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Monday, 10 September 2012
Page: 9928

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (13:27): It is my great pleasure to follow my friend the member for Moreton in this debate about an important piece of legislation, the Aviation Legislation Amendment (Liability and Insurance) Bill 2012. At its heart, the bill is about the insurance arrangements for aviation travel in this country. That, in essence, is about how we put in place a framework which creates security and peace of mind and manages the small albeit important risk of aviation travel for the air-travelling public. The bill implements a number of measures that were committed to in the 2009 national aviation white paper and is part of our overall reform not only of the aviation industry but of transport, communications and infrastructure in this country. It does that by increasing the domestic passenger liability cap and mandatory insurance requirements from $500,000 to $725,000. It will ensure consistency with the 1999 Montreal convention concerning international flights by removing references to 'personal injury' and replacing it with 'bodily injury'. It will amend the Damage by Aircraft Act 1999, the DBA Act, to reflect the principle of contributory negligence and it will amend the DBA Act to allow defendants to seek a right of contribution from other parties who may have contributed to the damage suffered by the person bringing about the claim. It precludes potential claimants from claiming compensation for purely mental injuries where that person has not suffered additional personal or property damage. And finally it replaces the reference in the Civil Aviation (Carriers Liability) Act 1959 to the Montreal Protocol No. 4 with a reference to the 1999 Montreal convention.

While Australia has a proud aviation safety record, it is important that we continue to strengthen protections for people who fly domestically. We seek to do so in this legislation in an even-handed way. We propose to significantly increase the payout available to crash victims on domestic flights and to make it easier for them to access payouts. We propose to increase the cap on payouts from $500,000 to $725,000. The increase in the cap is the right thing to do to ensure that victims of aircraft accidents and their families are adequately compensated. It is important to note that the cap has not been increased since 1994, and it is time that we brought it into the 21st century to reflect current costs.

We propose to increase mandatory insurance for airlines to ensure that adequate funds are available for proper compensation of air crash victims and their families. It would make absolutely no sense to shift the cap on payments if there was inadequate insurance available—thus the importance of ensuring that airlines have a mandatory insurance arrangement. The arrangements in the legislation will help airlines move quickly to a fair settlement with victims and their families in the event of an aircraft accident. Such changes to the compensation laws will bring Australia closer into line with international practice.

The bill contains the government's comprehensive overhaul of consumer protection announced in Australia's first-ever aviation white paper. The impact that this overhaul will have on ticket prices is minimal, and, though we have to be upfront with the travelling public about increases to ticket prices, such increases pale into insignificance when compared to the amount of compensation that will thereby be made available to a consumer if something goes wrong in the air. We estimate that the price of a flight now costing $200 on a major airline may increase by about 13c, while the price of a flight provided by a regional carrier may increase by about 63c per ticket. We do not hide from the fact that there may be some pass-through of costs if the insurance cover for aviation travel is increased, but such a pass-through pales into insignificance when compared to the damage wrought upon an individual traveller if something goes wrong in the air. We all touch wood and hope that it does not occur.

A vast island nation like ours requires an aviation industry. Indeed, aviation lies at the heart of our economic activity. As set out in the aviation white paper, the government's aim is to provide policies that support investment and initiative while protecting safety and security. We also support the freedom of operators to be innovative. Earlier this year the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport released a report by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics on air transport trends in regional Australia. This provided a snapshot of regional aviation. Passenger movements at regional airports—and I know that this is a matter dear to your heart, Deputy Speaker Scott—have risen by more than six per cent. Meanwhile, there has been growth of more than 5.7 per cent in passenger movements through our major city airports. Between 2005 and 2010 there was an increase in passenger movements from 16.8 million to 22.5 million, and that is a significant increase indeed. No doubt the increase of fly-in fly-out work in electorates such as my own—and, I dare say, yours, Mr Deputy Speaker—has increased usage of regional airlines and, therefore, increased passenger movements in and out of regional airports. Passenger kilometres and the number of flights are also well up.

It is important that we continually seek to adjust our aviation policy and ensure that we have not only the regulation but also the infrastructure in place to ensure that this island nation continues to have a viable and vibrant aviation industry. Nowhere will this be more important than in paying attention to the urgent need for a second international airport for Sydney. The current owners of Sydney Airport argue against this necessity—and it is obvious why they might do so—but, if you talk to the airline operators, you will find that they know that, unless governments make a decision on the building of a second airport for Sydney, we will stand condemned by future generations. With the growth in passenger airline movements we are very quickly reaching the point where we exceed the air traffic capacity at Sydney Airport.

It strikes me and everybody at the serious end of the industry as passing strange that the Premier of New South Wales can seriously suggest that the best location for a second airport for Sydney might be Canberra. This is a ridiculous suggestion indeed. I have made it quite clear that the site at Wilton, which is adjacent to my own electorate, were it able to pass the test of the appropriate environmental and social impact studies, would be a very good site for a second airport for Sydney. The building of a new airport there would be a boon indeed for jobs and infrastructure for the Illawarra region, particularly considering the downturn that we face in other areas of the economy, principally manufacturing. Having an airport in the region and the capacity to link it with new rail and road transport would mean thousands of jobs close to our major city and great economic opportunities for the region.

So I support that, and I support all moves to continue to ensure that we have in place not only the regulations, such as those provided for in this legislation, but also the infrastructure to ensure that as an island nation—a nation that relies on tourism and a nation that relies on our aviation infrastructure to support the economy—we are continuing to do everything we can to upgrade the regulation and the infrastructure itself. That runs hand in hand with the government's nation-building mission. It is an unambiguous mission to ensure that, over our term in office, we backfill the infrastructure deficit we inherited.

I pause to note that we are very close to the 100-year anniversary of the Labor government of Andrew Fisher beginning work on the transcontinental railway. Our aviation policy—indeed, our entire infrastructure policy—is the successor to the visionary program of that first Labor government of Andrew Fisher, who understood it as the job of federal governments and federal Labor to put in place a nation-building infrastructure and to build a just and equitable economic future for this country. This 'great nation work', as he called it, was an urgent necessity for reasons of economy, transport and effective defence. In the 100 years since, other critical infrastructure projects have followed at the initiative of Labor governments: the Snowy Mountains scheme, the ABC, the Sydney Opera House and now the National Broadband Network.

Indeed, since coming into office in 2007 the Labor government has engaged in a dynamic and significant reform agenda. I have spoken of the chronic infrastructure deficit we inherited. The work we are undertaking is significant indeed. We have rebuilt over one-third of the national freight network. We are investing in ports. We have invested more money in the urban rail system than any other government since federation. We are investing more money in roads, as was a matter of debate during private members' business this morning. I saw the member for Herbert acknowledge the fact that this Labor government has invested more money in roads in regional Australia than any other government in living memory—something he is obviously embarrassed about but that those of us on our side of the House are very, very proud of.

As I said, it is important not only that we invest in the regulation to ensure that we retain the trust of the travelling public when they purchase an airline ticket and jump on an aeroplane but also that we have the vision for five, 10, 15 and 20 years out to ensure that our infrastructure is up to the task that is required. It has been remarked in the past that, when we came into office, rail investment was virtually zero. More than $2 billion had been slashed from the federal roads budget before we came into office, and there had been nine or 10 plans around building a broadband network. It took the election of a Labor government to get the job done.

These are important areas of public policy. We are in the middle of an important nation-building program—$36 billion has been invested by this Labor government to ensure that never again will we be in a position where we cannot get our products from mine head to port and to ensure that we do not let our rail freight network fall into disrepair. It will ensure that, whether you are a business in Western Sydney, a school student in Northern Queensland or a medical patient in Western Australia—or indeed in the electorate of my friend the member for Lyons in Launceston—you will have access to a fast, reliable and affordable broadband network. These are important initiatives of which we are very proud. As I said, they are all a part of a whole, of which this legislation is an important part and which implements the commitments we gave in the 2009 national aviation policy white paper. We are ensuring that, over the course of our time in office, aviation transportation will become faster, safer and— (Time expired)