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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Australia's relationship with Timor-Leste
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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Stone, Dr Sharman, MP
Stephens, Sen Ursula
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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
(Joint-Tuesday, 21 May 2013)
CHAIR (Mr Champion)
ACTING CHAIR (Dr Stone)
- Dr STONE
Content WindowParliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade - 21/05/2013 - Australia's relationship with Timor-Leste
BATT, Dr Richard, Manager, International Safety Investigations, Australian Transport Safety Bureau
BORTHWICK, Mr Stephen, Acting Executive Director, Aviation and Airports Division, Department of Infrastructure and Transport
CLARK, Mr Brenton, Assistant Director, Air Services Negotiations, Aviation Industry Policy Branch, Aviation and Airports Division, Department of Infrastructure and Transport
RETTER, Mr Paul, Executive Director, Office of Transport Security, Department of Infrastructure and Transport
CHAIR: On behalf of the committee I welcome representatives from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport. Before proceeding to questions, do you wish to make a short opening statement?
Mr Borthwick : With your indulgence, Chair, I would like to make a short statement.
CHAIR: Away you go.
Mr Borthwick : First of all, thank you for the opportunity to appear today. Obviously, we have put in a submission. I will briefly address matters relating to our air services matters and hand over to Mr Retter to cover transport security issues. We have developed a strong working relationship with Timor-Leste in recent years facilitated by our embassy in Dili. In early 2012 we held air services talks with Timor-Leste aimed at establishing the inaugural set of bilateral air services arrangements between our two countries. We have now settled the English language text of that agreement and we have also settled the package of commercial entitlements to be exercised by airlines of both sides. We will be seeking to bring these air services arrangements into effect as soon as we can.
Airline services between Australia and Timor-Leste are currently provided by Airnorth, a Darwin-based Australian airline. In the absence of formal air services arrangements between us, the Airnorth flights are currently operated under charter flight permissions issued by the department. The establishment of formal air services arrangements between us will enable airlines such as Airnorth to transition from charters to scheduled services, providing greater certainty for airlines in relation to capacity, market access and regulatory approvals. Airnorth is currently the only airline providing regular passenger services between Darwin and Dili. The airline currently operates eight services a week, increasing to nine from next month.
In the 12 months to February 2013 around 42,000 passengers travelled between Australia and Timor-Leste. Passenger numbers have grown by an average of nearly 10 per cent per annum over the last five years. Around 80 per cent of the passengers are Australian residents travelling to and from Timor-Leste.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority, one of our portfolio agencies, has also been engaged with its counterpart agency in Timor-Leste on matters related to capacity building and technical assistance. While no programs are currently underway CASA is considering the means by which it could provide support for an initial safety inspection regime and longer term technical training for aviation safety officers from Timor-Leste.
Airservices, which is another portfolio agency of the department and which manages Australia's air traffic control operations, currently engages with Timor Leste on a project aimed at providing its aeronautical authority with the ability to send flight plan messages that are compliant with international standards. The project includes providing access to a modern software platform that sends and receives by ICAO compliant messages such as notices to airmen, operational weather information and flight plans.
I now ask Mr Retter to address the transport security issues.
Mr Retter : Chair, with your indulgence I will just briefly address the matters which relate to the department's interaction with Timor Leste from a transport security perspective.
The department, through the Office of Transport Security, regulates the transport security of Australia's aviation and maritime sectors. The aviation sector is regulated under the Aviation and Transport Security Act and the associated regulations. The maritime sector is regulated under the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act and associated regulations.
Our formal mandate in OTS is to facilitate the development and maintenance of transport systems that are more secure against the threat of terrorism and other acts of unlawful interference. We do this by providing expert advice and regulatory oversight for the government. We work closely with both Australian and overseas transport industry participants. We also work closely with those countries and governments with whom we are connected by air and sea. There are 50 airports around the globe which facilitate direct flights to Australia every day. One of these airports is the Dili airport in Timor Leste.
OTS manages its bilateral transport security relationship with Timor Leste through the department's staff who are posted to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. The department's engagement activities are closely coordinated with the Australian embassy in Dili. Since formally establishing a relationship with Timor Leste in 2007, the department has conducted regular meetings utilising our Jakarta based staff and undertaken the delivery of a number of capacity-building projects designed to enhance aviation security effectiveness in Dili. We also conduct aviation security assessments at Dili airport on an annual basis.
The department's capacity-building program with Timor Leste has included targeted training and mentoring activities designed to strengthen capability within the Timor Leste civil aviation division in order to effectively plan, implement and regulate aviation security at the international airport in Delhi to a level consistent with that which is required under by ICAO standards.
The delivery of a capacity-building program by our Jakarta based staff has ensured and resulted in a cooperative relationship with senior transport officials and responsible ministers in Timor Leste. These officials have demonstrated a willingness to engage cooperatively with the department on transport security issues and to work together to address transport challenges and policy priorities.
As the relationship with Timor Leste matures, the department's intention is to review and adapt our current engagement activities with an increasing focus on mentoring to support the achievement of transport security requirements through regulatory reform and governance. Skills-based capacity-building activities will continue to feature in our program, which is developed in close consultation with the Timorese government. Currently we are working closely with the East Timorese government to deliver a suite of activities designed to build skills in designing and conducting emergency management training and crisis management in airport contingency planning in order to develop an emergency response capability at Dili airport.
Mr Borthwick : Chair, I also introduce Richard Batt who is from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and who is available to answer questions on the cooperative activities which the ATSB undertakes with their counterparts in Timor Leste. There is an MOU between the ATSB and their counterpart agency relating to accident investigation. The main areas of cooperation covered by the MOU are activities such as investigation assistance and the provision of training. With that, we are able to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you for that. You talked in your opening statement about 10 per cent growth each year. Is that projected to continue at that sort of rate? How do you see that maturing? Is some of that driven by the UN and Australian Defence Force personnel going backwards and forwards?
Mr Borthwick : We do not have any detailed forecasts. What we have tried to do in relation to our activities in catering for forecast aviation demand is to assume that level of growth going forward. There are a range of factors which you mentioned which will impact on that ongoing demand, but we are hopeful that, once we have a formal air services arrangement in place which gives airlines certainty going forward, we might see some new entrants into the market, which will help facilitate growth, but we cannot be certain of that.
CHAIR: Presumably, that will facilitate competition, too, and the price of seats?
Mr Borthwick : Hopefully so.
Dr STONE: Obviously you are doing a great job in the country, particularly in Dili, training people. Does this involve bringing Timor-Leste officers and staff to Australia for periods of work experience or internship or traineeship?
Mr Retter : Yes it does. There have been a number of activities in our capacity-building programs which have involved East Timorese officials working either directly at the airport or with the civil aviation department, travelling to Darwin on a number of occasions but also more widely to other parts of Australia to work with our own Australian staff to give them some idea of the way in which a more mature regulator undertakes their business, to expose them to various skills and methods that we use at our airports and ports to give them some idea of what is going on.
Dr STONE: So have you got an agreement, an MOU or some sort of arrangement? What is the nature of that arrangement with the Timor-Leste government in terms of your training and capacity building?
Mr Retter : At this stage it is reasonably informal. I think that, over the period 2009 through to now, we have probably spent, on average, around $80,000 per annum in very targeted activities. In formulating those activities, we do undertake assessments at Dili's airport. Those airport assessments tend to give us a feel for both the security environment and the capacity of the staff who work there. We then sit down with the East Timorese officials and work through some pretty targeted activities designed to bolster their skill sets and provide them with best practice. And, over time, we have seen a development in their policy, regulatory and on-the-ground security skills. I would have to say that that work continues.
Dr STONE: As to your $80,000 or so a year—a little more when you are doing the evaluations—is that part of the AusAID budget or is that something separate that you have a line item for?
Mr Retter : There is a portion of that money that comes from AusAID. We also have another small bucket of money which is linked directly to last-port-of-call assessments, and we can draw from that bucket of money as well in terms of targeted activities to address a specific issue that needs to be addressed at, say, Dili airport.
Dr STONE: You mentioned terrorism as one of the things that you watch out for. What about smuggling? I am talking about drugs or types of tobacco or some other contraband. Are you also training the East Timorese to be vigilant about that? Or are you training up dogs or making some other assessment?
Mr Retter : I understand that those types of activities, if they are occurring, would normally be under the purview of AGD or border agencies. I am not in a position to give you any detail on that matter. In my experience, we have focused directly on the aviation requirements and not more broadly than that. In a previous life, when I was in Defence, there was a fair bit of interaction with the Australian Federal Police and other agencies, but that is going back a number of years.
CHAIR: Are there any other questions?
Senator STEPHENS: Yes, please. Is Dili the only international airport in Timor-Leste?
Mr Borthwick : I would have to check that, but that is my understanding.
Mr Retter : I can answer that: yes.
Senator STEPHENS: How many other airports are there?
Mr Retter : There are no active airports, per se. Going back a number of years, there were two other airports that were regularly used when the UN was in East Timor in large numbers, but those airports are no longer active per se—though I do understand, from anecdotes, that there are plans to redevelop the Suai airport, which is on the southern side of the country. But that is not the case at the moment. There is only one international airport.
Senator STEPHENS: Were those two airports used for international flights for the UN?
Mr Retter : In my time there, most if not all aircraft flying internationally—and I am going back as far as 2003—were flying into Dili, but I am aware that the other two airports that I am thinking of, Baucau and Suai, were operational and could have taken international flights at the time if required, though I would have to say that most of the flights that were flying in and out there were military.
Dr Batt : There were some unscheduled flights. For instance, there was a crash of a UN cargo aircraft, an Ilyushin Il-76, at Baucau in 2003 doing unscheduled cargo operations. The ATSB conducted that investigation.
Senator STEPHENS: I am interested really in the maintenance of the infrastructure. Senator Moore has asked several questions about the impacts of the UN withdrawing their presence from Timor-Leste and thinking, in Dili in particular, about some of their infrastructure. But some of this infrastructure is also quite important. Is there the capacity for Australia to assist Timor-Leste to maintain and promote activity into those regional airports as part of continuing economic development support?
Mr Retter : These are really good questions which perhaps are outside our purview directly. My personal experience is that one of the great challenges in East Timor is how the population moves around the country without access to air, but there is an additional problem, of course, which is the affordability of air services if you even had those airports open. In a sense, my personal view—and it is a personal view, not the department's view—is that they have come a long way since I was based there for 16 months in 2003-04, when the infrastructure was in very bad shape but was being progressively built up by the combination of efforts of various donor countries, including Australia, as well as the UN.
In recent times, that has started to bear some fruit and, hence, some optimism is apparent in the discussions anecdotally that I have heard between government officials in terms of where they might go and invest some of their moneys towards improving infrastructure. Whether that is aligned with other regional developments I am not aware.
Senator STEPHENS: If, as Dr Stone was suggesting, there was the opportunity for Australian foodstuffs to be provided during the hunger season in East Timor, would they have to be flown in to Dili or could they perhaps be taken as freight into these regional airports? Are the regional airports still operating?
Mr Retter : No.
Senator STEPHENS: They have ceased?
Mr Retter : They were closed in the middle of 2004 as the UN downsized at that time from about 5,000 to about 500. As I say, there is only anecdotal discussion of whether those airports will be reopened.
Senator STEPHENS: We have had a little discussion about security and illegal activities, whether it is tobacco or whatever—illegal goods or trade. You made some comments in your opening statements about where the department is focusing its collaborative efforts and support for Timor-Leste at the moment. Are there areas of concern to you from the Australian government's point of view that you are not being able to address?
Mr Retter : The first point I would make is that we work very closely with the Australian embassy in Dili and the ambassador there, who has, I think, a much greater holistic view of the needs of the East Timorese government in terms of where Australia might assist. From our perspective, and I am speaking now from a security perspective, I work closely with the ambassador in terms of where we direct our efforts, as do our staff, who are based in Jakarta but fly there often. From my perspective we are covering off on those things that need to be done. I could not speak from a wider perspective on that issue.
Senator STEPHENS: That is fair enough. On the issue of transport safety investigations, your submission suggests that Timor-Leste does not have the capacity to undertake those investigations themselves. That is absolutely fair enough. How does the ATSB mobilise in the case of an incident?
Dr Batt : I guess there are two aspects to that. One is that there is an aspect to our work that is very reactive. If there is an accident, whether it be in Australia or in our region, often in our region Australia will be involved. That has historically happened and will continue. To that extent we would have contact with our counterpart agencies and if there were a significant accident we would expect Australia and the ATSB to be requested to assist, as we have in the past. The ATSB has a program of regional engagement. We are only a small agency but we have an active program to work with our counterpart agencies to help them build some capability themselves. Often that is and only needs to be quite rudimentary, so, in the smaller countries, like Timor-Leste or south-west Pacific countries, it might be just one or two people who have some training and awareness of what the immediate response should be when there has been an aircraft accident, because they are the people close to the scene and need to contain the matter and take necessary actions perhaps in the first 12 to 24 hours and then contact us or other countries in the region for more ongoing assistance for the investigation.
Senator STEPHENS: What is the air traffic like over Timor-Leste? Is it busy? Are there a significant number of flight paths over Dili?
Dr Batt : That is an area on which I would defer to our Airservices Australia colleagues.
Mr Borthwick : I would have to take that on notice. We do not have a detailed understanding of traffic flows within Timor-Leste, in aviation terms. I am happy to take that on notice and provide you with some advice.
Senator STEPHENS: Would our air safety systems pick up a plane that went off a flight path as far north as Dili?
Mr Borthwick : As I said, we are not experts in the air traffic management side. I would have to take that on notice and get some advice from Airservices Australia.
Senator STEPHENS: Mr Retter, you referred to '50 international flights'.
Mr Retter : The number 50 was referring to the number of locations from where you can fly direct to Australia.
Senator STEPHENS: And Dili is one of those.
Mr Retter : Yes. And I think the number of flights, certainly commercial flights, in and out of Dili airport from Australia is about eight a week, and it will be nine from next month.
CHAIR: Thank you for your attendance here today. If there are any matters on which we might need additional information and question you have taken on notice the Secretary will write to you. We will provide you with a transcript of your evidence to which any necessary corrections can be made to errors in transcription.