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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23429

Mr Costello —Martin!

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (2:53 PM) —I've still got my integrity and self-respect, Peter, which is more important than winning or losing a ballot.

Government members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Batman will come to his question.

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —My question is to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services.

Mr Costello —What about your brother?

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —We got a unity ticket on that, Pete. My question refers to an incident at Tamworth Airport last week where air traffic controllers had to guess the altitude at which a light plane was flying. Is the minister aware that the light aircraft and a commercial jet carrying 30 passengers would have crossed midair within minutes if the private plane's pilot had not used a radio to call air traffic control before proceeding to land? Given that the government's new airspace management system discourages such calls to air traffic control, why is the minister persisting with a system which the experts say increases the risk of midair collisions?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —Again, the opposition spokesman for transport is seeking to establish, firstly, that he knows all about aviation safety and, secondly, that he is running the union line. In reality, the people who are responsible for aviation safety in Australia include, first and foremost, CASA—the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. After that comes Airservices Australia, who have to implement the management of airspace in Australia. But, again, if we are going through this exercise of who says what, I remind him that those who have flown in Australia and in America—Qantas, the RAAF, Virgin, Rex and a whole range of others—all say that Australia should update its airspace management and that this is the way to do it.

The SPEAKER —The member for Hasluck should take extra care as well.

Mr ANDERSON —Let me come to the issue of these incidents. Up until now, I have been charitable. I have said, `Perhaps this is just about the conservatism of air traffic controllers.' But it now has all the hallmarks of a union campaign, so there are several points that need to be made. The first is that it is the responsibility of the agencies that look after our airspace to ensure that what is happening in our airspace is safe. The second is in relation to these incidents that are being reported: pilots are required to report anything out of the ordinary. This can happen on average up to 50 or so times a week: those pilots might stray out of their assigned altitude; they might make an incorrect radio call; they might be concerned about their final approach to an airport and do a second run around; they might have a warning light malfunction; or their radar transponder might not be operating properly.

The first point is that there is a layered approach to safety and protection against all these sorts of incidents. The second point is that all of the incidents I have just mentioned, although they are not life-threatening in any way, have to be reported and are monitored by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau as part of the process of keeping our skies safe. These incidents happen every day. As I said, there are up to 50 a week on average. They are not near misses, and it is irresponsible to claim that they are. I hear this claim again emanating from the unions, who—astonishingly—are saying that it is inevitable that we will have a midair crash. That is irresponsible. It completely ignores groups like CASA. It ignores the reality that we are simply moving to the airspace arrangements used in America. But, above all, the implication is that it has never happened in Australia—tragically, it has happened 36 times since 1961.

You cannot rule against every eventuality in our skies. But you can move to a more modern system. You can move to a system which takes advantage of new and emerging technologies. You can set yourself up for the future. That is what aviation in Australia overwhelmingly wants to do and that is what the government is supporting it in doing.