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Thursday, 27 June 1996
Page: 3121


Mr ANDREN(10.53 a.m.) —Mr Deputy Speaker, the purpose of the amendments that I have circulated is to give the Minister for Transport and Regional Development (Mr Sharp) the power to dismiss the board of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and to appoint a new board made up of members with aviation experience. As a member for an area with strong commercial and private aviation activity, I am most concerned for the safety of regional aviation in particular. When he was in opposition, the minister was recognised around Australia as one of CASA's outspoken critics. He has been an outspoken and authoritative spokesman for air safety and has done much to elevate this issue to national debate, particularly after the Seaview and Monarch crashes.

So, I believe the minister has a mandate to honour his pre-election commitment to appoint to the board people with appropriate aviation experience, not simply to dilute a board appointed by a former minister by adding two new members. It is completely at odds with the coalition's pre-election promise to reduce the size of government. Only one member of the existing board has any previous aviation experience. Appointing two new members with experience will not ensure that the board that oversees aviation safety in this country will still have a majority of members with aviation experience. I accept that the government may be forced to pay out fees for those directors it would remove, but I believe that would be a small price to pay to reassure public confidence in our aviation industry.

Mr Deputy Speaker, Australians once took pride in having the world's safest aviation industry. The Seaview and Monarch crashes have critically undermined that confidence. We are talking about a board specifically charged with aviation safety—not the ABC or a public service board—and that places special onus on the government and the minister. The recent findings of the Monarch inquest display the serious shortcomings in overseeing the safety standards in our industry. While the current board certainly cannot be blamed for the Monarch disaster, the fact remains that the people who let those operators continue to fly are still doing the same job for CASA as they did for the Civil Aviation Authority—a slur over those with impeccable records.

However, these people, who are now giving advice to the new board, were in place when a plane carrying two young men crashed in the Blue Mountains en route to Forbes on 3 October 1993. But for a mobile ELT—emergency locator transmitter—Scott Grezl and Hamish Wallace could well be alive today. They died slow and lingering deaths, over many hours in one case, and perhaps 15 days in another; their plane, and its fixed ELT, burnt beyond any use. The ELT was in fact inoperative, out of sight, out of mind and not hand-held. As a news editor covering this protracted case, I spoke with relatives and investigators and was horrified at the waste of these lives and in fact the entire search process.

The current board of CASA still refuses, as I understand it, to approve portable ELTs, although they are in use in jumbos. I do not believe the current board has the expertise to make a sound judgment on this or on any other air safety issue nor will it have majority expertise under the government's proposals. It is essential that public confidence in our aviation industry is restored. It is essential that the federal parliament shows leadership on this issue and does not just take the easy way out. The Civil Aviation Amendment Bill, as it stands, is a Clayton's bill: the one you have when you don't have a bill. My amendments give this bill the clout it needs, and it effectively precludes any spill over of the legislation into other areas so it will not impact on other statutory bodies.

I have reason to believe many aircraft operators, including major operators, are strongly opposed to what they see as a weak response by the minister to a serious problem. Max Hazelton, the founder of Hazelton Airlines, a regional operator in my electorate with an enviable safety record, also sees an urgent need for real change and that can only come from an experienced board. These amendments are designed to allow the minister to address what the industry and the flying public require—that is, the need for the government to control the efficiency and, most importantly, the safety of the airline industry.

In his own words to parliament this week, the transport minister expressed concern that the old CAA culture still existed despite a change of name. He also said that he is not satisfied that CASA has responded fully to a report into the DC3 crash into Botany Bay in 1994. He said:

It will be a major tragedy if the only thing that has happened is that the shingle on the front door is changed.

That `major tragedy' metaphor may come back to haunt the minister, and us all, if decisive action is not taken now.

I have no problems with the board. I do not know the members of the board. Gabi Hollows is a wonderful person. Justice Fisher an honourable man with a proud record, but not in this critical area. Those comments from the minister this week constitute a vote of no confidence, an argument for a new board with the confidence of the government, the minister and therefore the public.

Press reports today talk of a showdown looming between the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the minister. CASA's chairman has described the minister's comments as defamatory, saying that the current board was set up with the capacity to resist pressure groups, including those supported by the minister. The member for Shortland (Mr Peter Morris) speaks of nods and winks. I have seen enough of that in politics over the years from the outside and I guess, in many ways, that is why I am here. Nodding and winking is a past habit of governments of all persuasions but I do not believe this is about nodding and winking at all. It is about that essential safety in an essential industry. The constitution of that board must reign far and above any other board and the statutory constitutions of it.

I have heard the name Dick Smith mentioned in this debate. I do not know who the minister might want on his board. I certainly do not have any suggestions. I leave that to people with more expertise. But I do know the gulf between the current board and its minister is now so wide that the public should be appalled at the prospect of a continuing relationship between this board, this minister and air safety.

The member for Watson (Mr Leo McLeay) spoke of the fact that we may never get another airport in Sydney. That, I believe, could be a factor in the next ten years at least, and it will only exacerbate the safety concerns that we have in the airline industry. I also noticed that the minister has referred to the transport and infrastructure committee, I think it is, a reference on air freight. I suggest that that committee look seriously, and I mean seriously, at the Parkes airport proposal as not only a freight option but perhaps a hub and spoke passenger option as well.

I have had indications that the government will not support my amendments even though it favours them. It has been suggested to me that my delaying the bill's passage is cementing in place the board that does not have the minister's additions to it. The minister's amendment on the structure of the board is a Clayton's amendment. Any delay is not my problem. My problem is the safety of the air travelling public and the need for a minister to have full confidence in the board, and through them, the organisation charged with air safety. The minister's problem can be easily solved. Support my amendments. I will be seeking a detailed discussion and that this bill go back to the House with an unresolved question.