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Thursday, 13 February 2014
Page: 434


Mr RANDALL (Canning) (16:35): I wish to raise my concerns about an investigation into the crash of a light aircraft near Victoria Falls in Zambia on 9 September 2004 in which three Australian citizens were killed: Justine Watters and her husband Matthew, both 26, and Matthew's mother Shirley, 58. Also killed in that crash were their British friends, Justin and Rebecca Ward, also 26, and the Canadian pilot, Mike Channer, 24.

It is important that the Australian parliament maintains an interest in this case because the South African authorities have failed to take action on this tragic matter. I stand here today in respect of my colleagues' work on this issue. I thank the member for Brand, Gary Gray, for his strident support of this issue and for raising this matter in detail in his address-in-reply contribution. I also thank the former member for Pearce, Judi Moylan, who, before her retirement, committed a tireless pursuit of justice and truth in this matter.

The UK parliament also continues to pursue the matter, with the shadow minister for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, John Speller, questioning the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mark Simmonds, as to the recent representations his department made to the government of South Africa. Mr Simmonds stated that, most recently, the deputy high commissioner met the South African Civil Aviation Authority on 18 November 2013. I will table this document at the end.

These representations must continue. The plane passengers in question were on holiday when they took the flight on a Cessna airplane known as ZS-KOX. During the flight, the plane's propeller fell off at 8,000 feet. The ZS-KOX was a South African registered and maintained aircraft maintained by an authorised maintenance organisation, Nelair Engineering. In 2006, Nelair had its aircraft maintenance licence revoked. It was surprisingly reinstated in 2007. Nelair continued to operate and was linked to two other major crashes, with one incident also involving a propeller coming off a plane. When news of Nelair's reinstatement became public, the licence was again revoked.

Following the 2004 crash, a joint demarche signed by the High Commissions of Australia, Britain and Canada was presented to the South African Civil Aviation Authority. The demarche sought assurance that the South African Civil Aviation Authority had handed over necessary evidence to the South African Prosecuting Authority. It also sought to clarify the relationship between Nelair and Raylen Turbine Services, which is said to be a phoenix company in the air maintenance business in South Africa. The similarities between the two companies include: the staff and principals in both companies are basically the same; Raylen spelt backwards is similar to Nelair, as you can see; and facilities used and shared responsibilities are within the same team or ownership. You can see how incestuous the phoenix operation is.

The Zambian Department of Civil Aviation has since conducted an investigation into the crash. The investigation determined that the cause of the accident was the in-flight detachment of the propeller—in other words, the department was also aware that the propeller fell off. It says probable contributing factors were improper torque of the propeller studs, failure to wire-lock the studs, failure to follow correct propeller installation procedures and failure to use manufacturer approved parts. Basically, they used a garden bolt to put on the propeller.

Details of the crash were also referred to the South African National Prosecution Authority for review. The NPA then referred the matter to the police for investigation. However, most significantly, the case has been severely hampered as the South African Civil Aviation Authority claims to have lost the key pre-crash maintenance file. Additionally, plane components analysed by the American National Transportation Safety Board, which were held in storage by the Zambian Department of Civil Aviation, also went missing and cannot be traced. The NPA decided it was possible that offences of culpable homicide had been committed. However, the NPA has been frustrated in its investigations.

Since essential evidence has gone missing, criminal prosecution is now unlikely. Raylen continues to operate without scrutiny. How can this be? Despite direct representations to the South African government by the Howard government, the Gillard and Rudd governments, and now the Abbott government, through ongoing representations by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the investigation into the crash and issues about the operation of Nelair or Raylen remain unresolved.

South Africa is meant to be a modern and responsible nation with a government that protects its citizens and its visitors. If it wishes to encourage tourism, it cannot allow these things to continue to be unresolved. You cannot bring back those who perished, but there can and must be justice. I wish to table the question on notice and acknowledge the presence of the member for Brand in the chamber.