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Thursday, 19 March 2009
Page: 2232

Senator STEPHENS (Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and Parliamentary Secretary for the Voluntary Sector) (9:45 AM) —First of all, the government is not supporting Senator Xenophon’s first two amendments but will be supporting the third amendment in the event of this happening. In relation the question from Senator Milne, I reassure all those listening that the government has of course had extensive consultations around this—as has everybody else here, I think. The bill specifically amends the Civil Aviation Act 1988 to allow copying and disclosure of the cockpit voice recordings for the purposes of testing whether the CVR is functioning and reliable. Senator Milne, it retains the last two hours of audio in the cockpit during a flight. Where domestic flights are likely to be less than two hours it will be the full flight, but for flights going across to Perth, for example, it will be the last two. It would not be take-off and landing; it would be those last two hours. The information is recorded for use in accident investigations, so it needs to be fully functional and reliable for that critical safety purpose. I confirm that it is anticipated that this testing would occur once every 12 months.

The bill provides strong privacy safeguards for both the technicians and the pilots during CVR testing. Those standards are international best practice. The protections include notifying the crew in writing before the recording is made that it will be used for maintenance, so there are no surprises sprung on the crews in that regard. The protection is consistent with national privacy principles for the collection and use of personal information, and assurances have been given that that information cannot be read on the front page of the daily newspaper. Additionally, it will be an offence punishable by two years imprisonment to disclose that information for purposes other than maintenance. The offence provision recognises the sensitivity of CVR information, the circumstances that the pilots and crew might be under and the need to deter unacceptable disclosure. Only a person prescribed in the regulations will be able to copy and disclose CVR information for the purposes of testing its function and reliability. There will be a regulatory development process involving industry consultation for the development of those regulations.

Of Senator Xenophon’s three amendments to the regime, the first two relate to the crew giving consent before CVR recording is used for its maintenance. The third one, if for expediency I may go to it, relates to the legislative review role for the Privacy Commissioner. Addressing proposed amendments (1) and (2), which are about the consent issue, the government has confidence that the crew of an aircraft would as a matter of practice be cooperative with respect to the maintenance of the CVRs. However, adding a requirement that the crew needs to give assent would create problems with the serviceability of the CVR and the schedule of maintenance for the plane where consent is not provided. The maintenance schedule for aircraft needs to be reliable, especially when there is a large fleet of aircraft with numerous components to be maintained. Further, an aircraft needs to have a serviceable CVR on board as an operating requirement. The operator needs to be able to guarantee its functionality and reliability, and the confidentiality of the CVRs has been appropriately protected by workable and stringent protections in the bill. The government therefore opposes amendments (1) and (2) to the bill, which involve the crew members giving written consent. However, it does support Senator Xenophon’s third amendment, which provides for a review of the legislation and involves the Privacy Commissioner. The privacy protections in the bill are already stringent, and it is not inconsistent with the nature of these protections to have an independent body review their implementation in the interests of preserving best practice.