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Tuesday, 31 March 1998
Page: 1683

Senator Chris Evans asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Development, upon notice, on 25 November 1997:

(1) Has the Minister received a letter, dated 8 October 1997, from Mr Ken Griggs, Branch Secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia.

(2) What Staff cuts have taken place at airports throughout Australia to rescue and firefighting services.

(3) Is the department aware that Airservices Australia is introducing a business plan which would reduce the number of aviation firefighters throughout Australia from 600 to approximately 120 or 150 by 1998.

(4) Can a list of the airports, which currently have access to airport fire and rescue services be provided.

(5) Which airports will still have access to fire and rescue services if the business plan by Airservices Australia is implemented.

(6) What standard of fire and rescue service will these airports have if the business plan is implemented.

(7) Does the department believe that this reduction in the number of fire and rescue services will reduce safety standards; if not, why not.

(8) Is the Minister's office aware of any statements made by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority regarding the effect of any reduction on safety standards.

(9) Does the department agree that, by world standards, the fire and rescue provided within Australia is considered minimal.

(10) Can the department explain how the demands of speed of attack and quick intervention will be met by the replacement of professional firefighters with part-time, part-trained auxiliary firefighters.

(11) Does the department agree that to introduce the staff cuts within the business plan while the current enterprise agreement is in place would be in breach of the act and be illegal.

(12) What steps have been taken to ensure adequate fire and rescue services at airports are maintained.

Senator Alston (Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts) —The Minister for Transport and Regional Development has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Yes

(2) Throughout Australia, over the 12 months 1/12/96 to 30/11/97, Airservices Australia (Airservices) Rescue and Fire Fighting Service (RFFS) Division reduced staff numbers by 29. This reduction was achieved by natural attrition.

(3) No. Airservices has advised that it has no plans to reduce the number of firefighters from 600 to 120-150.

(4) Airservices provides airport fire and rescue services (RFFS) at the following airports: Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Coolangatta, Darwin, Hobart, Karratha, Launceston, Mackay, Melbourne, Perth, Port Hedland, Rockhampton, and Sydney.

Avalon and Broome have their own private RFFS. Townsville has a RFFS provided by the RAAF.

(5) Airservices has advised that the RFFS draft Business Plan does not require the withdrawal of RFFS from any of their 16 RFFS locations listed in Question 4.

(6) The standards and recommended practices applied at Australian airports are pursuant to the provisions of Article 37 of the Chicago Convention 1944, as promulgated in Annex 14 by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). There will be no change to this situation if the business plan is implemented.

(7) Airservices has undertaken a safety case analysis of its draft business plan proposals. Airservices considers that an appropriate level of safety consistent with international and CASA standards will be maintained after the implementation of the RFFS Business Plan.

(8) Neither the Minister, nor his office, are aware of any such statements made by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

However, CASA has advised that Airservices wrote to CASA on 27 October 1997 requesting advice on CASA's acceptance or otherwise of proposed revised staffing levels for the Rescue and Fire Fighting Service.

On 4 November 1997, CASA's Airways Surveillance and Regulation Branch responded stating that, following an examination of the proposal, and verb al clarification of certain matters with Airservices staff, it saw no reason not to support the proposal.

CASA's advice went on to say that the levels as proposed by Airservices should be the minimum number of fully qualified officers and fire fighters to meet the appropriate airport category as per the proposal.

(9) ICAO only considers whether member states comply with their standards or notify a difference. In the case of the RFFS, Airservices complies with ICAO standards.

(10) Airservices RFFS Division has withdrawn its plans to utilise auxiliary firefighters.

(11) Airservices proposals to introduce staff reductions would be implemented through the normal consultative processes and in compliance with the Workplace Relations Act.

Airservices diligently carries out its responsibilities under the Air Services Act to provide a fire and rescue service at airports. The RFFS Division applies quality management standards to its operations under Australian Quality Standard IS0 9000. The provision of Rescue and Fire Fighting services is subject to internal and external audit, including by CASA and the Auditor-General.