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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO
Office of Transport Security
- Committee Name
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Xenophon, Sen Nick
Edwards, Sen Sean
Heffernan, Sen Bill
Nash, Sen Fiona
Carr, Sen Kim
Fawcett, Sen David
Humphries, Sen Gary
Ronaldson, Sen Michael
Rhiannon, Sen Lee
Gallacher, Sen Alex
Eggleston, Sen Alan
Carr, Sen Kim
Mr J McCormick
- Sub program
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
(Senate-Tuesday, 16 October 2012)
INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO
Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Senator Kim Carr
Major Cities Unit
Office of Transport Security
Mr J McCormick
Senator Kim Carr
Australian Transport Safety Bureau
- Australian Maritime Safety Authority
REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, ARTS AND SPORT
Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Mr G McCormick
Office for the Arts
National Gallery of Australia
National Library of Australia
National Museum of Australia
National Film and Sound Archive
Office for Sport
Australian Sports Commission
- Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport
- INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO
Content WindowRural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee - 16/10/2012 - Estimates - INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO - Office of Transport Security
Office of Transport Security
Senator XENOPHON: Adelaide airport has recently changed the arrangements for the dropping off of passengers. Passengers are now dropped off a fair distance from the terminal although passengers can be picked up by taxis downstairs on the ground floor of the terminal. Was that done as a result of a security issue? At Melbourne and Sydney airports passengers can be dropped off right in front of the terminal.
Mr Mrdak : There are increasingly security issues being built into the better design of terminals. I will ask Mr Retter to talk about that because in the design concepts for future terminals we are looking at how we minimise the risk of attack from vehicles being utilised at the front of house.
Mr Retter : As the secretary indicated, there are factors which where possible should be incorporated into the design of airports to mitigate against the threat of an explosion or some sort of device being used at the public area of transport facilities around Australia. In the case of Adelaide airport, one of the many considerations was to look at the issue of stand-off distances. There is a figure, a number of metres, that is recommended where possible and is incorporated in the new design of the Adelaide airport extensions, the car park and the link. That figure was one of the many considerations that Adelaide airport made to redesign the airport.
Senator XENOPHON: Does that mean for Sydney and Melbourne airports, where passengers can be dropped at the front of the terminal, that will also change eventually?
Mr Retter : I think it is the view of the department that where any airport is redesigning or rebuilding its facilities, where we can accommodate an improved security outcome as part of the redesign of the airport we should do that as part of the process, because it is our view that where it is feasible to do it at not an exorbitant cost this is the approach we should take. In other words, we should do it at the front end as opposed to trying to retrofit security in areas—
Senator XENOPHON: Because of time constraints, and I promised the chair, I might get a briefing on this, because it is an issue of great inconvenience to passengers. If we are looking at a terrorist attack, there are still lots of people in the area where they are being dropped off, so—
Mr Mrdak : There has been a lot of work done by the RTS on issues such as areas where there is mass public gathering and what distances are, so—
Senator XENOPHON: Try getting dropped off at Adelaide airport. It is chaos there.
Senator EDWARDS: It is mayhem.
Senator HEFFERNAN: While we are on airports: Wagga Wagga Airport and the new screening arrangements there. It is not a waste of resource, but because they do not screen Rex planes and they only screen Qantas planes, and because there is only three planes a day, how do you figure the cost-benefit analysis of that?
Mr Retter : There are two different aspects to the question you asked but I will come back, if I can, to the cost-benefit issue. I will first deal with the issue of what we are primarily trying to protect at our regional airports in terms of security outcomes. You might recall that as part of the government's work in the white paper in 2009 we did a fair amount of extensive work looking at the whole issue of what would be the basis for the screening of passengers, and their baggage, getting onto aircraft.
We came to a view that a maximum take-off weight approach was the best approach, in part because of the changes that had occurred since the Aviation Transport Security Act and associated regulations had come in, which initially had a very arbitrary approach which meant that if you were in a jet you got screened and if you were in a propeller job you did not. Quite frankly, given the change in the nature—the size and shape—of aircraft that approach was no longer relevant. So we have adopted security screening being applied to aircraft which have a maximum take-off weight of over 20,000 kilograms.
At Wagga Wagga Airport there are a range of aircraft that operate RPT and open-charter aircraft. Some are above the threshold of 20,000 kilos and others are below. That means that some air services will be screened and others will not. However, the airport, if it so wished, could screen all aircraft. That is a decision for the airport operator. Our requirements are that all services over 20,000 kilos are screened.
Senator HEFFERNAN: But if I am flying into Sydney and I want to take a banned device—we will not be too alarmist about this—knowing that, I would get on Rex, wouldn't I?
Mr Retter : If you want to take an item on board that you know would be picked up on security screening in a screen service then, yes, as a caring terrorist you would do that.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Isn't that crazy?
Mr Retter : There has to be a threshold somewhere, otherwise—
Senator HEFFERNAN: But if the guys are there all day and they are standing around—
Mr Retter : My understanding, talking to the management at Wagga Wagga Airport is that they are not there all day. They are there for periods of time during the day—
Senator HEFFERNAN: It must be very inefficient. I bet they are on the payroll all day.
Mr Retter : I think they are there and paid by the hour, and the hours they work depend upon the frequency of the aircraft that need to be screened.
Senator NASH: Is that for certain, or are you guessing?
Mr Retter : My experience is that—
Senator NASH: No, I am asking specifically about Wagga Wagga. Do you know if that is the case in Wagga Wagga?
Mr Retter : I am speaking on the basis of what I understand to be the truth, not the specifics of Wagga Wagga airport.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I asked a couple of pleasant people—and, as you know, I am unpleasant—where they were from and they said they were from Timbuktu. They do not live around Wagga, some of them. I suppose it would take half an hour to one hour, two or three times a day, to do the screening. It seems a bit bizarre that you would screen a Qantas plane for some sort of study on security but not screen the one that is taking off five minutes later.
Mr Retter : This is a decision by the operators that is based on the policy settings that exist and the varying nature of the aircraft and services that exist at those airports.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Qantas and Rex provide a really good service to Wagga. They generally take off within 20 minutes of one another. They sort of line themselves up—and I think Rex has a couple of extra flights over the weekend. On the cost-benefit analysis of security, how the hell do you say that planeful there are okay without screening but the other one has to be screened. If it is not imposed by your department and it is just a local decision, that is bizarre.
Mr Retter : The policy settings that have been determined by government have been made after careful consideration of the relative risk that applies to those aircraft. If a local airport for its own reasons wishes to screen throughout the day, that is their call.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Yes, but that is a call that they would not make. I do not know who pays—whether it is the passengers, or Wagga City Council or whoever. I know that parking has gone up a fair bit there now; it used to be free—but good luck to them.
Mr Mrdak : Senator, I think Mr Retter's point is an important one. Previous to this decision to move to a maximum take-off weight limitation, the screening was based on whether they were jet or non-jet planes. It was also difficult where you had a Dash 8 operating to a regional port with a regional jet by another operator.
Senator HEFFERNAN: But any plane that can fly into Mascot is a considerable plane. When I was a young bloke you could fly a light aircraft in there—being an old pilot, it was quite an adventure. I wonder whether we should rethink that.
Mr Mrdak : Certainly on a risk basis those aircraft that are under 20,000 kilograms, if they are going into a port like Sydney, would be screened on arrival if they were entering a sterile area anyway, so we have got risk mitigators if they are mixing with traffic in Sydney. But your point is about the danger of the aircraft. The assessment that was done, which led to the white paper, was the utilisation of a larger aircraft like the Dash 8 or the ATR as a weapon, which is what has driven the screening.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I was not going to go down that path publicly.
Mr Mrdak : As Mr Retter has indicated, there was a great deal of detailed analysis done which led to the white paper decision to go with this.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Anyhow, it befuddles me.
Mr Retter : There is also the issue of operational periods before and after those aircraft that have to be screened. Any service that fits within that period of time is required to be screened by the airport, under existing regulations. Around 96.5 per cent of passengers around Australia are screened today—there is a very small number of passengers that are not screened—and that is a reflection of the current policy settings.
Senator EDWARDS: So we will take the risk with 20 people on a plane which is up to 20 tonnes—we can have that fall out of the sky with somebody taking an explosive on board—but that is the threshold. Is that your point?
Senator HEFFERNAN: Rex would have 35 passengers on board, wouldn't they?
Mr Retter : If I can answer Senator Edwards's inference: the reason that the 20,000 kilogram maximum take-off weight was selected as the threshold for screening is not because of the number of passengers on the aircraft but because of the effect of that particular aircraft being used as a weapon. These sorts of aircraft, these days, can reach all of our capital cities from anywhere in regional Australia without refuelling. That is the basis.
Senator KIM CARR: if you are wondering what the value of these discussions is and why this cannot be part of any Senate estimates process, this may be an area where a private briefing is appropriate.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Yes, somewhere between all of that. It is intriguing for people to go to the Wagga airport to see that lot just walk through.
Senator EDWARDS: We might just take you up on that offer.
Senator HEFFERNAN: That is a good idea. While we are talking about my good friends at Sydney Night Patrol, I noticed in the printed media in the last few weeks some stories about dodgy qualifications for security authorisation—to be a musclebound bloke at the door. They give you the questions but give you the answers. You, Mr Mrdak, will have read of that stuff.
Mr Mrdak : I have seen some of this material.
Senator HEFFERNAN: What assurances can we be given that the people involved in securing airports have not got their security authorisations by that dodgy process, bearing in mind that Sydney Night Patrol at one stage had nearly half their payroll on $15 an hour and Centrelink payments and—I presented the payroll to the department some years ago, so I suppose I can talk about it now—one of the major providers was a person of interest to our national security people?
Mr Mrdak : As you know, there are two processes here. One is the process to be registered as a security guard. The other is to receive your ASIC and to be able to operate in that environment. I think there is no suggestion that any of our ASIC processes have been in any way breached.
Senator HEFFERNAN: If it would be suitable, I guess it could be a private briefing matter as well.
Mr Retter : As you note, there have been a number of issues with security guard licences and how they are obtained in other security industries or sectors of the industry. We are in fact moving from a requirement to have a security licence. We are actually moving to a competency based regime, as announced in the white paper. We are also working with ASQA, the government's quality assurance regime, to look at which RTOs we will allow to facilitate the appropriate training—in other words, decide on the size and shape of the training program, the names and the organisations and how we will appoint them to not only undertake that training across Australia but also periodically review the performance of those RTOs in terms of the delivery of the courses to guarantee to competencies. On top of that, in terms of the character of the individuals who are being employed, as Mr Mrdak says, there are a range of measures that are taken as part of receiving an ASIC which, in our view, exceed the basic police check.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Being an adventurous type, I often pull up some of those characters, to their alarm, and say, 'Who do you work for?', as I am walking around Sydney airport. They work for a various lot of people. They do not seem to know anything about Sydney Night Patrol. Do we really know who these people are? They are provided by subhire contractors.
Mr Retter : The staff that are required under the regulations to perform the duties of security screening officers require certain competencies—at present, a state based security licence—
Senator HEFFERNAN: Which is the one that can be dodged up.
Mr Retter : Which, as you point out, has been the subject of certain questions in terms of Queensland and how those qualifications are obtained.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Some of those people are back here in New South Wales, having got it.
Mr Retter : And, as I have said, we are moving away from that particular requirement. Having said that, my point is that the regime we are moving to will be far more robust and less onerous in terms of legitimate people working in the industry who will have the right competencies, and there will be a right quality assurance framework around them. In terms of the number of people working at Sydney airport and their employer, there are a range of companies—predominantly SNP—working at Sydney airport. Certainly in my discussions with law enforcement agencies I am not aware of any concerns about where those people have come from.
Senator HEFFERNAN: So if I were to go and get the payroll of portions of Sydney Night Patrol—which I may do, but I will tell you about it after I have done it—would I discover, do you think, that a lot of those people are on Centrelink payments plus so much an hour?
Mr Retter : Senator, unless I am mistaken this is the same conversation you and I have had on a number of occasions. I have referred these matters to the Australian Federal police who, as I understand it, have been in contact with you on these matters.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Righto, I think I shall err on the side of caution.
Senator FAWCETT: Following on from the discussion on ASICs and access to aircraft, can I take it as read that all aircrew would have ASICs? Yes or no will be fine.
Mr Retter : All Australian aircrew have ASICs, yes.
Senator FAWCETT: And aircraft cleaners?
Mr Retter : If they are working airside unescorted, yes they are required to have ASICs.
Senator FAWCETT: And caterers?
Mr Retter : If they are working airside.
Senator FAWCETT: And mechanics?
Mr Retter : Anybody who is working airside unescorted is required to have an ASIC. If they are in the process of getting an ASIC they will have a visitor identity card, a VIC, and they will be supervised during the period when they are waiting for their ASIC to come through.
Senator FAWCETT: Are pilots screened before they get on aircraft at major airports?
Mr Retter : Yes.
Senator FAWCETT: Are cleaners screened before they access aircraft?
Mr Retter : If they are entering the sterile area of the airport they will require to be screened. If they are entering an aircraft via airside—that is, they have gone out onto the tarmac and then up through other arrangements to the aircraft—they will be subject to what are known as 'airside inspection arrangements', which exist at all our major airports.
Senator FAWCETT: So would any cleaner, caterer or LAME who is entering airside be screened 100 per cent?
Mr Retter : That is the intention. We are certainly moving to progressively increase the arrangements that apply to all staff entering airport airside areas via airside inspection arrangements which are being progressively tightened as we move to adhere to the recent decision by ICAO to go down the path of the 100 per cent arrangements.
Senator FAWCETT: What is the gap at the moment?
Mr Retter : A number of physical checks occur, including checking the identity of the person going airside with their ASIC—that occurs 100 per cent—together with the inspection of bags or any other goods that have been taken airside by that individual. In addition to that, we propose to progressively move to something more akin to what you would see at passenger points—acknowledging that our focus here is on looking for things such as explosives on people going airside at the moment.
Senator FAWCETT: Okay, but my question was: what is the gap at the moment? You said you have an aspiration of 100 per cent, but at the moment it is clearly not 100 per cent. What is the gap?
Mr Retter : It is not 100 per cent in relation to where we would like to be, which would be something akin to what a passenger goes through when they get into the sterile area of the airport.
Senator FAWCETT: Does that mean that not every airport has the facility for that kind of screening, or does it mean you do not have the capacity to screen every person?
Mr Retter : The 10 major airports are the focus of our attention in terms of airside inspections.
Senator FAWCETT: That does not actually answer my question. Perhaps I need to take this in a private briefing to understand a bit more how big the gaps are and where they are.
Mr Retter : I think the point here is that over a number of years we have progressively moved to the current regime that I have described. We are in active discussions with each of the airports concerning progressively enhancing what we do now to something more akin to passenger screening for all staff who go airside. That will take time, and we are doing that over the next couple of years.
Senator FAWCETT: The white paper talks about annual certification requirements for screening officers. Where is that up to at the moment?
Mr Retter : As I alluded to when answering a question from Senator Heffernan, we are in the throes of having just confirmed the competencies that aviation screening officers are required to have. We are now in discussions with AQSA to determine the precise arrangements for quality assurance for those delivering the training and the quality assurance arrangements we will put in place for screening officers who have gone through the certificate II process. My advice at this stage is that we should have that process in place by around the middle of next year.
Senator FAWCETT: Is that going to involve an inspector going to a workplace and witnessing somebody on the job or will it involve an employee going to an accreditation centre and undergoing a test. How will that work?
Mr Retter : The precise details have not been worked through yet but my expectation is that it will, in fact, be determined in conjunction with ASQA, precisely how we will undertake the quality assurance regime and what particular tests or demonstrations are required to be undertaken by the screening officer. We have not yet decided on what the exact format of that quality assurance activity might be.
Senator FAWCETT: So this new regulation or standard being brought in by the government, is that going to be a cost-recovery activity that the operator, and therefore the passenger, will wear?
Mr Retter : There has been no discussion of cost recovery at this stage.
Senator FAWCETT: So you are anticipating, at this stage—
Mr Retter : Without deciding where we want to go—that will be a decision for government—at this stage we are working through what the options might be to deliver what outcome the government has asked for us to deliver.
Senator NASH: Just following on the issue of the 20,000 kilogram limit, can I clarify that? You said that there needs to be a cut-off somewhere. Were you saying that it was because of the fuel load? Did I follow that correctly?
Mr Retter : No, it is a combination of factors. You reach a point, as a result of a combination of weight and speed, that generates an energy factor which, if it were to strike a building, would cause an effect. The government determined that at the 20,000 kilo mark the impact of that sort of an event was significant enough to warrant additional measures to be applied to it. In a sense, this analysis was examined by a range of experts. I am being a bit coy about what I say, precisely—
Senator NASH: I understand that.
Mr Retter : but it was not taken lightly in terms of where we set the threshold.
Senator NASH: Thank you. I am sure you are aware that it has created some issues. I specifically want to talk about the small and remote destinations, particularly for tourism. Are you aware of some of the concerns by the charter operators that this has put a real burden on them in terms of going into small towns like Bourke? Is that something that you are aware of?
Mr Retter : I am aware that some months ago we had some active discussions with a number of open charter companies and associated airlines, who propose to fly into unscreened airports—category 6 airports in the Aviation Transport Security Regulations—and we went through an exercise with them to determine an appropriate set of measures that could be put in place that would allow them to continue to operate their tourism activities with minimal impact on both the passengers and the airlines, with the airports that are affected. We have done that. To my knowledge those measures are in place and are working effectively. And for the last three months I have heard nothing, from either the airports affected or the airlines.
Senator NASH: Good. What were the measures? I want you to give me a brief answer and then give me a more detailed answer on notice, if you could.
Mr Retter : If you like, the simple fact is that passengers and their baggage getting off and then subsequently—say, the next day—getting back on an aircraft will be screened. But it is a very basic form of screening and it involves the passengers being subject to hand wanding, their baggage being subject to physical examination if it is carry-on baggage, and for a percentage of baggage, the whole baggage being looked at.
Senator NASH: Your understanding is that the operators of those airports and those types of businesses are happy with those arrangements and those measures?
Mr Retter : Talking to the tour operators who organise the tours, the airlines who are working with them, and the airports—in some cases the airports have elected to do this screening and in other cases the tour operator has said he will do that screening—I have heard nothing for three months. As I understand it those tours are occurring, albeit infrequently, to category 6 airports without concern.
Senator NASH: Excellent. If that is the case it is good news. Thank you.
CHAIR: I thank you, Mr Retter, and your crew.
Mr Mrdak : Senator Macdonald asked a question this morning about Horn Island. We might just cover that off, if we can, while we have Mr Retter and Mr Doherty are at the table.
Mr Retter : If I may, I think Senator Macdonald asked a question about what, if any, moneys had been made available to Horn Island. There is a two-part answer. I will cover the first part and then Mr Doherty will cover the second.
In terms of the security infrastructure funding that is available for Horn Island, as a new screened airport it had a total of up to $410,000 available for infrastructure related improvements that were directly related to the security technology that was being placed in the airport, and we worked prior to 1 July with the airport manager to put new infrastructure in place to support the screening of passengers and their baggage at the airport. There was additional moneys provided to purchase the screening equipment—up to $650,000 was provided to Horn Island. The rest I will leave to Mr Doherty.
Mr Doherty : We did contribute to the upgrading of the runway and taxiway a couple of years ago. The total project cost was $9.9 million, with contributions from the Australian government of $5.09 million, the Queensland government of $3.55 million and the Torres Shire Council of $1.26 million. The Australian government component included some funding from the RASP, the Remote Aerodrome Safety Program. Since that work the department has not received any further funding requests for upgrade works at Horn Island Airport under the program as it now stands, the Regional Aviation Access Program. We note that funding for landside activities, such as terminal buildings, would not be eligible under the guidelines for the current program.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Doherty. I thank the officers from the Office of Transport Security. We now go to aviation and airports.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Before I ask questions can I ask officers whether they want to correct the record of what was said to the estimates committee on the last occasion, when this agency was examined by it?
Mr Mrdak : Senator I will probably need more information than that if I am to give you an accurate answer.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I asked detailed questions about the National Airports Safeguarding Framework, particularly to adoption of guideline A, which you, Mr Mrdak, and Mr Wilson advised the committee had been adopted by all Australian jurisdictions as the guideline that they would support for proposals affecting airports with respect to the measurement and avoidance of airport noise. Do you recall giving me that evidence? I can quote what you said if you would like?
Mr Mrdak : If you wouldn't mind. I am not sure that the way you prefaced it is an accurate representation of what I said, but I am happy if you would like to read out my answer.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I said:
So guideline A has not been adopted by the ministerial council at this point?
Mr Wilson said:
No. It has been adopted with the provision that it be used for strategic planning. So it has been adopted.
You are saying it has been accepted and it now has the same force as the other guidelines?
Mr Wilson said:
I will proceed to my questions.
Mr Mrdak : If I can clarify. That is an accurate statement. I have no reason to change that statement. That reflects the minutes of the meeting of the ministerial council, to the best of my knowledge.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you aware, then, that a number of ministers and governments seem to have resiled from that position? Are you aware that Mr Hazzard wrote to the chief executive of the Urban Development Institute of Australia on 28 June saying, 'I can confirm the New South Wales government has advised the Commonwealth it generally supports the broader safeguarding framework, with the specific exception of guideline A—measures for managing impacts of aircraft noise.'
Mr Mrdak : I am not familiar with that correspondence. We were not copied in, to my knowledge. If that is a letter from the New South Wales minister to the urban development forum, I would be surprised if we were copied in but I am happy to pursue that with my New South Wales planning colleagues.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you aware of the letter by the chief of staff of the Minister for Transport, Housing and Emergency Services of Western Australia in which a person says, 'The minister supports the minister for planning's position not to endorse the Commonwealth's guideline A measures for managing impacts of aircraft noise of the framework while it contains the proposed alternate noise metrics in their current state.' Are you aware of that?
Mr Mrdak : I am not familiar with that correspondence.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you aware of Mr Ian Walker, the Assistant Minister for Planning Reform of Queensland, indicating AS2021 standards remain and continue to be the statutory requirements for building within ANEF contours, within ANEF areas?
Mr Mrdak : I am sorry. I have not been copied into the correspondence. It is very difficult for me to comment on correspondence I have not seen. The statement is very accurate. There is no change to a AS2021. That is the Australian standard.
Senator HUMPHRIES: You are in the process of trying to change that though, are you not?
Mr Mrdak : We have sought a review of AS2021, which was supported by the ministerial council as taking place and that is underway.
Senator HUMPHRIES: The ministers seemed to be have a different view to you about what was actually agreed there because they have all indicated in correspondence that they do not accept that guideline A forms part of the decision of that meeting. How would you explain that?
Mr Mrdak : The decision was taken with modifications by the state of Victoria in relation to the role of guideline A. We certainly noted in the minutes of the meeting the reservations expressed by New South Wales. The guideline has been adopted for strategic planning purposes and one of the outcomes of that is the reference to the Australian Standards Association for review of AS2021. That work is underway. I am happy to provide you with the minutes of the SCOTI meeting, which are available.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I think I actually tabled them myself at the last hearing of this committee.
Mr Mrdak : I do not think anything I have heard so far is inconsistent with that.
Senator HUMPHRIES: You are saying that the ministers agreed to guideline A on noise impacts but all these ministers are writing to stakeholders in the sector saying that they have not agreed to guideline A. What is the truth? Are they misleading their correspondents?
Mr Mrdak : I was present at the conversation with ministers. I can refer you to the minutes of the meeting. If ministers in their respective jurisdictions have reached a different view to that decision taken at the standing council, I am sure it is open to jurisdictions to come back to the ministerial council when it next meets. I can only give you the decisions that have been recorded and, to my knowledge, I have only seen one piece of correspondence from a jurisdiction, the state of Western Australia, to me and to my minister raising issues with the discussion but, to my knowledge, not challenging the minutes of the meeting. I am not aware of any other correspondence that you have outlined here today.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I have an email from Councillor Genia McCaffrey, the president of the Australian Local Government Association. ALGA is a full member of SCOTI is it not?
Mr Mrdak : That is correct.
Senator HUMPHRIES: The email to the Mayor of Queanbeyan says, 'We put the strong position at the meeting—that is, the SCOTI meeting—but local government did not support the new noise guidelines as there was no clear scientific evidence that the current guidelines needed to be changed.' Did she put those views to SCOTI?
Mr Mrdak : I would have to go back and check the minutes of the meeting and the recording of the discussion. Certainly I am well aware of the Australian Local Government Association's concerns. I do not know if that is what is reflected in that email but I am happy to go and check the record of the discussion.
Senator HUMPHRIES: It sounds to me as though you have got a very tenuous agreement and that somebody has written the minutes after the meeting was concluded, which do not actually reflect what was decided at that meeting. Have individual jurisdictions formally approved the minutes of the meeting?
Mr Mrdak : The minutes have been circulated. The next meeting of the standing council is on 9 November.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I would expect some fireworks there, if I were you, Mr Mrdak, as a bit of advice.
The Mr Mrdak : I think parties need to understand the issues being discussed. I am very happy to take comments on the minutes and I am sure ministers may wish to have a follow-up discussion on this matter.
Senator HUMPHRIES: No doubt they would.
Ms O'Connell : In addition to the minutes, there was a communique that was released basically straight after the meeting that referenced what the agreements were.
Senator HUMPHRIES: My experience of communiques is they are often written after the meeting has broken up and people have left the building.
Ms O'Connell : No, Senator.
Mr Mrdak : No, not in this situation. All jurisdictions participated in the communique.
Ms O'Connell : The draft communique was put out on the table during the meeting with any opportunity for comments.
Mr Mrdak : I can only reiterate if there are differences of opinion, they have not been drawn to my attention. The correspondence you flagged, not being sent to me, makes it very difficult for me to comment on it.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I accept that you have not been advised of these things. I assume you will take this up at the next meeting of SCOTI in November?
Mr Mrdak : The Commonwealth is comfortable with the position reached by the standing committee. If other jurisdictions have a different view obviously the minister can take those on board.
Senator HUMPHRIES: You mentioned before that you were putting a revision of the standard to the Australian Standards Association. Is that correct?
Mr Mrdak : We have sought that Standards Australian review AS2021, which has been in place for some 30 years or so. It is quite a dated standard. I think that is the process. The Australian Standards Association will now look at that issue.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I am not asking for background. I just want to confirm that you are in fact asking them to look at the issue.
Mr Stone : The department has put a proposal in to Standards Australia to review AS2021.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Has there been a public consultation around the proposal it is putting forward?
Mr Stone : That is right.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I understand Minister Albanese wrote to the planning minister of New South Wales on the 2 May 2011 and said in respect of aircraft noise, 'Where new development would expose future residents to more than six 60-decibel events between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am, it is the government's view that such developments should not be approved.' That element, I understand, is what has gone forward to ASA as the proposed new noise standard. Is that correct?
Mr Stone : Not exactly. There are a number of metrics that have been proposed for consideration by Standards Australia. Standards Australia has been encouraged to take as broad a review as it sees fit.
Senator HUMPHRIES: But you have specifically proposed, what I understand is called in shorthand, N60=6. You put that forward as part of the proposed standard, did you not?
Mr Stone : The agreement from the Commonwealth and state committee, the national airport safeguarding advisory group, was to put a proposal to Standards Australian for a review which included assessment of those particular metrics.
Senator HUMPHRIES: So you proposed that for consideration?
Mr Stone : We proposed that Standards Australia consider all relevant approaches including those metrics.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Mr Albanese flagged this in his correspondence of May last year. It is what has gone in to Standards Australia at the time this was submitted, which I understand was on 30 July. But public consultation on the document, which was being considered as the basis for this new standard, which was issued I understand on 23 February this year, contains no reference to N60=6. It was the Commonwealth's position last May. It has now submitted this proposal with N60=6 to Standards Australia but the public consultation did not actually include that provision. Why?
Mr Stone : That is not correct. The draft was put out for proposal in July.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I have the proposal in front of me. Can you tell me what page it appears on?
Mr Stone : No I cannot but if you have got it in front of you then you might be able to tell me.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I will pass it to you to show me where that particular measure exists.
Mr Stone : I will talk you through the process. The Standards Australia process is to have a draft proposal prepared by the proponent and prepared for consultation. We prepared a draft proposal. The proposal was based on the agreement of the national airport safeguarding advisory group, which comprised Commonwealth, state and territory jurisdictions and ALGA. That was prepared as a draft. We published it on our website for approximately one month. We took submissions. We had 36 submissions to that draft proposal. We incorporated the suggestions that came from the comments and we have submitted another proposal to Standards Australia for assessment and that has also been published on our website.
Senator HUMPHRIES: Did the document you put out for consultation for that month include an explicit reference to N60=6?
Mr Stone : I believe so, the one that was published in July.
Senator HUMPHRIES: The document is in front of you. Can you point to me which page you refer to.
Mr Stone : If it was not published, it is possible that it was an oversight.
Senator HUMPHRIES: You said it was published. Was it published or was it not published?
Mr Stone : I will have to check but what I would say is we published a draft proposal and took comments back from stakeholders. I do have recollection that some stakeholders pointed out that that particular metric may have been omitted from one of the draft proposals and suggested that it should be included.
Senator HUMPHRIES: You just told us it was included. Are you now withdrawing that evidence?
Mr Mrdak : I think it is best if we take this on notice and come back to you. It will give my office an opportunity to look at the document away from the table. We will come back to your question as soon as we can.
CHAIR: Senator Humphries, we are running very short of time. Mr Mrdak, I have not missed anything here. Your integrity was being questioned. I can see the look on your face. I think you have contained yourself very well. Could you table those minutes for this committee because if you are being misrepresented and if there is correspondence going out to other senators that is completely in contrast to the minutes, I think it is important that the committee gets that evidence.
Mr Mrdak : I am very happy to table that.
Senator RONALDSON: Mr Mrdak, back to the Avalon issue very quickly. It is my understanding that Air Asia approached the department in 2008 seeking landing rights for Avalon. Are you aware of that?
Mr Mrdak : Yes. We had discussions with that company some years ago.
Senator RONALDSON: For the record, is that an international airline?
Mr Mrdak : Yes. It is a Malaysian carrier.
Senator RONALDSON: Why did the government at the time deny landing rights to Air Asia? Can you remember?
Mr Mrdak : I do not think we denied rights. I think the capacity was available under the Malaysian air services agreement. I think it was a question for the Malaysian government as to how they allocated that capacity between their carriers. I would have to go back and check my recollection about the way in which the air service agreement negotiations took place at the time.
Senator RONALDSON: If you could just take that on notice for me.
Mr Mrdak : Yes, certainly.
Mr Borthwick : The capacity was available under the air services agreement between Australia and Malaysia but it was up to the Malaysian government whether or not they grant those rights to their carriers. So it is a matter for the Malaysia government.
Senator RONALDSON: That was the reason it did not proceed, was it?
Mr Borthwick : They would have required the agreement of the Malaysian government for those rights. We are aware that Air Asia was in discussions with both Avalon and Melbourne at that time and subsequently chose to operate to Melbourne.
Senator RONALDSON: So it would not be right to say it was knocked back to safeguard Australia's interests or the national interest? It did not get any discussion about that, I presume?
Mr Borthwick : I could not comment on that. I would just say it was a matter of the Malaysian government about allocating rights.
Senator RONALDSON: If you could just take the last question on notice.
CHAIR: Senator Humphries will table his correspondence for the committee as well.
Senator FAWCETT: I will just distribute this map. Mr Mrdak, I am sure you would be disappointed if I did not come back to the issue of leased airports and the lot of operators on airports versus airport use. I will give you a document here which is about pre-lease opportunities for land at Bankstown airport. I have contacted the lease operator at Bankstown airport and he was very prompt and very good about responding, saying that any approval for this land—you can see the hatched land here—covers an area of the airfield, which, for as long as those people can recall, has been an aviation side of the airfield. It is where helicopters take off and land and there are formed helipads in there. People have invested many hundreds of thousands dollars—it is not millions—in building their businesses adjacent to that land so they can use it. That is an operating part of the airfield. It is now a pre-lease opportunity, which would essentially provide the opportunity to build infrastructure where these people need to operate aircraft to run their business.
The leaseholder has come back and said that anything would be subject to assessment under the controls and building regulations, including consultation with adjacent tenants as required under the regulation of airports building control regulation 96, including approvals from the airport building controller and the airport environment controller. Given the context of NASAG and given the context of the lease conditions, which say that airports are scarce land and they should primarily be for aviation use,—I am happy to take it on notice—but could you respond as to the principles that the department will apply should an application come forward for this land to be developed for non-aviation use or, essentially, a build infrastructure where for decades people have been landing and operating helicopters as part of their businesses at Bankstown Airport?
Mr Mrdak : Certainly, Senator. I will just check with my officers if we are familiar with this proposal. I can just reiterate the government's policy position that in any master plan it would not look favourably upon any reduction in aeronautical activity zoning at an airport like Bankstown. That has been made very clear by the minister. I will just check with my colleagues.
Senator FAWCETT: This zoning was approved in a previous plan, but the issue is the context upon which people look at that land, 'We don't mind if there is other businesses built around the edge of this aviation operation,' but what has been put forward to the broader marketplace is that all of this land is available for building of hard stand warehouses and other things.
Mr Mrdak : As I said, the government has been very clear on its view to maintain aeronautical activity. I will have to check the status of this particular site. I am not familiar and I will check with my officers as to whether we are familiar with this proposal. Senator, I will have to take that on notice and we will come back to you with clear principles and also how we would handle such a proposal.
Senator FAWCETT: Sure. Coming back to Evans Head airfield, I notice that the Office of Airspace Regulation has declined to approve the fly-neighbourly advice because of the proximity of residential areas to the aerodrome. On the basis of the fact that NASAG indicates that the Commonwealth government is responsible for safety and that agencies like this are saying that the buildings are too close to the airport to even approve a fly-neighbourly agreement, which is constraining generally how people fly to try and avoid things like noise impact, I would ask you to take on notice what role the Commonwealth should be having for ALOP aerodromes. I hear what you said before that it belongs to the council and you gave the councils money so they could develop it and use it for commercial purposes. If the Commonwealth still retains under NASAG the responsibility for safety, which is not only the people on the ground but also for the people in the air, developments like this and some in Queensland, where literally in Queensland some of the houses have been built within a stone's throw of active aerodromes—
CHAIR: I ask you to come to the question; we are four minutes over. You can take it on notice or you can answer it very quickly in 10 seconds.
Mr Doherty : We cannot answer it in that time. Senator, I understand that this is an issue that has been raised with us in correspondence in the last couple of weeks. I am not sure whether it goes to a safety issue, but we will certainly have a look at that. In relation to the broader issue, you are aware of the work that we are doing through NASAG to try and get cooperation from the states to control the development which could interfere. We are trying to have some influence on what happens outside the boundary of the airport or in the airport.
CHAIR: I have not seen that for a while, Mr Doherty. You said you could not answer it and then it took a minute to get that out. Well done. You have 30 seconds to put some on notice, Senator Rhiannon, and then we are moving.
Senator RHIANNON: I have just one question. My question concerns the joint study on aviation capacity for the Sydney region. There appears to be a contradiction or an inconsistency. The executive summary recommends Wilton as a second option if Badgerys Creek was ruled out. However, when examining part 8 of the report, the study identifies a number of options other than Wilton as preferable: Badgerys Creek; three other sites in the Nepean; as well as Wilberforce in the Hawkesbury and Somerset on the Central Coast. Why do we have that position where Wilton is coming in at No. 8, then you get to the executive summary and it is coming in as No. 2?
Mr Mrdak : I think you are referring there to the appendices which have all the rankings against the criteria. Is that where you are?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes in part 8.
Mr Mrdak : At the end of the day it was a judgement made by the steering committee based on the reality of what would be likely to be a more viable site given the various issues involved. At the moment the next stage of the work we are doing for the Australian government is looking at the various site alternatives at Wilton as to whether they present major issues, and which may well be the more easily developed and viable option. I think it reflected a judgement at the end of the day by the steering committee, given all of the issues raised on the various sites, as to what would be a more viable option that could proceed to a development proposal.
Senator RHIANNON: So the question—
CHAIR: No, I am going to finish it now. I am sorry, Senator Rhiannon. If anyone out there in cyberland thinks I am picking on Senator Rhiannon, I am not, because there are only 15 minutes left for Airservices Australia and those out there will not have to put up with the sooking if someone, who has put their name down, does not get to ask their questions in that area. On that, I call Airservices Australia. Senator Rhiannon, put the questions on notice, thank you.
Air s ervices Australia
Senator XENOPHON: Mr Clark, as CFO you advised at Senate estimates in May that you had been checking and authorising Mr Russell's, the former CEO's, credit card expenses since August 2011, and you said it was a practice of many departmental secretaries to have their credit card expenses checked by a subordinate and therefore this practice does not raise an issue for Airservices Australia. Does this not contradict the Minister Albanese's letter to Airservices Australia Chairman, Mr David Forsyth, on 2 April 2012 when referring to Mr Russell's credit card expenses he stated:
I consider these are financial expenses which you and the Board need to be satisfied are appropriate and properly incurred in accordance with the Board's oversight of the CEO's performance and accountability.
Do you see any inconsistency between your answer and what the minister put to Chairman Forsyth?
Mr Clark : No, not at all.
Senator XENOPHON: Do you consider that, as CFO, you had an appropriate scrutiny of the credit card expenses of Mr Russell?
Mr Clark : Yes, I do.
Senator XENOPHON: Has Airservices Australia introduced new controls on corporate credit cards since the departure of Mr Russell?
Mr Clark : We have certainly introduced new procedures and controls around the chief executive, and we have tightened up some of the board procedures in relation to board expenditure as well.
Senator XENOPHON: That means that your new financial reporting requirements have been introduced in terms of credit card expenses and personal expenses? Is that right?
Mr Clark : New sign-off processes have been introduced, yes.
Senator XENOPHON: Okay. If you could take on notice how they differ from the previous arrangements. For instance, is there a ban on the CEO of Airservices Australia using business class travel within Australia? Is that a new control?
Mr Clark : No. What the board has done is taken an opportunity to tighten up the travel entitlements for the chief executive and, in the main, travel between Canberra and Melbourne and Sydney will be economy class where appropriate and efficient, and business class in all other sectors and routes, which is not dissimilar to arrangements for staff across the organisation.
Senator XENOPHON: Did you actually assume responsibility for checking the former CEO's credit card expenses from the senior executive manager of HR in August 2010?
Mr Clark : That is right.
Senator XENOPHON: Some two months before then senior executive, Ms Fleming, left Airservices Australia. Is that correct?
Mr Clark : It would have been about that time, yes.
Senator XENOPHON: Before I finish on this I want to ask you some questions about payout of executives that have left. You are saying that there are now new systems in place dealing with credit card expenses. Correct?
Mr Clark : As it relates to the expenditure incurred by the chief executive in terms of who signs off that expenditure and a pre-approval processes for entertainment et cetera, yes.
Senator XENOPHON: So, doesn't that imply that there was a need for improvement or a problem with the former oversight under your time as CFO?
Mr Clark : No. There was an opportunity to review process and procedure, which we did, to tighten things up.
Senator XENOPHON: I understand there were something like 14 general managers or members of the executive committee who left Airservices Australia between Mr Russell taking up office in June 2005 and 30 June 2011. I do not think it is necessary for me to name them; I have their names. I would like to know. without breaching any confidentiality in global terms so that it does not identify any particular person, how much has been paid under entitlements in terms of any severance entitlements, in terms of whether it was resignation, redundancy or dismissal, and in general terms what those conditions were. In other words, how much has it cost Australian taxpayers for the 14 members of the executive committee that departed in that six-year period?
Mr Clark : I think we have answered that question previously on two occasions. The vast majority of that detail would be contained within the annual report and financial statements, per se.
Senator XENOPHON: In terms of the specific 14 executives that have departed?
Mr Clark : In terms of any of the executive and general managers that had left the organisation, yes.
Senator XENOPHON: Perhaps I will put a number of questions on notice. My four minutes are up. Thank you, Chair.
Senator FAWCETT: I will limit it to one very simple question. I asked two estimates ago about the Scouts in Queensland who made an application to Airservices Australia for use of land to replace their million-dollar facility that was required to be knocked down because the owners of Archerfield airfield decided that they wished to use the land for something else, which they have not. Has that application come to Airservices Australia? Has it been progressed? What is the current status?
Mr Clark : As I understand it, and I will certainly correct the record if I have not got this right, we approached the Scouts about 18 months ago and asked them the question of whether they were still interested in doing any development work on that site. We are prepared to talk to them about any interference there might be in terms of the construction. At this point in time we are waiting for a response from them.
Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.
Senator XENOPHON: In relation to Mr Russell and his final pay, Mr Clark, you advised last time that Airservices Australia was negotiating with Mr Russell in his final payout. Will that be made public?
Mr Clark : Mr Russell's final separation is a matter between him and the board, although I understand you asked a question on notice at last Senate estimates, to which we have responded, giving you the indicative detail of what was included in that payout, not including the precise number, per se.
Senator XENOPHON: Could you just clarify this: when did Mr Russell cease to be on Airservices Australia payroll system? Was it on 16 May, which Mr Russell stated in a memo was the date of his resignation, or was it some other date?
Mr Clark : I will take that on notice, but again I believe we answered that question on the previous questions on notice.
Senator Kim Carr: Have you got the right brief, Senator? It is a bit of a worry. You have so many questions that have already been asked.
Senator XENOPHON: Minister, you are being completely unhelpful. I am happy to give you a briefing on Airservices Australia any time you want, Minister.
Senator Kim Carr: I know you will, but I have probably read it once before.
Senator XENOPHON: No, there are issues here in relation to that. There is a specific question, Minister, which I do not think has been answered. That relates to when was Mr Russell on the payroll, what date did he resign and what date did he cease to be on the payroll of Airservices Australia?
Mr Clark : I will take it on notice if I cannot find it immediately.
Senator XENOPHON: Thank you, and I will forward the answer to the minister.
Senator Kim Carr: Can we get it today? Is that possible?
Mr Clark : Yes, we can get it today, absolutely. We might be able to get it in the next five minutes if we keep talking.
Senator XENOPHON: I think our time is up. Thank you.
CHAIR: Time is up. I think officers from Airservices Australia and now call CASA.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Senator FAWCETT: I have a couple of questions following on from the white paper. The CASA regulatory reform program, which was forecast to be completed by 2011, is on page 69. What is the current status of that?
Mr J McCormick: We have in previous estimates discussed the priority issues and also coming out of the flying training inquiry of last year. The status of the white paper was that the regs would be made by that date but not implemented because obviously some of the regulations affect up to 800 organisations and it takes a considerable amount of time to do the industry training and practice to make sure that those regs enter into the industry without introducing undue risk into the industry at the same time. So we undertook to complete parts 61, 141 and 142 to be made by the end of this year, as I reported at estimates in the past, and we are on track to complete those regulated parts in time.
At the moment we have maintenance regulation 145 for the small end of town, GA part 135, which is the current low capacity RPT area. They are out to consultation now. The operational regulations part 119 and 121, the high capacity RPT replacement regs, and 135 are interleaved with those maintenance regulations because of requirements for the Continuing Airworthiness Management Organisation, which is part 42. And we have generally taken the view that we do not want to make any of the regs when they are going to have a shelf life of longer than one year. We have had some calls from the industry to slow down the rate of the reg implementation program and we are cognisant of the fact that a considerable amount of training has to be done to make sure that those regs, particularly in the small end of town, are well and truly consulted with the industry so that we take on board their concerns and then we produce legislation that harmonises with existing parts 145 and 42 which we are in the process of rolling out and have been since June 2010.
All in all, we have a few reg parts that remain to be made. Some of them are around sports aviation et cetera. Those we will make next year. We could have completed the regulatory reform program as far as making the regulations is concerned by the end of next year. The white paper date could have been achieved but we would not have been able to put them in the industry or train our own staff. So although they could have made the date, or got very close to it, there would have been a long shelf life for those regs before we could implement them, and that was generally not seen as being according to government policy.
Senator FAWCETT: I am pleased to hear about the long consultation with industry. Where industry does provide input to you, how much of their input as part of that consultation process is made public?
Mr J McCormick: The comments that come to us are all published and the comments and the discussion papers entered to the notices of proposed rule making.
Senator FAWCETT: The white paper states that some of the regional offices, like Townsville, Cairns and Darwin, will be maintained. What is the current status of your plans for services in those regional locations?
Mr J McCormick: Those offices are still open and we intend to keep them open. They are not manned at particularly high levels. Townsville is manned at a level of five people at the moment. Cairns, from memory, is manned at 18. We will keep those offices open. There is of course growing interest in aviation in North Queensland—it is one of the growth sectors—so we see our presence there as essential.
Senator FAWCETT: Do those manning levels represent a decrease on what they have been in the past?
Mr J McCormick: I would have to take that on notice and you would have to give me a specific date that you want me to go back to on that. Townsville has had a bit of attrition. Naturally people do not want to move and the amount of activity outside Townsville on the civil side is not as high as it is out of Cairns. We have allowed those people to leave by natural attrition.
Depending on the amount of activity that occurs—and in Darwin, which also looks back into that region, we have 16 staff from memory—we figure we have enough people at the moment. As the activity increases seasonally, we then look to employ more people if we have to.
Senator FAWCETT: Given that you charge fees to industry for the services of your inspectors, do you monitor on an ongoing basis the efficiency of the work practices of your staff?
Mr J McCormick: Yes, we do. In fact we are moving into a review of all our reg services charges and also the time it is taking us to do some of our activities.
Senator FAWCETT: Do you have any specific targets for decreasing the level of administrative overhead that delays outcomes from CASA for industry?
Mr J McCormick: We have numerous initiatives on efficiency. We are in the process of completing the rollout of an IT system which will allow us to see the risk across the whole operation throughout Australia. That will allow us to target our surveillance better. We are in the process of replacing quite a few legacy systems that we have had in CASA over many years with a new, proven, off-the-shelf CAA-specific system. That will also improve our efficiency. We have combined our offices where we can to put people into certificate management teams. That also increases our efficiency. With those things, coupled with the new surveillance procedures manual, the air operators certificate manual and the COA manual, which have all been rewritten over the past three years, we expect to see significant efficiency gains. By the same token, we are also looking at our back-end staff versus our front-end staff. We currently run around 35 per cent back-end staff and perhaps as high as 39 per cent. I have given the organisation a target of 30 per cent by the end of the next calendar year, which would be well and truly at the forefront of the industry. All those things should go towards getting us out of paper-handling and allow our efficiency to increase, naturally.
Senator FAWCETT: Are you having problems attracting and retaining staff in both your technical airworthiness and operations areas?
Mr J McCormick: Yes, it is always a struggle, particularly finding helicopter pilots. We compete with the industry for pilots with heavy helicopter experience. As I am sure you are aware, apart from the military, we do not find many people who have multi-engine helicopter experience and we certainly cannot pay the rates that the industry pays. And for technical staff it is the same. We have a turnover of around 11 per cent throughout the organisation, which is very good by Canberra standards, and a lot of the people who do leave come back to us. So we do have an ebb and flow in and out of the industry.
Senator FAWCETT: We have spoken previously about the relocation of Bankstown from the actual airport and interfacing on a daily basis with industry. Where is that at at the moment?
Mr J McCormick: In regard to our oversight?
Senator FAWCETT: In regard to the relocation of CASA staff from Bankstown Airport to a central location.
Mr J McCormick: The central office in Sydney will be officially opened by the minister on Friday. We have completed the transfer of staff to there. At the same time we have undertaken a review of our travelling costs and where we are recovering those costs for people who have previously surveilled at Bankstown and Camden. We have that in train at the moment. I will waive those fees of the cost of travel between Sydney and Bankstown, Sydney and Camden, Melbourne and Moorabbin, Brisbane and Archerfield, Adelaide and Parafield and also Perth and Jandakot.
Senator FAWCETT: What mechanisms do you have in place to seek feedback from industry in terms of the level of satisfaction they have about the amount of time that they can interact with inspectors, response time and also any costs that may increase? Do you have mechanism for them to provide feedback specifically associated with these centralised moves?
Mr J McCormick: We do have the CEO feedback line available. There is the AOC holders' survey. They can send in any email or report any condition they like to the Sydney offices or directly to Canberra. We do not have a forum where we actually get out and ask that question, but we have plenty of interaction with the industry, including through the Regional Aviation Safety Forum et cetera, and if those issues are present we expect people to raise them.
Senator FAWCETT: My final question is about feedback on your own staff. Some of the industry comment I have had is that the presence of CASA inspectors on the field is a positive thing in terms of awareness of what is actually happening on the field on a daily basis through unofficial and impromptu visits to people. This is seen as adding value. With people not being based at the airfield anymore and losing a certain amount of their productivity in travel time, what ways do you have to track the lack of the intangible benefit that is provided by somebody being on the airfield as opposed to being 25 per cent less productive because they are spending time travelling through traffic?
Mr J McCormick: We do still have people on the airfield regularly. There are still a lot of certificate holders, both AOC and COA, at Bankstown, for instance. They are still under surveillance. We have our flight training and testing examiners, who are also at Bankstown a lot of the time. As far as time-in-motion studies go, we are in the middle of doing that as a review over the whole of CASA, not just our inspectors, to see what time is available. Travelling time is generally under an hour from our Sydney office to Bankstown and in the region of 10 to 15 minutes to Mascot. So we are not losing a lot of productivity in reality. As I said, that is study we have under way and it will inform our future staffing plans.
Senator GALLACHER: I asked a question on notice regarding a protocol for dealing with OHS concerns raised by airline personnel. I thank CASA for the education you have given me by responding and saying that, yes, you do have one. So my supplementary question is: can I get a copy of the written protocol and an indication of the number of OHS concerns raised with CASA by airline personnel?
Mr J McCormick: Yes, we will take that on notice.
Senator EGGLESTON: I want to go back to the matter of the costs occurred by CASA in pursuit of Polar Aviation during a case which has gone on for some eight years. You provided an answer on notice which relates to the cost to Comcover in defending CASA against Polar Aviation in two cases. The amount was $393,667 in legal fees. This comprised payments of $207,734 to Ashurst Blake Dawson lawyers, inclusive of barristers fees, and $178,783 to the Australian Government Solicitor inclusive of barristers fees. They were legal costs in defending CASA against actions brought by Polar Aviation.
But my question really referred to earlier costs. As I said last time, the figure you gave of a total of $65,307 in legal fees incurred in the case against CASA was disputed by the owner of Polar Aviation, Mr Butson. He said you correctly admitted that there was an additional payment of $30,929 in your unsuccessful appeal in the Federal Court, which would bring the total up to $96,234. I am seeking an assurance from you because, after all, this is a public forum and the Senate is entitled to be given answers to the questions it puts. Are these the total figures, are these the final costs, or are there other costs yet to be admitted by CASA in this matter?
Mr J McCormick: When the Full Bench of the Federal Court dismissed Mr Butson's appeal it ordered that Mr Butson and Polar Aviation pay costs. Your summation of the cost is correct. It was $393,667 in legal fees. Comcover, as you know, is the government's general insurance fund. It provides insurance and risk management service to Australian government departments and agencies, including CASA. CASA itself has not incurred any external legal fees or any measurable internal legal costs. However, as you said, in answer to question on notice No. 92 we did tell the committee that the previous legal costs were $65,305 internally and a $30,929 payment to Grundy Maitland and Co for costs involved in the 2005 Federal Court hearing. To my knowledge there are no other costs of CASA, but I will ask my general counsel to confirm that.
Mr Anastasi : I personally handled that litigation in 2005 and I can say that there are no other costs that CASA incurred in relation to both those tribunal and Federal Court proceedings in 2005.
Senator Kim Carr: Chair, could we get a response to Senator Xenophon's earlier question? It requires just a very short answer.
Mr Mrdak : Senator Xenophon asked Airservices Australia for the last day that Mr Russell was on the payroll. I will just confirm their answer. It was 24 May 2012.
Senator FAWCETT: Mr McCormick, last estimates we spoke about the role CASA has in aviation safety. We talked about the heads of power that you have to influence safety at an ALOP aerodrome that is not directly controlled by the department. We talked about, for example, a body of water that could attract birds. You asked for a specific example and I gave you the example of Casino. What response can you give now in terms of your investigation into what actions have occurred?
Mr J McCormick: Are you referring to a question on notice? I do recall a discussion.
Senator FAWCETT: Yes, we had the discussion. Just looking at the transcript here, the flow got interrupted and I do not know whether it was recorded as a formal question on notice. But there was an undertaking to look into it, so I am just wondering whether that has been looked into. In what way are you able to exercise that head of power where there is a safety issue at an aerodrome that is not a leased federal aerodrome?
Mr J McCormick: Sorry, I do not think we captured that as an actual question. Is it acceptable for me to take that on notice now and get back to you next time?
Senator FAWCETT: If you could take it on notice now, that would be great. Thank you.
Senator XENOPHON: Mr McCormick, can you advise us on the progress of the review that CASA is undertaking into Airservices Australia?
Mr J McCormick: We did previously inform the committee that we would have that report done by 31 October, and we are on track to do that report and complete that work by 31 October.
Senator XENOPHON: And that will be delivered to the minister?
Mr J McCormick: We have not actually discussed the disposition of the report, other than to say that we will complete that work and then work with Airservices Australia to address the findings, such that they are.
Senator XENOPHON: So it might not see the light of day for several months, depending on the response from Airservices?
Mr J McCormick: It is more or less like any other audit report in a lot of ways: it has to be discussed with the people who are being audited. We do not do the report just to produce it and throw it away or disregard it; we do want some actions out of it. So it is a working document when it is complete.
Senator XENOPHON: Without identifying any persons, in the course of your investigation did you speak to ex-employees of Airservices Australia? You did make mention of disgruntled employees—and, unfortunately, there was one former employee who was reluctant to come forward as a result of that comment. Did you have a chance to speak to any former employees of Airservices Australia?
Mr J McCormick: I personally did not. If you give me a moment, I will see if we have an answer to that. No, we did not speak to former employees but we did speak to the air traffic controllers union.
Senator XENOPHON: Do you think the fact that you made a comment about disgruntled former employees may have discouraged anyone? I know that it discouraged one person, who approached me, from coming forward. Do you think it would have been preferable to speak to former employees, former senior management, given that there has been such a huge turnover of senior managers in that organisation?
Mr J McCormick: It is a little difficult to distil from senior management, who come and go from an organisation, the circumstances and salient points for us in an investigation. We certainly would have spoken to any former employees whether they were disgruntled or not. Perhaps my terminology was unfortunate, but it was not intended to discourage anyone from coming forward. Of course, we are more interested in what is happening today. How we have reached this position in Airservices—or in any organisation for that matter—in some respects informs us, but it does not necessarily give us a vector to head to for the future.
Senator XENOPHON: If somebody left the organisation under a cloud, whether they were pushed, shoved or left voluntarily, and had to sign, for instance, a confidentiality agreement, as may have been the case, does CASA have the authority to override that confidentiality agreement given that your brief is safety in the skies?
Mr J McCormick: I do not think I can answer that. My understanding of a confidentiality agreement is that there is a pecuniary penalty if someone breaches it; and, in the commercial world anyway, they usually have to repay a certain amount of money or there is a sanction. I would not put somebody in a position where—
Senator XENOPHON: But this is not the commercial world. We are talking about Airservices Australia.
Mr J McCormick: Well, it is a government owned corporation.
Senator XENOPHON: Yes, but its brief is to make sure that aircraft are managed appropriately in the skies.
Mr J McCormick: My understanding of their act is that they are to provide an air traffic control service.
Senator Kim Carr: Senator Xenophon, I think you are getting dangerously close to seeking a legal opinion from this officer, which I think would be outside of the—
Senator XENOPHON: No, I am not seeking a legal opinion of Mr McCormick. I am asking, firstly, whether CASA thinks it has the authority to speak to former employees of Airservices Australia—
Senator Kim Carr: In breach of a confidentiality agreement—that was the question.
Mr J McCormick: If the question stops there—'Do we have the authority to speak to Airservices employees?'—yes, we do.
Senator XENOPHON: But you are saying that your ability to speak to those employees might be fettered by a confidentiality agreement?
Mr J McCormick: Well, somebody who has left with a confidentiality agreement is no longer an employee of Airservices.
Senator XENOPHON: In this very welcome audit by CASA into the Airservices Australia, there have been at least 14 general managers, members of the executive committee, who have departed Airservices Australia between July 2005 and 30 July 2011—and I think there have been more since then. I am wondering whether it would have been prudent, thorough and comprehensive to actually speak to those senior executives of Airservices Australia as part of this audit process.
Mr J McCormick: Leaving aside the minister's point that I cannot give a legal opinion on our powers with regard to a confidentiality agreement—and I do not think my general counsel can either—the circumstances in which people leave an organisation are not normally known to us.
Senator XENOPHON: Let me rephrase the question so that we do not labour the point. You are undertaking a comprehensive audit of Airservices Australia—that is the clear fact.
Mr J McCormick: Correct.
Senator XENOPHON: There have been complaints about the functioning of the organisation. You say that that had nothing to do with the audit, that it was an audit that CASA had decided to for whatever reason. If there are issues in terms of the functioning of Airservices Australia, wouldn't it have been reasonable to also speak to some of those senior managers who could also have been responsible for key aspects of training and the administration of that organisation?
Mr J McCormick: When people leave significant positions, particularly on the operational side, we note who has replaced them. But we have no authority to compel anybody in Airservices to talk to us.
Senator XENOPHON: An employee may have left in perfectly good circumstances and on perfectly good terms. But if they are no longer employed there, by definition, they may feel freer to speak about that organisation they have left than would someone who is in the thick of it and drawing a pay cheque from that organisation.
Mr J McCormick: If someone has left a position of substantial management control, and if we are auditing and are looking at the system they have left behind, or the parts of the system that they were responsible for, we see traces of what has happened. We see what the situation is like. Quite often, there might be many, many reasons. Let us say this part is operating at a suboptimal level—we are not happy where it is operating. One of the reasons could be that there were incorrect managers. That could be one of the reasons. There are many other reasons it could be operating at a suboptimal level. What I am getting at is that, forensically, you generally see the hand of the people who have been in charge when you look into those areas.
Senator XENOPHON: But wouldn't it have been preferable if CASA had then made its assessment based on its expertise, based on looking at issues of aviation safety? You could then make your own assessment as to whether the former manager you spoke to was suboptimal, or whether they were competent or not. Haven't you lost an opportunity to perhaps get some useful information from some of those 14 or more senior managers who have left that organisation?
Mr J McCormick: I see where you are heading with this; I know what the element is that you are looking at. We look at an audit, or we do a review—whatever you want to call it. To give us a working term, let us say this 172 is an audit. An audit is a snapshot through the organisation at a time. We have no ability to know what the employment history of people has been. We have no ability to know what internal machinations have happened within the management group, the senior management group or the work groups; we do not see that. We cannot go back and reconstruct the organisation in a previous iteration and ask: 'What did it look like six months ago when this person got fired? Therefore, was that person fired legitimately?' I cannot make those connections, and I am not really in the business of making those connections. I am interested in the outcome of what the organisation produces. I am interested in whether it is robust enough to do that and whether it is resilient enough to do that.
Senator XENOPHON: But doesn't that go to the issue of the resilience, the robustness, of the organisation? And then you may get some useful information from those who have previously been in that organisation saying, 'These are some of the systemic issues we faced that may still be there', which a former employee may be more willing to talk about than a current employee. Do you concede that point at least?
Mr J McCormick: Certainly. Everyone who has left an organisation will have a point of view and an opinion of what has happened and how they came to leave the organisation, as well as what the organisation they left behind is like. We certainly would take it on board if people came forward and said, 'I want to tell you about my time in Airservices', for instance. The difficulty is that I have no ability to go out and find these people. I have no ability to compel them to talk to me; I cannot compel anybody to talk to me. So it is an issue whereby they have to come forward to us.
Senator XENOPHON: Are you saying there is no way you could contact them?
Mr J McCormick: I do not have the resources to go chasing people who have left another organisation. The control of people is a management function of the organisation that has the people. I am there to regulate aviation safety. I am interested in the output; I am not particularly interested in the ways they do it, when it comes to the personnel side of the house.
Senator XENOPHON: So, just to crystallise this: do you think, in hindsight, that there could have been some benefit in speaking to former senior managers of the organisation—that some of them may have given you some information that would have been of some use to this audit?
Mr J McCormick: I do not know that it would have been of use to the audit, but it would have formed background information if these people had come forward and spoken to us. And it is not too late: if they wish to come forward and speak to us, they can.
Senator XENOPHON: But you will not seek them out; they would have to come to you.
Mr J McCormick: I do not have a mandate to seek them out, and I do not have the resources to do it.
Senator XENOPHON: So if someone does come forward, you can guarantee confidentiality?
Mr J McCormick: If they come forward to us, yes.
Senator XENOPHON: So there will not be any repercussions if they speak to you freely?
Mr J McCormick: If they speak to us freely and they are ex-employees of Airservices, I cannot see how Airservices can take any action against them. Or are you talking about a third party?
Senator XENOPHON: Unless there is a confidentiality agreement.
Mr J McCormick: Yes, unless there is a confidentiality agreement. It is for each individual person. If anybody comes forward and wishes to speak to us—and I would encourage anybody who wishes to speak to us to do so—it will be information that we would take on board. It is not going to be given the same status, if you will, as facts—such as how many controllers you have, how many hours they work and those sorts of hard numbers, which really inform the working engine of an audit report. But anybody's opinion is just that, and we will listen to anybody's opinion.
Senator XENOPHON: So if any former employees came forward in the next week or so—and I am not saying that they will—that might affect the reporting date of your audit?
Mr J McCormick: It would depend on what smoking gun they came equipped with, just to use that analogy.
Senator XENOPHON: I am not suggesting you use a smoking anything!
Mr J McCormick: If they come forward with an opinion, we will use it as an opinion, and we will see whether it correlates with what we already know or whether it does not. How we deal with it will depend on what the information is. The report will be out on 31 October.
CHAIR: Okay, we have finished with CASA. Thank you..
Senator HUMPHRIES: I just want to table the four pieces of correspondence I referred to in the course of the session on airports and aviation. I also might indicate for the record that I handed to Mr Stone, I think, what I purported to be the consultation document. I actually handed him the later version of that, and I apologise for that. But he has the document I was referring to, because it is a departmental document I assume—he has taken that question on notice and I assume he will come back and tell us what—
Mr Mrdak : My understanding is that the document you gave him did include the reference you—
Senator HUMPHRIES: That is because it was the final document that went to Standards Australia, not the consultation document.
Mr Mrdak : We will come back to you on the points you have raised.