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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 1341

Mrs MOYLAN (5:57 PM) —I certainly echo some of the sentiments expressed by the member for Wills about public consultation, given the difficulties we have experienced in the electorate of Pearce over the lack of public consultation. I am pleased therefore to have the opportunity to speak on the Airports Amendment Bill 2010. I note that in the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport’s second reading speech he said the amendments contained in this bill underscore the objectives of the Airports Act, including: to promote the sound development of civil aviation in Australia; to establish a system for the regulation of airports that has due regard to the interests of airport users and the general community; and to promote the efficient economic development and operation of airports.

On these points we are in agreement. However, in the minister’s second reading speech, he said:

I introduced this bill into the last parliament but the bill lapsed when it was prorogued. At the time, the bill was referred to the Senate Standing Legislation Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. The committee commenced an inquiry into the bill. However, it did not have the opportunity to fully examine the bill before the caretaker period began.

We are therefore entitled to ask the minister and the government why the undue haste in bringing this bill to the House before the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee has had a chance to fully canvass the serious matters such a bill raises, as the shadow minister, the member for Wide Bay, outlined in his contribution to this debate last Wednesday. There have been some legitimate concerns raised by local governments and community groups and yet the Senate inquiry is not able to complete its work until 16 November. Surely in the interests of getting this legislation right it would have been prudent to await the outcome of that inquiry.

Unfortunately, the minister and his government have a track record of hastily made decisions and not following their own protocols. I am sure this is why we have seen so many of the government’s programs get into difficulties. We saw evidence of that in the decision to appoint an air noise ombudsman during the election campaign, as I will outline shortly. Yet in the case where the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport completed a full inquiry into the effectiveness of Airservices Australia to manage aircraft noise in June 2010, there has been no response except the appointment of an ombudsman while the government was in caretaker mode. So from this minister we get either decisions made in undue haste or no decisions at all where full inquiries have been conducted and recommendations made. That particular report does need acting upon, as it is damning of Airservices in their failure to consult all stakeholders directly in the matter of Perth Airport and changes made there. It is clear that the public, particularly those who live in the hills area of Pearce, have lost faith in Airservices and the government’s ability to manage the issue of aircraft noise. For the people of Pearce, Hasluck, Swan and Canning, changes to flight paths were made in 2008 without proper consultation or referral to the department of environment. In fact, the lack of process was shameful. It has negatively impacted the lives of many and yet the minister has not seen fit to respond to the committee report.

Consistently, evidence collected during the course of that inquiry demonstrates a lack of organisational openness and transparency. Among the 10 recommendations of the report were the establishment of an Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, independent of Airservices Australia, to ensure greater transparency, openness and accountability and public confidence in the noise complaints process; an independent review of Airservices Australia’s communications and consultation protocols, the strengthening of the community consultation process and funding of community advocates where there are significant changes proposed; the referral of changes to Perth airspace under WARRP to the minister for environment, as Airservices Australia did not seek advice on whether it triggered an environmental assessment; and a review of the aircraft noise exposure forecast process to ensure the accuracy of forecasts with a view of offering Perth residents a noise insulation scheme similar to that already operating in other capital cities in Australia.

I wrote to the minister on 14 July asking him to fully implement the recommendations of the report. I received no response from this letter until 27 September, after directing a second letter to the minister. However, without reference to the Senate report and its different recommendations, Minister Albanese issued a media release on 27 July 2010 regarding the establishment of an aircraft noise ombudsman. That was hardly an appointment at arm’s length, as the suggestion of the minister was that this be paid for by Airservices Australia and originally to be located within Airservices Australia. I came to Canberra immediately after the election to speak to the then Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman, Mr Ron Brent, about my concerns as to the lack of arm’s length operation of the ombudsman appointment. It is a matter of concern that that is the only recommendation that was acted on and it was acted on during a time when the parliament was in caretaker mode. We did not have a chance to comment about that particular matter and the need to have a completely independent ombudsman if there is to be any public confidence in that appointment.

Nevertheless, given that there had been no response from the Gillard government to the Senate inquiry, I think it scandalous that an ombudsman could be appointed during an election when the government is in caretaker mode. Not only does this go against the guidelines of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet but also it attempts to circumvent the real issues with Airservices Australia and aircraft noise. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet guidelines for caretaker mode indicate that governments should defer making significant appointments during the caretaker period, and I put it to you that this is a significant appointment, certainly in the eyes of constituents in Pearce and in many other parts of Australia where people have been adversely impacted by changes to flight paths and other matters.

This appointment qualifies as ‘significant’ and, given the controversy of the announcement, I would have thought the Prime Minister and the minister, the member for Grayndler, would have opted against making such an announcement during an election campaign. I can only presume that this decision was made during the election in an attempt to save the then member for Hasluck from defeat.

My experiences in the electorate of Pearce and the stories related to me by constituents have shown, as the shadow minister rightly acknowledged last week, sometimes complaints have not been handled as well as they should—and that is an understatement. Sometimes communities have not been appropriately consulted about changes to flight plans and alterations to noise levels. Airports must also be conscious of ensuring they develop, maintain and nurture a good relationship with the people who live around them.

In regard to this legislation, though, the Senate committee has not had a chance to complete the new review following referral in this new parliament. In my experience the Senate does an excellent job of reviewing legislation, often ironing out serious problems, and it would have been preferable to have had this debate after the Senate committee had completed its deliberations.

As there does appear to be a lack of clarity and definition to aspects of this bill, I hope those interested in the legislation will present to the Senate committee in time for the finalisation of its inquiry by 16 November. A full and complete inquiry may uncover defects in the bill or ways in which it can be improved. Given the contribution that airports make as critical parts of our national infrastructure, we would be remiss if we did not take the time to get this legislation right.

Airports do play a vital part in contemporary society in the movement of people and goods. While it is important that they are not unduly hindered by excessive regulation and onerous costs, we must always make sure in this place that we balance that against the interests of the community surrounding the airports. While airports play a valuable role in supporting the economy and connecting Australians, aviation also imposes burdens on local communities that surround them through increased noise, traffic and pollution.

With so many people and industries relying on air transport today, it is unlikely that traffic will diminish any time soon, but given the power of Airservices to change the flight paths and impact on people’s quiet enjoyment of their property it is absolutely necessary to have a proper, open and accountable public process and consultation process before the changes take place, not after. In the case of the 2008 changes, this public consultation simply did not happen. It is vital that the public has absolute confidence in the process that we ultimately preside over.

Airservices should, though, take a leaf out of Perth Airport’s book in regard to the open and accountable public consultation process. Perth Airport set an excellent example earlier this year when it delivered its community information program when it had plans to resurface its major runway. Those communities which may have been affected by temporary changes to flight paths were fully briefed of the airport’s schedule of works and the importance of these works to take place at this particular time. Clearly, it is vital that in planning airports there is cooperation between all tiers of government and effective communication and consultation with the general public. The outcome of those works in Perth has been for the most part quite acceptable to the public. They knew exactly what was happening, when it was happening and how long they would have to put up with the disruption.

Airport master plans are important to local communities as they set out development plans over a 20-year period and are updated usually every five years. Master plans and major developments are subject to periods of public consultation and this bill changes the manner in which these consultations are to be conducted. There have been reservations about aspects of those changes which need greater public airing. The Senate inquiry would have fully explored these issues so that we could have had a more informed debate in this chamber before being asked to approve this particular legislation.

I conclude by repeating the remarks of the shadow minister, the member for Wide Bay, when at the conclusion of his contribution—and a very sound contribution it was to this place—he said:

Whether or not amendments are required, and what those amendments should be, is not yet clear—

because we have not obviously gone through that process—

but we will take the appropriate action to ensure that Australia’s airports are well and efficiently regulated.