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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7276

Mrs MOYLAN (Pearce) (11:13): From the outset, I thank the member for Swan for seconding the Air Services (Aircraft Noise) Amendment Bill 2011 and for his input into the drafting of it. In October 2009 I came into this place and made the comment that it is incumbent on the government to re-examine the act governing Airservices Australia to ensure rigorous public accountability and to make provision for a more consistent approach to changes to air routes. The issue of aircraft noise is a significant one for people in every state of Australia. Since March 2009 my office has been handling frequent constituent complaints from affected residents who have raised questions about why changes were made to flight paths in the eastern suburbs of Perth without adequate community consultation. With the support of the Senate, the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport conducted an inquiry into the effectiveness of Airservices Australia's management of aircraft noise. It became obvious during the course of that inquiry that there is a lack of consistency Australia-wide in dealing with flight path changes. Also apparent was a lack of public confidence in the processes around changing flight paths and around the handling of complaints in relation to aircraft noise. This amending legislation seeks to remedy these inconsistencies and to place in legislation many of the recommendations of that Senate inquiry. It took more than six months from the release of the inquiry report for the government to respond. Recommendation 10, the appointment of an Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, is the only recommendation fully implemented so far by the government.

The objective of this bill is to require Airservices Australia to consult and cooperate with government, commercial, industrial, consumer and other relevant bodies and organisations in the modification of existing flight paths and in the creation of new ones. Integral to this is a complaints process which must be properly explained to the public and relevant bodies, with details of community consultation to be published. Airservices Australia must advise the minister responsible for the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 when changes to airspace are likely. Following this, a community aviation advocate will be employed for the duration of the consultation process and until the new flight paths or changes to airspace are implemented. The automatic referral of the bill to the EPBC Act eliminates the grey areas in dealing with this matter. Previously Airservices Australia self assessed environmental impacts and referred to the minister responsible for this act where changes were significant. What is deemed to be significant is something that is open to interpretation.

A community aviation advocate is to be appointed when the minister is advised of the proposed changes to airspace. The role will assist, inform and advocate on behalf of affected communities. Airservices Australia must also propose a plan for the management of flight paths relating to Perth which may be either the current plan or a changed plan. This potentially includes a new consultation around the Western Australia Route Review Project of 2008—the review that led to the changes which have severely affected residents in the Pearce electorate as well as in the electorates of Canning, Swan and Hasluck and to a lesser extent in the electorates of Stirling and Cowan.

The impact of changes to aircraft flight plans on individuals and families should not be underestimated. In a survey sent out to affected households in the electorate of Pearce in 2009, 85 per cent of respondents reported an increase in air traffic within their local area. It is alarming, though, that almost 90 per cent of those respondents reported that they were not aware of any proposal to change the flight paths within their local area prior to November 2008 when the changes were made.

A focal point of this bill is improving Airservices' consultation processes, which were lacking during the Western Australia Route Review Project. It is clear that there is strong bipartisan support for an improved community consultation process to be undertaken by Airservices when making decisions on flight paths. The current Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the member for Grayndler ,was very vocal on this point while in opposition. In 2001, he said:

The practical impact of aircraft noise on the people in the communities that I represent is much greater than suggested by theoreticians, the forecasters who sit comfortably in offices in Canberra.

I could not agree more. In 1999, the member for Grayndler also presented a bill to establish an aviation noise watchdog and advocated for an ombudsman, and he said:

Any changes to aircraft routes over populated areas will have to be examined by the aviation noise ombudsman. The aviation noise ombudsman will ensure that committee complaints regarding excessive aircraft noise ... are heard without bias and judged fairly on the merits of the case.

The automatic referral of the flight path changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 will ensure the consultation process considers environmental impacts. Apart from the impact of aircraft noise, there is the matter of the pollution caused by high-density flights.

A key objective of this bill is to legislate to ensure an effective noise complaint service. This will involve a detailed commentary on complaints and annual reports, including the efficiency and the effectiveness of the complaints processes. I was very pleased to read the 11 February review of complaints handling by the new Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, who was appointed just after the election—as I said, one of the 10 recommendations that was actually acted on by the government. The Aircraft Noise Ombudsman clearly indicated in his report that there have already been some changes made to improve this process. That is enormously important. The ability for the public to lodge a complaint and register frustration is vital. In releasing his review of Airservices Australia's handling of noise complaints, the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, Mr Ron Brent, said that significant changes to the way complaints are handled and recorded were needed. Airservices Australia have acknowledged the need to improve these processes. In the report, Mr Brent said:

By adopting a solution-driven approach it is more likely that cases where something can be changed will be identified. At the same time, it is important that information provided to complainants responds specifically to the issues raised in each individual case.

The report recommends that the focus should shift to an increased emphasis on the underlying issues. The benefits of this will be that Airservices Australia can devote more resources to investigating and resolving complaints and complainants will not feel obliged to spend excessive time and effort lodging many complaints to have ongoing or recurring issues addressed. In the long process of consultation to bring this bill into parliament, I was very fortunate to have a community group, many of whom had some experience in aircraft noise issues, who set up a website called FairSkies. I am very grateful for the constructive way in which members of my community who have been affected by the changes to aircraft flight paths over Perth have worked with me to ensure that this bill would become a reality and could be introduced into this parliament today. I am particularly grateful to those members of FairSkies who met regularly: Mr Tony Anderson, Mr Peter Bourne, Mr Ian Davies, Mr Peter Stewart and Councillor John Daw.

I would also like to thank the clerks for their assistance in the drafting of this bill. I commend the bill to the House and, indeed, the government.

Bill read a first time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): In accordance with standing order 41(c), the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.