such as this.
Senator XENOPHON: From an operational point of view—the functioning of an automatic weather information service—the information from that is something that gets fed to air traffic control, correct?
Mr Hood : Yes. We can interrogate the automatic weather information service.
Senator XENOPHON: No. Is the automatic weather information service something that air traffic controllers have access to or does it only go to the pilot? How does it work?
Mr Hood : It would take a lengthy explanation, but—
Senator XENOPHON: Give me a short one.
CHAIR: It is afternoon tea time, so make it short.
Mr Hood : Primarily, our responsibility is the passing of terminal area forecasts and amended terminal area forecasts to the aviation industry and also meteorological products on request.
Senator XENOPHON: If it is clearly relevant to air traffic control and the control of airspace—you know, if an airport is fogged in—is there a role for Air Services Australia, is there an obligation on Air Services Australia, to monitor whether an automatic weather information service is operating or not? Because apparently, as I understand it, in Mildura it was broken.
Mr Hood : That is how I understand it also, and it is a line of inquiry—
Senator XENOPHON: Don't you know about those sorts of things?
Mr Hood : Is currently a line of inquiry for our procedures team as well. We are looking at that aspect.
Senator XENOPHON: So I've got to wait for next estimates.
CHAIR: I propose we go to afternoon tea.
Mr Mrdak : Chair, I think Mr Wolfe can solve at least part of Senator Xenophon's mystery of the ownership of the system.
Senator XENOPHON: And control and supervision.
Mr Wolfe : I will be brief. The automatic weather information service, the AWIS, is as Mr Hood has indicated the responsibility of the airport operator. Inside the AWIS is an AWS, an automatic weather station, which is the Bureau of Meteorology's responsibility. The transmitter on top is the airport's; the weather station is BoM's.
CHAIR: The thing that beggars me is how you can hold till you run out of fuel. Why, when you are coming to the point of a safe diversion, don't you get to buggery and divert? Why would you hold till you run out of fuel, unless you had a suicide mission in mind? Thank you, very much. We will come back after afternoon tea.
Mr Mrdak : That is precisely what the ATSB is now examining.
CHAIR: That is crazy. Someone should get the bullet over that.
Proceedings suspended from 16:33 to 16:45
CHAIR: We will now resume with the Office of Transport Security.
Senator RUSTON: In the estimates in May, Senator Macdonald put a number of questions on notice in relation to the Horn Island airport and the money that was spent there. Your response was that the $5 million had been expended but you did not go into detail as to what that $5 million was spent on. Are you in any position to give us a bit more detail on what the $5 million was spent on?
Mr Mrdak : I will see if I have the right officers here. Mr Robertson will be able to help you.
Mr Robertson : The $5 million was there to assist with the upgrade of terminal works for screening facilities.
Senator RUSTON: Okay. At any time, was any work done on the condition of the runway, the taxiways, the pavements—
Mr Robertson : Not out of that funding, no.
Senator RUSTON: Has any investigation or scoping been requested of the department by the previous government or any other source?
Mr Robertson : For work associated with the runway and other facilities?
Senator RUSTON: The runway or the aprons—basically, the outside works.
Mr Robertson : If there has been, we would not be aware of that within the Office of Transport Security.
Senator GALLACHER: Your office is responsible for the full body scanners. Can you give us an update on that. We all have to work through them here at Parliament House. Has anybody complained? Is it working well?
Mr Robertson : In general terms, yes. We do get complaints of course. Occasionally we get complaints about the inability to have a pat down search, for example. There are a relatively small number of complaints, I have to say, given the range of people going through the body scanners at all of the eight major gateway airports. I think that it is fair to say that generally people like them.
CHAIR: What, the pat down or the scan?
Mr Wilson : The body scanners.
Mr Robertson : If you have got a metal hip or something like that, the scanners are very popular. You do not have to go through the issue with the walk through metal detector and having to explain to the screening authority when you get extra attention. Generally, it has been a positive experience and it has worked very well.
Senator GALLACHER: Has it identified any security threats?
Mr Wilson : We would prefer not to talk about the operational aspects of the screening points.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Can I still borrow someone's pass and scan it and get into an airport?
Mr Robertson : If you did, you would be committing an offence.
CHAIR: I know, but could I still do it?
Mr Robertson : There are lots of things that you can do. You might be able to try and cheat the system, but if you get caught you will be charged with an offence.
CHAIR: Yes. But if a group of people put their minds to it, it is easy to do.
Mr Wilson : We have had this conversation before.
CHAIR: We have.
Mr Wilson : I will answer with the same answer that I gave last time, which is that any system developed by a human and operated by humans will be fallible.
CHAIR: So we are not going to thumb prints and fingerprints and things?
Mr Wilson : No, but there are requirements in relation to face recognition for cards for access points and the like, so there are measures and checks undertaken in relation to your ability to use someone else's card.
CHAIR: But not at every checkpoint.
Mr Wilson : Not at all checkpoints. But there are measures coming in about further restrictions on air site access.
CHAIR: It just troubles me that, as you know, Sydney Night Patrol have a lot of dubious people working for them. We ought to sort the crims out of those organisations. Thank you very much, that is all we have got for you blokes.
Mr Mrdak : For the Hansard can I clarify an answer I gave to Senator Ludwig this morning. He asked if the department had released, through freedom of information processes, the incoming government brief relating to the August 2010 election. I advised that, to my recollection, it had not. I have subsequently been corrected and advised that the department did release a small number of project-specific documents for the 2010 incoming government brief and a further small set of redacted documents in August 2011. Copies of those documents are on the department's website.
CHAIR: We now move to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Senator Cameron.
Senator CAMERON: First of all, I want to go to the act and the functions of the authority. Section 6(1)(b) outlines your responsibilities to provide a search and rescue service. How long have you been providing the search and rescue service?
Mr Kinley : AMSA has been providing that function since its inception about 20 years ago and we took on the aviation function in 1997.
Senator CAMERON: So you do air, sea and land?
Mr Kinley : Not necessarily land. We do aviation and maritime. But we are the land reception facility for emergency position indicating radio beacons, which are a satellite based detection system, and we promulgate that information to agencies such as the police in the states and territories who do the land based search and rescue.
Senator CAMERON: And who do you coordinate with in terms of sea rescue?
Mr Kinley : We coordinate with a wide range of agencies, depending on the circumstances of the incident in question. That may be the state water police, for example. We coordinate the response. We may call upon assets in the merchant navy and any other assets that may be available on water, or aviation assets.
Senator CAMERON: Military? Defence.
Mr Kinley : Yes, we do have communications with Defence.
Senator CAMERON: Did you forget about that?
Mr Kinley : No.
Senator CAMERON: Why didn't you mention it?
Mr Kinley : There are many people we coordinate with.
Senator CAMERON: Also, under the act, you perform such other functions as are conferred on you by or under any other act.
Mr Kinley : Yes, I have memorised the act.
Senator CAMERON: Are there a range of other acts that confer obligations on AMSA?
Mr Kinley : There are a range of acts. The Navigation Act 2012 is one. There are quite a few.
Senator CAMERON: Could you take it on notice and provide me details of the acts that apply.
Mr Kinley : I can probably name most of them.
Senator CAMERON: Probably is not good enough; I need to know exactly. I am happy for you to take that on notice. You have got to provide search and rescue services consistent with our obligations under the Chicago Convention, the Safety Convention and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue 1979. So you comply consistently with those obligations?
Mr Kinley : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: Section 9A of the act provides that a minister may give the authority notices about your strategic direction. You have set out your corporate plan, including your strategic direction. Does that meet all your obligations under the act?
Mr Kinley : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: Have there been any section 9A written notices since the new government has come to power?
Mr Kinley : No.
Senator CAMERON: So your strategic goal, as laid out here, is to save lives by coordinating search and rescue?
Mr Kinley : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: Have there been any complications to delivering that strategic goal in recent times?
Mr Kinley : No.
Senator CAMERON: Any additional obligations?
Mr Kinley : No.
Senator CAMERON: How do you become involved in a search and rescue at sea?
Mr Kinley : In general terms we receive a distress alert or a distress call. There is an assessment phase with that distress alert and we act upon the results of that assessment.
Senator CAMERON: So would you then notify the Navy or Customs and Border Protection of the problem?
Mr Kinley : It depends what you mean by a problem.
Senator CAMERON: An incident at sea that could lead to a loss of life. I would have thought that that would be pretty obvious.
Mr Kinley : If there was an incident and we may need to call upon the assets, yes I think we would.
Senator CAMERON: How do you normally describe a possible loss of life at sea, an incident?
Mr Kinley : Generally it would be a distress situation. In general terms it is a situation where a person's life is in danger.
Senator CAMERON: Commercial, Navy or any incident at that could lead to a loss of life or put life in danger?
Mr Kinley : Yes, although I think there is a particular case with the Navy in that they have their own SAR function.
Senator CAMERON: Do you deal directly with Indonesian authorities on search and rescue issues?
Mr Kinley : We have communications with the Indonesian search and rescue authorities.
Senator CAMERON: Directly?
Mr Kinley : Yes, we do.
Senator CAMERON: Is that continuing to be the case?
Mr Kinley : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: Has there been any change in your role in search and rescue operations since the federal election?
Mr Kinley : No.
Senator CAMERON: How many distress calls has AMSA received since 1 July 2013, and how many individual incidents do they relate to?
Mr Kinley : I would have to take that one on notice.
Senator CAMERON: I assume you have had distress calls, even though you do not know the exact number.
Mr Kinley : We get distress calls daily from right around Australia.
Senator CAMERON: And what about offshore?
Mr Kinley : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: You have had offshore distress calls since 1 July?
Mr Kinley : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: You are taking on notice the number of distress calls. Which agencies were involved in those distress calls?
Mr Kinley : Again, I would have to take that on notice. It depends which jurisdiction they are in, how far from the coast they are.
Senator CAMERON: Did you refer any incidents at sea to overseas authorities?
Mr Kinley : There have been incidents where we have discussed coordination with overseas authorities. I assume you are talking about with Basarnas, the Indonesian authority.
Senator CAMERON: Yes. You have coordinated with them?
Mr Kinley : We have discussed who has coordination of incidents, yes.
Senator CAMERON: You would also then coordinate with the Department of Defence?
Mr Kinley : For search and rescue we are the coordinating authority.
Senator CAMERON: So you are the lead agency?
Mr Kinley : In search and rescue terms we undertake coordination.
Senator Sinodinos: To help the senator: if you are seeking to draw attention to operations under Operation Sovereign Borders, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee will be considering that tomorrow for an extended period, if that is where you want to go.
Senator CAMERON: I will go where I want to go, consistent with the department and the act that is before the Senate. I am asking questions consistent with the act. I know that you want to have secrecy. I know that you do not want any of these issues out there. That is why you have tried to shut me down.
CHAIR: We will just pause there. I hope everyone has noticed that, whenever an interloper comes into this committee, we get political. So welcome, Dougie—
Senator CAMERON: Chair, I am not an interloper, I am a senator. Mr Kinley, why do you no longer publish reports of vessels in distress on your website?
Mr Kinley : We have never published reports of vessels in distress routinely on our website. I think you may be referring to where we had a web based replication of what we had with broadcasts to shipping. We no longer publish that; it is no longer necessary, because those broadcasts go direct to ships that we need to get that information for search and rescue purposes.
Senator CAMERON: So when was the decision made that those broadcasts would not be put on the web?
Mr Kinley : I would have to confirm that, but it was some weeks ago.
Senator CAMERON: How long have those broadcasts been published prior to this decision some weeks ago?
Mr Kinley : I will have to take that one on notice.
Senator CAMERON: Was this decision made after discussions with the minister?
Mr Kinley : No.
Senator CAMERON: It was purely your decision?
Mr Kinley : Yes.
Senator Sinodinos: Which minister are you referring to there?
Senator CAMERON: That would be Minister Truss, I assume. Mr Kinley, given that that information is no longer published on your website can you be certain, when vessels report being in distress, that all vessels in the vicinity that could offer assistance are contacted with the details of the vessel in distress, including its last reported location?
Mr Kinley : That information which was on the web was basically a copy of what we actually do in the broadcast to shipping. That goes through Satcom C, which is part of the global maritime distress and safety system. That is how ships communicate with each other. The information that was on the web did not form part of that system. We are confident that the ships that need to get that information have the capability to receive that information and they received that information.
Senator CAMERON: If there is a vessel in distress, that information goes out publicly, it is out there to any vessel in the area. So information about a vessel in distress is public information?
Mr Kinley : Yes, to any ship that has the equipment. It is part of the global distress system. Ships certainly do not look at the internet to get that information.
Senator CAMERON: So there are no restrictions on people being able to pick that notification up, if you send it out?
Mr Kinley : As long as they have the technology, they will receive it.
Senator CAMERON: So if people-smugglers have the technology they can find out exactly where ships in distress are?
Mr Kinley : I assume so, if they have a SAT—
Senator CAMERON: If they have the technology then you immediately meet your obligations under the global distress and communication system?
CHAIR: It would be fair to say, though—
Senator CAMERON: What are your obligations to let ships know?
Mr Kinley : Our obligations to let ships know are in accordance with the international SAR conventions and the Convention for the Safety of Lives at Sea. As the coordinating authority for a search and rescue event, we have the mechanisms in place to communicate with ships in the region.
Senator CAMERON: And anyone—
CHAIR: Let me just pause you there. It would be fair to say, though, from the point of view of people-smugglers—which is a billion dollar business—that when Senator Cameron raises the legitimate question of whether they would know about it if they had the technology: they would surely know because they had probably organised with the people to say their boat was disabled and in distress. They probably planned the distress anyhow.
Mr Kinley : I do not know the ins and outs—
CHAIR: As we know, a lot of these are dodgy distress situations—'Oops, I pulled the valve out of the engine; we're in trouble. Righto, we're on our way to Australia'.
Mr Kinley : The particular systems we are talking about are used by merchant ships as the normal part of the distress system.
Senator CAMERON: So any merchant ship in the vicinity of a disabled vessel, or a vessel in distress, would publicly know there was a problem and would have been advised by you, in a public way that can be picked up generally, that there is a problem.
Mr Kinley : It depends on whether you call that 'public'. It is not classified.
Senator CAMERON: How would you describe it—ship to ship?
Mr Kinley : Shore to ship, basically.
Senator CAMERON: Shore to ship. Then it could be ship to ship as well.
Mr Kinley : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: Because that can then be transferred through to other ships—and, as long as you have the technology available, your global distress notification can be picked up by anyone with that technology.
Mr Kinley : By anyone with that technology. This equipment is fitted to merchant ships. It is generally not fitted to small coastal vessels. It is a significant satellite installation.
Senator CAMERON: Yes, but sophisticated operations could easily access it.
Mr Kinley : Yes. The broadcasts are to a specific area, so the ship has to be in that area.
Senator CAMERON: Can you simply monitor your distress notifications? Is that easily done?
Mr Kinley : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: In fact, would it be an obligation on some ships to actually be available? You cannot turn the messages from you guys off, can you?
Mr Kinley : They could physically shut that equipment down, but there is a legal obligation to respond to a distress where it is practical and you are in the area.
CHAIR: In relation to the distress calls from the professional people-smugglers—or whatever you like to call them: would part of their 'package' be the satellite phone to make the distress call at the appropriate moment?
Mr Kinley : I do not think that any of the distress calls from that particular area come in the normal, routine distress-alerting way that we would expect under the global maritime distress system. So they are all outside of that.
Senator CAMERON: Given that you take the lead in maritime safety regulation, and you are the lead agency on maritime incidents, would you see any issues with making maritime incidents public?
Senator Sinodinos: I think that is getting into policy matters that are beyond this committee.
Senator CAMERON: No, it is not a policy matter—it is what has happened in the past. It is not a policy matter.
Mr Kinley : Our actions are consistent with government policy. Our operations in the search and rescue world generally are done in accordance with that policy. Sorry, I will have to ask for your question again. We make information available when necessary and in accordance with policy.
Senator CAMERON: Yes, you are the lead agency; you take the lead in maritime safety regulation. You also have, in the past, performed a role in advising the public on maritime incidents. That has changed in recent weeks, hasn't it?
Mr Kinley : We are operating in accordance with government policy.
Senator CAMERON: Let's just investigate this. You are acting in accordance—
CHAIR: Just before you do: does AMSA respond to maritime safety on the open seas and in ports, estuaries and lakes? If I get into trouble on Burrinjuck Dam, do I call you?
Mr Kinley : If you get into trouble on Burrinjuck Dam you don't call us—unless, of course, you happen to have a 406-MHz beacon. If you fired that off, we would receive the signal and pass that to the New South Wales Police.
CHAIR: I had a mate, Martin Pavlovich, who drowned on the Menindee Lakes years ago. He couldn't swim. You would not think you would get an incident on Menindee Lakes, but a huge storm came up and swamped his boat and took him away. No doubt he did not have that beacon, or whatever you need.
Mr Kinley : We always recommend that everyone has a beacon.
CHAIR: He was a bloody good fisherman, though.
Senator CAMERON: I don't think former Senator Joyce let a beacon off when he wrote his four-wheel drive off in the Mary River a few years ago—but, anyway, that is another issue.
CHAIR: But you can actually have serious maritime incidents on lakes.
Senator CAMERON: Of course. I am interested in this 'acting in accordance with government policy'. Have you been advised of any changes to government policy in relation to communicating maritime incidents?
Mr Kinley : I think it is fair to say we have been advised about how we communicate about our involvement with search and rescue for SIEVs.
Senator CAMERON: Where did you receive this communication from?
Mr Kinley : I would actually have to go back and check on that.
Senator CAMERON: You don't know? So you are enacting government policy but you are not sure where the direction came from—other than from the government?
Mr Kinley : I think our information on search and rescue forms part of the weekly briefings.
Senator CAMERON: So was this communication from government to advise you of their policy done verbally, was it done by letter, was it done by email?
Mr Kinley : I would have to go and check on that.
Senator CAMERON: You don't know? Is there anyone here from your department who can tell us the answer to that question?
Mr Kinley : I can ask my General-Manager of Air Emergency Response Division.
Senator CAMERON: I would have thought it was a pretty big thing, after years of operating in a certain manner, for the government to tell you that you will not operate in that manner anymore. And I would have thought someone here at estimates would have been in a position to advise me: firstly, who told you this; and, secondly, in what manner was it conveyed to you.
Mr Kinley : This is not a new issue for us. We do search and rescue and for some years we have had a close working relationship with Border Protection Command, for example, about search and rescue in that domain. That is not new.
Senator CAMERON: I am happy for you to explain that, but before you go there: Mr Young, are you aware of what form the communication took from government to advise you of the policy change? And can you advise me as to what that policy change was?
Mr Young : For some years now media, in regards to what we might term asylum-seeker vessels, has been managed by Customs and Border Protection. And we have systematically passed information about incidents to Customs and Border Protection, and announcements on the subject were generally made by Minister Clare. That has not changed. We still pass all the information to Customs and Border Protection, and it is now announced by the government according to the government's methods of working. We observe the policy in action. That is the current state of play.
Senator CAMERON: So, you just thought the government wanted a change, but I am confused here. Mr Kinley advised me that there was a communication, but he was not sure how that communication was made or who made the communication. Are you saying that is not correct?
Mr Young : No, I am saying that my understanding is that we have always passed information to Customs and Border Protection, and I would now say the government of the day decides how that information is presented to the public, because it is ministers who make announcements. I am with Mr Kinley in that if you want to know whether we have received a formal communication I would need to take that on notice and go and look.
Senator CAMERON: So, a formal communication from a minister, from a minister's department or from anyone associated with the minister—I would like to know what that communication was, because Mr Kinley considered there was a communication—as well as who communicated with you and any copies of any communication that is available. Can you take that on notice?
Mr Young : Certainly.
Mr Kinley : And as I said, this has not really changed since the previous arrangements. We have always had these communications with border protection command, as Mr Young said.
Senator CAMERON: That is not the question I am asking. I am asking about that specific issue. I do have some other questions but I will put them on notice.
CHAIR: And we are most grateful for your questions and grateful to whoever the adviser was who wrote them for you.
Senator STERLE: Mr Kinley, I will go to you. My question is in relation to marine order 3, which I am aware relates to the qualifications of seagoing employees, and I am also very well aware that there has been consultation with industry and with the Maritime Union of Australia. So, if I could get to the point: what is the status of AMSA's consultation about marine order 3 relating to seafarer certification?
Mr Kinley : We have been working internally on basically analysing the responses we had to the consultation, assessing what changes or amendments we should make consequentially to the draft of the marine order. And we are just working on how we will actually then come back to industry and publish that consultation and the revised draft, which we would hope to make.
Senator STERLE: How long have you been working on it?
Mr Kinley : Marine orders part 3 has been worked on for quite a long time.
Senator STERLE: How long is 'a long time'?
Mr Kinley : It has been some years now since that process started.
Senator STERLE: Okay, so how long is 'some years'.
Mr Kinley : I will have to check on when we first made the first consultation draft.
Senator STERLE: Is it two? Five? Seven?
Mr Kinley : I would say two to three.
Senator STERLE: So, what is holding it up? You said you have to analyse responses. Everyone has put in their submissions, everyone has been consulted—all stakeholders. When were they expecting a decision? When was industry expecting you guys to tick off and say, 'Right, we're off and running' or 'We've got problems here'?
Mr Kinley : I think industry would have been expecting us, or would have liked us, to have had the marine order out some time ago. That is why we are keen to have it finalised as soon as possible.
Senator STERLE: You can understand my frustration, maybe, that it is a bit 'if' and 'we'd hoped' and 'some time', but I have to ask you, Mr Kinley: you said you are analysing responses—and my shorthand is not that great. What is taking so long? Are there difficult areas, or has it just been shoved in the 'we'll do it when we get down the track' tray?
Mr Kinley : Any marine order or any regulation that deals with people's ability to earn a livelihood is always going to be difficult. This is the marine order that actually defines how you go about getting a qualification to work as a ship's officer or an engineer or a seafarer in the maritime industry. So it is very sensitive to all involved. Since we had the first consultation draft out on that marine order there have been other developments, such as the amendments that were made to the international convention on the standards for training and certification for watchkeepers, which is what you call people who are in charge of watch on a ship, whether they are a navigator or an engineer.
So, halfway through that process of the consultation we decided that we should take what are called the Manila amendments to that convention into effect, so while we were amending the marine order we wanted to actually bring it into line for the latest international requirements. Also during that process, because the original time line was longer than anticipated, the new Navigation Act 2012 came into force on 1 July this year. We then decided that now we were doing this we had better also have the order rewritten so that it actually will work with the new act. So, that happened as well.
Senator STERLE: This came in about halfway, you said—so, about two years ago, or whatever it was?
Mr Kinley : The Manila amendments started coming into force in 2012. The new act came into force on 1 July this year at the same time as the new national act for domestic commercial vessels. So those things all contributed to actually pushing that time line out so that now I think the order is basically ready to be made.
Senator STERLE: 'Basically ready': tomorrow? Next week? Next month?
Mr Kinley : I think it is with the drafters at the moment. We certainly would hope to have it out in the coming months.
Senator STERLE: Sorry, Mr Kinley, but you have just not given me a lot of comfort. The view within industry is that the government is dithering, and I would not ask you for a matter of opinion, but that is certainly the belief out there. And based on what I am hearing at the moment—with the greatest respect; I am not a seafarer, I have a 5.8-metre boat, I know nothing about their industry, but I have a bit of an idea about training and qualifications—I must say that if you have industry on board, employers and employees and shipping companies and all that, to me it seems very hard to understand that it could take this long. If there were objections, if it was something like Coles or some of these sorts of people who like to screw the living daylights out of truck drivers and they do not want to pay safe, sustainable rates, I would understand that, but this one I do not understand, Mr Kinley. I just do not think I have heard any words coming from you during my questions that would give any comfort to those seafarers out there who would have thought this is a pretty simple process.
Mr Kinley : A simple process it is not, Senator. As I said, it is a piece of regulation that actually gets people very passionate, particularly seafarers, and I do not think any seafarer would say this is a simple process.
Senator STERLE: Okay, then may I rephrase that? It should not take this damn long.
Mr Kinley : I agree, Senator.
Senator STERLE: I am sure if you wanted to do something—
CHAIR: I will give a couple of minutes to Senator Gallacher so we do not fall off the clock.
Senator GALLACHER: There was a very public grounding of a ship on the Great Barrier Reef, which has some very busy thoroughfares and channels through there. Would this qualification improve that safety situation, particularly in respect to watch officers?
Mr Kinley : This qualification will only affect Australian seafarers, but it does give effect to the improvements that have been made to the international convention, which governs all seafarers, including those who were on the Shen Neng 1, which I assume is the ship you are referring to.
Senator GALLACHER: Yes.
Mr Kinley : So we do spend a lot of time working with the International Maritime Organization to improve those international standards, because over 90 per cent of the shipping around our coast is actually done by foreign seafarers. These Manila amendments, as I mentioned before, were very important to improving that global standard. With the Shen Neng 1 a lot of the factors that led to that grounding were things like fatigue. The new international requirements really tightened up on those fatigue requirements, along with the new requirements under the Maritime Labour Convention. The new rules for international seafarers include bridge resource management, which is designed to remove that single point of failure from one person making a poor decision on a bridge. So it is important to bring them into effect for Australian seafarers, but the biggest benefits for Australia are actually in bringing the global standard of seafarers up.
CHAIR: So that takes care of Concordia-type captains.
Mr Kinley : Hopefully, yes.