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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO
Office of Transport Security
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Heffernan, Sen Bill
Fawcett, Sen David
Williams, Sen John
Back, Sen Chris
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Gallacher)
Humphries, Sen Gary
McKenzie, Sen Bridget
Carr, Sen Kim
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
(Senate-Tuesday, 14 February 2012)
INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO
Department of Infrastructure and Transport
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Office of Transport Security
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Gallacher)
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Australian Transport Safety Bureau
- Department of Infrastructure and Transport
REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, ARTS AND SPORT
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Content WindowRural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee - 14/02/2012 - Estimates - INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO - Office of Transport Security
Office of Transport Security
CHAIR: Senator Heffernan, I believe there are five questioners, three of whom are in the room. I will get you to kick off and we could always come back to you if the other two do not come.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I understand that in the Strengthening Aviation Security Initiative funding there may be $19.6 million not really accounted for yet. Would you like to comment on that?
Mr Retter : Within the funding that has been provided to us under the Strengthening Aviation Security Initiative there is $19.6 million that is available for use to purchase equipment for use in screening of air cargo in the supply chain.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I understand that the allocation of those funds has been held up; is that correct?
Mr Retter : At this stage the funding is due to be utilised this financial year. Following some discussions with industry last year I am examining whether, in fact, before we proceed with the purchase of that equipment we have the associated policy settings in place that will minimise the impact on industry, and that will be the subject of advice to the minister.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Of the overview of programs, the Optimal Technologies program, Regional and Domestic Aviation Security program and Securing the Supply Chain program, which program was that under?
Mr Retter : It was part of the Supply Chain program. The $19.6 million is administered funds specifically for the purchase of appropriate screening equipment for the air cargo supply chain.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Is the spend in that area a competitive grants process?
Mr Retter : It would be a normal grants program where there would be a full-blown tender process once the guidelines are provided to industry, and they would then use that as the process for seeking contracts.
Senator HEFFERNAN: So, there are funding rounds. When is the next round due?
Mr Retter : The intention was for the funding round, as advised to industry, to occur early this calendar year and, as I have just stated, due to some concerns that I had in terms of the results of consultation with industry and the impacts that might have been produced, I have just held off on that until we further consider how best to employ that money.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Under the guidelines and under the desired outcomes is there a chance that that money may be diverted away to a different program altogether?
Mr Retter : That is not the intention.
Mr Mrdak : I just want to clarify this. As Mr Retter is indicating, we are trying to design the whole regulatory regime that will sit around this air cargo supply chain. That work has not advanced to a stage where we believe we are in a position to issue the guidelines for the program as yet. They will be decisions for government to take, but there is no suggestion that those funds will be not available to the security program.
Senator HEFFERNAN: On your website the last grant was in January 2012.
Mr Retter : There has been a series of grants under the Strengthening Aviation Security Initiative; that is correct. The last of those has been in the last few weeks related to other programs within that overall initiative. As you might recall, there was a total of about $134 million provided to the department for a range of initiatives. Only a portion—the $19.6 million I have talked about—related to air cargo.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Which is part of the $54.2 million under the—
Mr Retter : That is correct.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Obviously, there are some concerns for me to be asking the question as to whether that money might disappear down a rabbit warren it is not designed for.
Mr Retter : As the secretary has noted, that is not the intention, but we do need to ensure that we have the associated policy settings correctly framed before we embark upon spending money.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Have you made any further funding announcements in any of these programs in recent days? If you have, are they on the website?
Mr Retter : To my knowledge, we have not made any announcements this calendar year on any of the Strengthening Aviation Security Initiative related funding. The other programs are proceeding as planned and our intention will be to implement those in accordance with the government’s program.
CHAIR: Senator Heffernan, a couple of your colleagues have some questions.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I will put the rest on notice.
Mr Mrdak : The website is current in terms of that.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I have some other questions. I am tight for time.
CHAIR: Senator Fawcett and then Senator Williams.
Senator FAWCETT: Can you explain to me the impacts of the funding cuts to the air marshal program?
Mr Retter : That is a matter for the Attorney-General’s Department. That program is managed by it. It is not this department’s concern.
Senator FAWCETT: Do you as the Office of Transport Security have any relationship with the Defence Security Authority?
Mr Retter : No relationship in a formal sense. Obviously, the Defence Security Authority is now responsible for whole-of-government vetting and in that sense we are a customer like every other department.
Senator FAWCETT: So, when it comes to the security passes, I am aware that you have AusCheck and other people who work on things like ASICs, but in terms of the security clearances for your air marshals, for people working on tarmacs and in the secure area of the aviation world, given what happened within DSA and the data entry errors and processes that were allowed and have been disclosed over the last 12 months, are you satisfied that there have been no people, either in the air marshal stream or in terms of people with ASICs, that similar errors, either through DSA or through the data that has been fed into the groups that process ASICs, have had similar errors?
Mr Retter : I have no concerns that have been raised with me or indeed that I have considered on the basis of what I have seen and heard.
Senator FAWCETT: The Senate inquiry looking at the issue of ASICs was recommending a centralised government agency as opposed to your current distributed model. Can you update me on the department’s response to that?
Mr Retter : As part of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement report, you would recall they made a series of recommendations, to which the government responded, I think, in early November last year. I will now hand off to Mr Dreezer, who might address that particular recommendation and the government’s response.
Mr Dreezer : In relation to your question regarding the centralised government agency—I think it was recommendation 22—the department is currently conducting a functional review of a range of issuing body models, including a government centralised agency. We are looking at the cost-benefits of such a proposal.
Senator FAWCETT: Media reports of last year indicated that some 12,000 cancelled or expired ASIC cards had not been returned as required. Has that issue been addressed?
Mr Dreezer : That is an ongoing issue.
Senator FAWCETT: What causes that issue? What part of your process is not robust in terms of getting those back?
Mr Dreezer : It is an ongoing issue, because an ASIC or an MSIC is treated by some such as a driver’s licence. For example, cards are left in people’s drawers and so on and not returned. The activities that issuing bodies and airports and seaports are undertaking in order to try to recover those cards include putting in place arrangements such as penalties for not returning your card to your issuing body. In some cases, they are referring those matters to the Australian Federal Police for inquiries to return the cards. There is a specific offence for not returning your card within one month.
Senator FAWCETT: Do you have any examples of expired cards that have been obtained by criminal elements for counterfeiting?
Mr Dreezer : No, we have not. In fact, we believe the security around the card itself, in terms of the hologram and the kinogram that it has on it, is quite robust. At the moment, as part of our ongoing continuous improvement process, we are undertaking an analysis of how the ASIC and MSIC cards stack up against other cards in terms of their security features against other cards. What we have found is that it is incredibly robust, particularly with the kinogram that is used.
Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.
CHAIR: Senator Williams.
Senator WILLIAMS: I turn to the discussion at the last Senate estimates hearings from October. At that time you said that you were working through the results of the trials in Sydney and Melbourne. Can you give me a summary of those findings?
Mr Retter : Certainly the generic findings were that we conducted over 20,000 scans of volunteer passengers during the two periods where we conducted the trials, firstly in Sydney for about two and a half weeks and then about 10 days, I think it was, in Melbourne. The results of those trials were all about facilitation, communications with passengers, education of passengers and layout, to see what impacts we would have in terms of the flow of passengers and improved security outcomes. In other words, to contextualise the use of the technology in an Australian city.
The results were that we got about 40 per cent alarm rates, that is, at least one alarm on a passenger in 40 per cent of occasions. In fact, that was not unexpected, because when you consider the nature of the technology and the fact that it looks for non-metallic as well as metallic objects whereas our conventional systems just look for metallic items, we are getting about a five- to six-fold increase in the chances of detection. The good news is that because we employed a range of resolution techniques that did not unduly delay facilitation. The way we intend to set up the screening point design I think you will find we will get a better security outcome once we implement the body scanners without any undue overall impact on facilitation.
Senator WILLIAMS: Did you have many false positive readings? Are you saying it was 40 per cent, because it was not only metal?
Mr Retter : I do not have the precise data in front of me, but there were a number of false alarms. As part of any screening equipment we get false alarms, but many of those had to do with passengers not correctly divesting themselves of things like watches, and there were metallic objects in their clothing. Many people wear cargo pants and the like that actually alarm the machines. We found that this was actually quite a useful demonstration for us of how we needed to be flexible in terms of how we resolve these issues.
I still would make the point that this is the best available technology in the world today to actually achieve the security outcomes we need in light of the threats that we face from extremists trying to undo our way of life. My view is that, as we move forward, not only will the technology improve but so will our ability to resolve alarms, whether they are false alarms or real alarms, such that anybody who is carrying items that should not get through the screening point will be detected, but anybody else will get through pretty much as they expect to today.
Senator WILLIAMS: At the last Senate estimates hearings a false positive rate of between 20 per cent and 40 per cent was identified, which you advised varied on a weekly and daily basis. Can you give me any more information about that? Is the latest information that it is still on a weekly and daily basis of variation and why is that?
Mr Retter : I might suggest that to address that particular issue I would need to have all the detail in front of me to give you a complete answer, but let me go back to this issue of false alarm rates and alarm rates. The technology is far more sensitive than the existing technology we are using at our domestic screening points and international screening points today. It detects a much wider range of items. If a passenger fails to take something off, or indeed if they are wearing a particular type of garment, there is a likelihood that the machine will default to an alarm situation.
CHAIR: I know Senator Back has a question on this, too, and with your indulgence can I quickly go to Senator Back. I have heard on good authority that not one single bone in your body will look any smaller than the rest of them, so there is no need to be embarrassed. Senator Back.
Senator BACK: Following up from Senator Williams, have we yet had an actual positive with all the sampling that is undertaken? I know we had false positives as a result of people—
Mr Retter : I guess your question is: have we detected a prohibited item in amongst the 20,000 scans? I do not have the report in front of me, but I suspect there were a number of prohibited items a passenger may have accidentally been taking through, but the vast majority of those alarms were because of the nature of the technology, say, the fact they did not take off their watch.
Senator BACK: I am actually specifically interested in the test after you go past that aspect of security when a person is trying to detect explosive residues and so on. Have we actually yet had a true positive from that testing?
Mr Retter : Have we detected somebody with explosive residue on their—
Senator BACK: I know you have. In WA every second or third person coming off a mine site does, but having dealt with those and having understood the reason for those, I am still wanting to know—
Mr Retter : I am pleased to say that to my knowledge nobody has successfully contravened Australia’s requirement that they not carry explosives onboard aircraft.
Senator BACK: Can I just suggest to you—you and I have engaged in this before—my wife has always been the person who has been detected, but now it seems to be me. The reality is that all you have really to do—and we watch this all the time now—if you wanted to evade being detected or being assessed, is stand there fiddling around waiting to pick up your laptop to put into your briefcase until someone else is the subject of a test and you could walk straight through, or you can just hasten and pick everything up and walk straight past and then put your laptop and so on into a briefcase. I am putting this to you quite seriously. I know what Senator Heffernan gets up to with his pocket knives. I am saying to you that it actually is quite simple, if a person was of such a mind that they wanted to get an explosive residue past, to be able to do that. I would ask you to have a look at that, because there has not yet been a case I have seen where someone has actually said, ‘Excuse me. I am testing someone else, but will you wait there and I will do you next.’
Mr Retter : Without getting into the operational bits and pieces, you would be aware that the government, as part of the Strengthening Aviation Security Initiative, has increased the number of explosive detection machines at airports. The aim is to capture more people more often, so that it is less random and we capture more people in the net because of our concerns about homemade explosives and other types of explosives that might get through undetected.
Senator BACK: But you do see the point I am making?
Mr Retter : I take your point that you have made and, yes, we are aware of that issue.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Retter. We will now call Aviation and Airports.
CHAIR: I welcome officers from Aviation and Airports. Senator Fawcett, we might as well kick off with you. We have half an hour and we have some five questioners, so I will judge as we go. Thank you.
Senator FAWCETT: The minister, in a letter he wrote to me, spoke of bringing together all levels of government to develop a national framework, but I notice that in May this year only federal and state transport ministers will evaluate the framework that it comes up with. How is local government going to be tied into this?
Mr Wilson : I can give a little bit of context to it. The National Airports Safeguarding Advisory Group, which I chair, has a representative from the Australian Local Government Association on it. We are working under the auspices of the Standing Committee on Transport and Infrastructure, which is a COAG committee of ministers, which has on it the president of the Australian Local Government Association. That is the direct linkage between the group that I am chairing and the local government authorities. But in addition to that we will be—we are in the process of finalising documentation at the moment—undertaking a consultation process with local councils that potentially are affected by the work that we are doing over the next four-week period. So, local councils will have the opportunity to comment and provide us with advice in regards to the work that we have been doing.
Senator FAWCETT: Once this has been through that COAG process—and I note your references to local government—is the intention that this will be a binding framework on all levels of government around Australia?
Mr Mrdak : We would like to see an agreement reached by all three levels of government. As you know, the safeguarding initiative has been a major outcome of the white paper process. We recognise that Australia’s aviation infrastructure is increasingly under pressure from development. We would certainly like to get to a position where we have sign-on by all three levels of government. What form that takes is yet to be settled. Mr Wilson will take you through what sorts of guidance we are trying to get agreement on at this stage, but we would hope to get a level of sign-off certainly by ministers if not COAG itself.
Senator FAWCETT: In the white paper on page 156 it states that the government’s position is that the primary purpose—and in this case you talk about federal leased airports—is aviation. What does that actually mean?
Mr Mrdak : I think that reflects the very strong view by the government that the primary development on airport sites should be aviation focused. As you know, there has been criticism in the past that at some of the leased federal airports there has been development, which in the view of some in the aviation industry has diverted from the primary purpose of the airport. In leasing the airports we are always seeking to maximise non-aeronautical revenue to support the airport. I think in that statement the government is clearly stating its view that in reviewing master plans, major development plans and the way in which the airports develop, it is looking to make sure that the primary planning focus is allowing for aviation growth.
Senator FAWCETT: Does the Commonwealth government, and your department in particular, currently have an approval function in terms of the master plans?
Mr Mrdak : Under the act, the minister approves all of the master plans.
Senator FAWCETT: So, if your position is that the primary purpose is aviation, where you see something that will potentially limit the potential for growth or operations at an airport, would you expect to advise the minister to not approve that element of the plan?
Mr Mrdak : That has certainly been the case in the past. If I go back and give you a couple of examples in the past, for instance, there was a commercial development proposed at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport about three to four years ago—or perhaps a bit longer, I think—where the view of the department, based on the long-plan process was that would constrain future aeronautical development and also constitute a hazard in terms of the runway and safety areas. In that case the minister rejected the major development plan.
Senator FAWCETT: The Archerfield plan at the moment indicates simultaneously a proposed extension of runway 28 right and at the same time has zoned an area for light industrial that would be slap in the middle of the runway and safety area. So, there is a direct conflict there straightaway, because if that development goes ahead then the runway extension cannot go ahead, which means the airport loses the potential to expand its operations. Why did that get approved?
Mr Wilson : The Archerfield master plan is currently in the process of development. There is an approved master plan, but Archerfield is currently going through the process of obtaining approval of a new master plan. To the best of my knowledge, we have sought resolution of a number of issues that we identified with the draft master plan, and Archerfield is currently working through those issues and we are awaiting a response from the airport.
Senator FAWCETT: So, a conflict like that, if it was in this current plan, would not be approved?
Mr Wilson : I would have to take the detailed question on notice rather than try to provide you with an answer off the cuff in regard to the technical aspects of the operation of an airport. But the underlying premise, as Mr Mrdak indicated, was that we would provide advice in regard to the ongoing operation of the aviation sector.
ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Gallacher ): Can you place further questions on notice. We have three other senators.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Would it be possible for the committee to get a touch and feel briefing, because this same thing is coming up with Bankstown, is it not; this encroachment?
Senator FAWCETT: It is coming up with Bankstown. A lot of your plan here talks about leased airports, and if time was permitting I would have a lot more questions to ask about leased airports. But the same issues are arising at airports under the ALOP scheme that are run by local councils. Can I get the department’s impression as to whether the same imperative and your perception that aviation is the primary use at leased airports also applies to airports that are now run by local councils?
Senator Carr: Did I understand you correctly, Senator Heffernan? You are requesting a briefing on these issues?
Senator HEFFERNAN: I think because it is such an important issue—
Senator Carr: I also understand what the officers are saying to me, that it is custom and practice. Would it be helpful if there were a briefing organised?
Senator FAWCETT: A briefing would be fantastic, but today in estimates I would like some answers to these questions.
Senator Carr: Sure, they will give you the answer you need. But there is a whole series of questions you are asking about this issue. If the officers are telling me that is custom and practice, we could organise through the committee to have a—
Senator HEFFERNAN: What I am interested in is a separate issue. There is obviously a hell of a lot of pressure from developers to encroach—
Senator Carr: I am not seeking to deny your questions.
Mr Mrdak : In relation to those aerodromes which are owned and operated by local government, clearly there have been issues. The industry has raised issues with those owners. Clearly, the Commonwealth’s regulatory powers are not there in the same way as they are under the Airports Act, under the leased airports, which is why we have focused very much on the safeguarding process of intrusions into safety areas. Certainly, if there were developments which conflicted with the ongoing operation of the airport that would be a concern. The transfer deeds for the airports require the agreement of the Commonwealth for any closure of an airport.
Senator FAWCETT: Having identified that those deeds still give the Commonwealth that direct link for its intent for airport development, I noticed in your white paper that it specifically highlights things like residential, aged care and so on.
At Evans Head at the moment a local government is actually looking to build an aged care facility right next door to a runway. How can the Commonwealth allow that to occur, given that that council operates the airport under a deed and you still have the reach through that deed to enforce the primary purpose of the airport and the prevention of development that will decrease its utility as an aviation facility?
Mr Mrdak : From recollection, the deed puts requirements in relation to Commonwealth approval for the closure of the airport site. I am not too sure in that situation whether the development would lead to that situation. We are certainly aware of the Evans Heads situation that has been developing, but I am not too sure if that takes us to our powers under the deed.
CHAIR: Senator Fawcett, I said that there are other people who wish to ask questions so I will have to ask you to put further questions on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES: My questions also flow on to the NASAG issue. Before I ask the questions I need to declare, for the sake of completeness, that some of these questions have been suggested to me by a company called Village Building Company, which is a donor to the Liberal Party in the ACT. I want to put that on the record before I ask these questions.
I have a copy of a letter which Minister Albanese has written to the New South Wales Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Mr Hazzard, on 2 May 2011 where he talks about the need to ensure that aircraft noise did not impact on communities. He states:
Specifically, where a new development would expose future residents to more than six 60 decibel events between the hours of 11pm and 6am, it is the Government’s view that such development should not be approved. This is particularly relevant for airports not subject to a legislated curfew.
That test appears to be a novel test. It has not previously been articulated, at least in a publicly executed document. Is that new test being considered at the moment by the NASAG process?
Mr Wilson : Yes, it is. As I indicated to Senator Fawcett before, the Commonwealth is chairing a group of Commonwealth, state and territory local government officials, including representatives from the Department of Defence, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Airservices Australia, as part of the implementation of the government’s aviation white paper to look at measures to safeguard the operations of airports in developments that occur around airports.
One of the issues that we have been working with our state and territory colleagues on is the additional noise metrics that may be applied to developments around airports, such as the Tralee development just outside of the ACT. We are currently in the processes of finalising the principles and the guidelines that underpin those principles with the view to circulating them to a broader consultative audience to inform a higher level debate by ministers. We have taken in the order of something like 18 months to work through a number of the issues. One of the issues, as you have indicated, is the M60six events overnight to bring those into a guideline. It is fair to say that Commonwealth and state relations take some time to land the document. We are now in a position where I am confident that we have a document that officials are reasonably comfortable to consult on—not necessarily agree on, but consult on—to get community views in that regard.
Senator HUMPHRIES: You said that they had already been consulted on within NASAG?
Mr Wilson : Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES: I have in front of me copies of the minutes of what I understand to be the six meetings of NASAG from May 2010 to August 2011 and in none of these minutes is any reference made to that new test that the minister makes reference to. The minutes have been redacted, admittedly. Are the references to the new test in the redacted parts of these minutes?
Mr Wilson : I cannot comment on the minutes because I do not have them in front of me. The meeting that I chaired in November of last year had a document that had the M60 six events overnight in it. It is an issue that we have discussed at NASAG prior to that. It may not have been minuted in detail within the minutes of the group, but the documents and the discussions raised that.
CHAIR: Senator Humphries, we are out of time and your colleagues have questions. Could you put further questions on notice?
Senator WILLIAMS: Just in relation to the second Sydney airport, you would be aware of media reports naming the Nepean area covering Luddenham, Wallacia and Greendale as the site of the second Sydney airport. What consideration has the department given, if any, to this site?
Mr Mrdak : As you are aware, the government established a joint Commonwealth-state taskforce to look at the future aviation needs of the Sydney Basin. That is not solely looking at future airport sites, but looking at the whole issue of capacity in the Sydney Basin. We have looked exhaustively at potential areas that may be suitable for future airport development within 90 minutes of the Sydney population centre.
Senator WILLIAMS: Ninety minutes?
Mr Mrdak : Within 90 minutes of road travel time of Sydney. We have looked exhaustively at all sites that may be available for future airport development, and it is correct to say that we have looked at that geographic location in terms of what sites may be available that may have developable areas for future airport sites. It is fair to say that that work is yet to be completed, but we have looked exhaustively at all possible locations within that travel time distance and short-listed them.
Senator WILLIAMS: Can you give me an update on the progress of the joint study underway between the New South Wales and the federal governments? Is that possible?
Mr Mrdak : Certainly. We are nearing completion of that work. We anticipate the report being available to both the New South Wales and Australian governments within the next couple of months.
Senator WILLIAMS: Can you provide a list of the members undertaking the inquiry and their positions?
Mr Mrdak : Certainly. I can give you the steering committee for the review. The department is doing the work through the secretariat, and that is held within the department. The committee is jointly chaired by me and Sam Haddad, the Director-General of Planning and Infrastructure in New South Wales. It contains Mr Les Wielinga, the Director-General of Infrastructure and Transport in New South Wales. It also contains four independent members—Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia, Dr Warren Mundy from the Productivity Commission, Mr Warwick Smith from ANZ Bank, and Mr Chris Brown, who is a private consultant.
Senator WILLIAMS: You think that study will be completed in a couple of months. Will it be completed in a couple of months’ time and be released or will it be some time after the completion of the study before it will be released?
Mr Mrdak : That will be a matter for both the New South Wales and Australian governments as to what they decide to do with the report. It is a report which is being provided to the two governments.
Senator WILLIAMS: So it will be up to those two governments to see if the document is made public?
Mr Mrdak : That is correct.
Senator WILLIAMS: What is the scope of the study’s inquiry?
Mr Mrdak : It has very broad terms of reference. It has been asked to look at the future aviation needs of the Sydney region. It covers regular public transport, general aviation and freight needs. The study has looked at future forecasts and current capacity of existing aviation infrastructure. Essentially, we have looked in the study area at existing infrastructure from Williamtown to the north, right down to Canberra and Nowra in the south, and all available infrastructure that is currently existing for aviation. So it is what the capacity of those is and what can be done with those assets, and also looking at the need for greenfield airports development to serve the various market segments.
Senator WILLIAMS: Looking back on Badgerys Creek, is it still on the agenda or is it no longer considered a viable second site?
Mr Mrdak : The government has set out its position in the aviation white paper.
Senator WILLIAMS: Which government?
Mr Mrdak : The current federal government has set out its position that it does not believe that Badgerys Creek is—
Senator WILLIAMS: So it is off the agenda, basically?
Mr Mrdak : That is the position of the Australian government.
Senator WILLIAMS: Thank you.
Senator FAWCETT: I will come back to the issue of fees between the federal government and local government. You questioned whether or not they would be applicable. Part 2 subparagraph H sub 1 talks about the local authority taking action such as within its power to create land use zoning around the aerodrome that would prevent residential and other incompatible development. I would like to get on the record the Commonwealth’s position as to how they intend to enforce the deed, because yesterday in South Australia the local government association released a report into regional airports which indicates that a number of them are operating at a loss, and there is a growing pressure on local government authorities to divest themselves of the land for other purposes just to remain viable. That obviously puts pressure on the viability of the airport as an aviation asset. So for the certainty of all players, even ahead of this process of the planning group that you are chairing, Mr Wilson, I think it is important that the Commonwealth states whether it is intending to enforce the terms of this deed under which these airports were transferred to local government.
Mr Mrdak : The Commonwealth’s position has been that we would like to see these airports remain as aviation infrastructure. Obviously, the local governments are the owners of these assets and they are best placed to make the judgments for their local communities; but the Commonwealth’s priority interest is to ensure that aviation users’ needs are met, and I think that has been our consistent position. I will just check with Mr Doherty, but I think that consistently our advice has been that, where there is an aviation need, we would like to see that met by the aeronautic infrastructure.
Senator FAWCETT: When you say ‘you would like to see that met’, does that indicate the Commonwealth is actually prepared to enforce the terms of the deed?
Mr Mrdak : We have, in the past, made clear our position to various councils and developers that we believe the deeds require the continuing ongoing operation of particular aerodromes.
Senator FAWCETT: Have you done that in the past with airfields like Archerfield?
Mr Mrdak : Archerfield is captured by a completely different regime. It is captured by the Airports Act.
Senator FAWCETT: I understand. It still has that linkage of a lease through the various acts, including the Airports (Transitional) Act, that bind the current owners of the airport, or the leaseholders, to have the same relationship with sublessees and use of the land that was the intention of the Commonwealth.
Mr Mrdak : The airport lease requires the operation of an aerodrome. That is a fundamental requirement of the airport lease.
Senator McKENZIE: It is interesting that you talk about local governments. My question relates to that. The Bendigo Airport has confirmed $10 million of the $15 million needed. There is $5 million from the state government and $5 million from the local Bendigo government. It is our largest regional centre in Victoria and, obviously, the development of an airport would really build a lot of productivity to that regional city. So council is seeking the remaining $5 million from the federal government. I am just wondering what the department is doing about this project?
Mr Mrdak : We do not have any aerodrome-specific programs within the portfolio to support general development of aerodromes. There are programs available in the Regional Australia portfolio. I am not aware of any investment proposals, but I will check with my colleagues. We are not aware of any investment proposal being put to this portfolio.
Mr Doherty : I have seen media about it.
CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, we have a session later on this evening which you would already know about. I am sure we will see your smiling face then.
Mr Doherty : Just to confirm, I certainly have seen media about Bendigo Airport proposals, but I am not aware that the department has been approached. Over the last year or so there have been a significant number of projects at regional airports funded by the government, but those have essentially been through the regional programs, rather than through any program that we run in the department. The department’s programs have been limited to more remote operations.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I hear that you are talking about a consultative process with Tralee?
Mr Wilson : That is correct.
Senator HEFFERNAN: We have had some very bodgie groups start up in recent times that allege they represent the communities. I will not take you through the distress of having to disclose who they are, but that is quite well known. This happened earlier on in the Tralee thing, where an activist group was set up by an interested party to prosecute a certain view at public meetings. This has been ongoing for so long—and I can remember the original option that was taken out on the land by my dear friend, Mr Winnell. I understand the development potential over the next 30 or 40 years of Canberra Airport as a hub. I understand the opposition from everyone from the airlines to God knows who regarding the proposition to build a suburb under the hub air zone, so why the hell do you not do a deal: swap the land and let Mr Winnell go and build his suburb somewhere else and leave that land for whatever is a suitable purpose to enable the future development of Canberra Airport to its maximum extent as a hub? Would that solve a lot of problems?
Mr Wilson : That is not really a question I can answer.
Senator HEFFERNAN: It is something that the government should think about.
CHAIR: I do not think you will get any objections from your fellow committee members on that, but it is not a question.
Mr Mrdak : The first step remains with the New South Wales government as to their decision on rezoning. That is the first threshold question.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I am questioning you on procurement of community—
CHAIR: I am going to pull it up now. Senator Heffernan, I know how passionate you are.
Senator HEFFERNAN: I want to see it solved.
CHAIR: You sucked another minute out of me, well done! I thank the officers from Aviation and Airports. We will now call Airservices Australia.