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Monday, 10 September 2012
Page: 9927

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (13:21): I rise to speak to the Aviation Legislation Amendment (Liability and Insurance) Bill 2012. Like the member for Corangamite, I have a general aviation airport in my electorate, the Archerfield Airport. Also, with Moreton being very close to the start of the noisy part of the Brisbane flight path, aviation is certainly a topic that I continue to have a great deal of interest in.

The bill before the chamber implements a number of measures committed to in the 2009 national aviation policy white paper. Firstly and most significantly it will increase the cap on the payout available to air accident victims on domestic flights from $500,000 to $725,000, representing a 45 per cent increase on the current arrangements. Obviously we would hope that nobody, anywhere, ever has to access such a payout. Nevertheless, being a prudent government means that we have that contingency just in case.

As noted by other speakers, Australia has a very proud aviation safety record, but it is important we continue to strengthen protections for people flying domestically and that is what this bill will achieve. This cap has not been changed since 1994 and that is going back a while. Forrest Gump was the No.1 movie at the box office. Seinfeld was the No. 1 show on television. In Queensland, Wayne Goss was Premier, before the National Party took government. Pete Sampras had won Wimbledon. And, taking us right back, Tomorrow, by Silverchair was one of the No. 1 songs. The guy who wrote that song, Daniel Johns, is now only 33, even though it was 18 years ago—he was 15 at the time. That just shows you how time flies.

The increase in the cap ensures that victims of air accidents and their families are adequately compensated. It brings the cap into the 21st century to reflect current costs, rather than those of nearly two decades ago. The level of mandatory insurance for airlines is also being increased by the same amount to ensure that adequate funds are available. Although compensation for domestic flights is capped, it should be noted that the liability of the airline is strict. There is no requirement for the victim to prove fault. This means that accident victims are able to obtain compensation swiftly, with minimal legal fees, irrespective of whether the airline was in any way to blame for the injuries. This not good news for lawyers, but it is one of the aspects of the legislation that is to be commended.

The bill also amends the Damage by Aircraft Act 1999 to reflect the principle of contributory negligence, allowing defendants to seek a right of contribution from other parties who may have contributed to the damage suffered by the person bringing the claim. These provisions are very important in the context of a liability regime that is both strict and unlimited.

The bill seeks to foster a strong and sustainable aviation industry, including affordable air travel, by providing an equitable balance between the interests of airlines, victims and insurers. Together, these important reforms will ensure that airlines move quickly to a fair settlement with victims and their families in the event of an air accident. The bill also includes important changes to the system of compensating domestic passengers who suffer mental injuries, so that domestic carriers will no longer be liable for mental injuries irrespective of whether other 'physical injuries' have also been incurred. This amendment responds to one of the main objectives of the recent review of the CA(CL) Act, which was to ensure greater consistency between the Australian domestic liability framework and the international liability framework created by the new 1999 Montreal convention. By amending references in the CA(CL) Act concerning 'personal injury' and substituting it with 'bodily injury', we will bring our domestic liability arrangements regarding compensation for mental injuries into line with the international framework established under the benchmark Montreal convention. A similar amendment to the Damage by Aircraft Act 1999 will also limit the eligibility for mental injuries, with the objective of ensuring that there is an appropriate balance between the interests of aircraft operators and the interests of air crash victims.

The bill is pivotal to improving the rights of air accident victims flying domestically in Australia and will go a long way to ensuring a fair and reasonable balance is struck between the interests of airlines, victims and insurers. Airlines play an important role in Australia. As a Queenslander, I know full well how important tourism is to Australia. We can look at some parts of Queensland where unemployment is two per cent and mining companies are booming and we can look at other parts of Queensland where unemployment is as high as 14 per cent because of some of the problems associated with the high dollar and tourism. It is important that we look after our airlines wherever possible. Obviously the costs are something they need to be aware of. This legislation will incur minimal cost and will achieve a great outcome.

I commend the bill to the House.