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Monday, 10 September 2012
Page: 9921

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (12:49): Flying is possibly the safest mode of transport yet developed, though we have records of aviation crashes and it is critical that we create a framework which meets the needs of modern aviation. If I can take the House through some figures from the Aviation Safety Network through the services of the Flight Safety Foundation, they show that worldwide the number of casualties from aircraft accidents declined from 12,082 in the 1990s to just 9,668 in the 2000s. In those two decades we saw an increase in overall airline passenger numbers but a decrease in fatalities.

Australia, of course, leads the way in aviation safety. It was an Australian who invented the black box which has done so much to help us learn from past accidents to make sure future accidents do not occur. As anyone who has watched Rain Man will be aware, the Australian national carrier has an exemplary record. Overall, according to the Aviation Safety Network, since 1945, 318 Australians have died in civil airliner accidents. But most of those accidents occurred in the period closer to 1945 than today. For example, the 1940s saw at least five fatal airline crashes and in the 1960s there were another four. Thankfully, such disasters are becoming rarer and rarer. Knowledge is being shared globally in order to reduce the danger of flying. Anyone who is fearful about flying should, of course, reflect on the fact that their trip to the airport will be far more dangerous than the flight itself. If you are worried about the danger of flying, take care as you drive and do not worry once you clip your seatbelt on board.

The Aviation Legislation Amendment (Liability and Insurance) Bill 2012 is updating the payout available to air accident victims on domestic flights. It is very rare that in legislation we set an amount of damages which comes in the form of strict liability, no requirement to prove fault, with a fixed sum. We do that in the context of aviation disasters because of the trauma that such accidents cause to victims and in order to recognise that the requirement to prove fault would be particularly onerous. It means that victims of airline disasters are able to obtain compensation swiftly and that they do not have to fritter away some of their compensation on legal fees.

This bill significantly increases the payout available. It was set in 1994 under the Keating government at half a million dollars and will now increase to $725,000—a 45 per cent increase. As a previous speaker noted—yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas—the real value of the payout has been diminishing over this period. This bill now brings the payout back roughly, in real terms, to where it was when it was originally set. We do that because we recognise that strict liability in a context like this is the right approach.

The bill also responds to recent litigation under the Damage by Aircraft Act 1999. The Cook and Aircare Moree case looked at the issues of contributory negligence and the right of contribution under the Damage by Aircraft Act. In that case the victim was employed by an electricity company and was electrocuted while repairing power lines that had been dislodged by an aircraft. The court found that the partial defence of contributory negligence was unavailable for claims brought under the DBA Act. The defendants are also prevented from seeking contributions from other parties who might have contributed to the victim's loss. These reforms seek to address the shortcomings of the act by allowing the defendant the opportunity to now claim contributory negligence or a right of contribution. Those provisions are very important in the context of a liability regime that is both strict in its requirement for a fixed amount payout and unlimited in terms of the number of victims who may claim. We are aiming to foster a strong airline industry and making sure that airline travel is more affordable.

One of the great benefits of economic growth over recent decades has been the increase in air travel. We now have record numbers of Australians travelling domestically and overseas, and that means that more and more Australians have the eye-opening experience of a first trip overseas or visiting relatives interstate. That is one of the great benefits of a more affluent Australia. So these reforms are making sure that airlines can move quickly to a fair settlement with victims and their families in the horrendous event of an air accident.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I note—as a previous speaker, your good self, did—that my own electorate contains an airport, Canberra Airport. I am possibly one of the lightest users of Canberra Airport in the parliament, but I am a frequent visitor there. I have appreciated visits to Canberra Airport to meet with the airports corporation to discuss issues about their planned expansion there to better serve the needs of Canberra and the region.

I am also constantly speaking with them about their vigilance on issues of risk. Safety is a top priority for Canberra Airport and the airlines using that airport. I pay tribute to the hard work of those at Canberra Airport involved in its expansion and spruce-up. I think any recent user of Canberra Airport would agree that it is an even better airport than it was a decade ago, and it is now very much an airport that is ready to accept international visitors, once we have airlines who are keen to use its capacity. I would encourage airlines to consider using Canberra Airport as a hub. It does not face the same congestion challenges that are currently faced by Kingsford-Smith Airport. It is able to quickly serve the needs of a growing region.

I am very proud to have Canberra Airport in my electorate; I am very pleased about the conversations about safety, about aircraft noise and about traffic implications of Canberra Airport that I am able to have with the Canberra Airport management.

This bill is part of the government's commitment to making sure that our aviation legislation is brought up to the purpose for which it is required. We recognise how quickly aviation has developed when we look at the Commonwealth Constitution and realise that it makes no provision for aviation. Many of the advances in aviation which will occur over coming decades need to be anticipated through updated legislation. This is one bill that does just that, and I am proud to commend it to the House.