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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11864

Mr WILKIE (4:54 PM) —Civil air traffic control services for Australia and the associated flight information region are provided by two major centres: one in Melbourne and another in Brisbane. Terminal control units are located in Adelaide, Cairns, Perth and Sydney and a number of regional towers. The Perth terminal control unit at Perth airport provides air traffic control services within 36 nautical miles of Perth airport. Twenty-three controllers provide this service. The controllers have an average of 18 years experience in air traffic control. Airservices Australia, the provider of civil air traffic control services, is currently pursuing a project of relocating Perth, Adelaide and Sydney terminal control units to Melbourne.

Airservices have argued that relocation of the terminal control units would have a consequent improvement in efficiency. They have suggested that this assumed efficiency improvement would be gained by a reduction in air traffic controllers and the consequent reduction in expenditure on salaries. Of the 23 controllers in Perth, three are retiring this year and there appears to be no plan to replace them. Airservices have stated that, after consolidation, only 18 controllers would be required in Melbourne. They have been unable or unwilling to state how they provide the current service or what the service reduction would be after a staff reduction from 23 to 18. There has also been no explanation of how it is possible to staff the Melbourne unit with fewer people than the number required in Perth, and this is at odds with what staff in Melbourne are advising. They believe it would be necessary to have one more person on night shifts than is currently rostered in Perth, which would require an increase in staff by one.

No staff in Perth have indicated that they will relocate to Melbourne with the terminal control unit; therefore, they will be made redundant. Airservices will have to employ and train 18 new controllers to staff the function in Melbourne. Also, the placing of air traffic control in two centres has the potential to compromise national security. Provision of air traffic services from two centres provides high-profile and vulnerable targets, and the disabling of these facilities would have an immediate and long-term effect on national security and the economy. With dispersed terminal control units, there is a greater ability to provide safe air traffic control over the majority of Australian airspace in the event of any loss by whatever cause. This was demonstrated when industrial action effectively stopped services at the Melbourne centre early in 2002, and the terminal control units only remained in operation due to the support of other units.

This is not a time when we should be considering compromising the security of Australian air space; this is a time when we should be looking at increasing security. Furthermore, there is no current plan or study that details how air traffic services would be recovered for the airspace controlled by Melbourne centre, including Adelaide, Perth and Sydney, in the event of a catastrophic failure of the Melbourne centre. This again would have an immediate and long-term effect on the business and safety of aviation and passengers in Australia.

During daylight saving, the Eastern States and Western Australia have a three-hour time difference. Relocation of the Perth terminal control unit would result in controllers in Melbourne controlling Perth airspace with a three-hour dislocation from local time in Perth. Therefore, these controllers will be controlling significantly busy periods of traffic during periods of their lowest mental efficiency after midnight. The traffic controllers will have no local knowledge of the Perth area. Local knowledge is essential to the safe provision of an air traffic control service during the critical stages of flight—that is, during the initial climb and the final descent.

A study commissioned by Civil Air, the Air Traffic Controllers Association of Australia, into the relocation of Adelaide terminal control units to Melbourne indicates that they would spend between $4 million and $8 million in capital outlays in the first year and would have higher recurrent costs than if they were optimised in situ. This study can be considered as indicative of the situation in Perth as the terminal control units are of similar size and the airports have similar traffic levels. If the government, the minister for transport or Airservices are serious about an improvement in efficiency and safety in the airspace surrounding Perth airport, Jandakot airport, one of the busiest airports in Australia, and RAAF Base Pearce, the busiest RAAF base in Australia, a solution could be the integration of the management of the services provided at these three airports into one unit using the present Perth terminal control unit. This would bring real benefits to the area due to improvements in equipment compatibility, access to airspace and a less complicated Pearce—Perth's airspace boundary.

There seem to be no benefits, either financial or otherwise, in the disbanding of the Perth terminal control unit and the potential loss of more than 20 experienced air traffic controllers from Perth. Airservices is an organisation that prides itself on its safety record; therefore it should not countenance any proposal that could result in a reduction of safety. (Time expired)