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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4269


Senator IAN MACDONALD (10:42 AM) —I am conscious of the need for speed in dealing with these very important bills, but regrettably I will have to take just a few minutes to put on record the coalition’s position in relation to the Excise Tariff Amendment (Aviation Fuel) Bill 2010 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Aviation Fuel) Bill 2010.

This is important legislation. Aviation safety, to which this legislation relates, is also very important. But the government, as with all things aviational, seems to treat it as an afterthought. The government has become recognised for its lack of any real consultation with the industry in relation to aviation matters. The passage of this legislation—its introduction and the way it is being rushed through the Senate on the last day of what will be the last sitting of this parliament, one would think, after the events of this morning—is typical of the Labor Party’s inability to manage anything in government, particularly the safety of our airways.

Because of the lack of consultation with the industry and because of the cavalier way in which the minister and the government treat aviation safety, the coalition quite rightly wanted this to be looked at by a Senate committee, and I am delighted that Senator Back and Senator Colbeck, as part of the committee, looked very carefully into the legislation and came up with a number of recommendations. Whilst the coalition does not like to increase any aviation taxes, in the end we thought that in the interests of safety we should allow this bill through subject to some very strict requirements, that key performance indicators are adopted by CASA. The committee recommended and the coalition supports that CASA must consult more with its clients and improve its own level of efficiency. The organisation—that is, CASA and its staff—must develop these key performance indicators and measure its own performance.

The coalition, whilst not opposing this legislation today, will be questioning CASA at Senate estimates and on other occasions about how they are using the extra funding provided by these bills. Effectively, we want to make sure that CASA are effective in their expenditure and that they enter into meaningful discussions with the industry and make sure that the things they do are talked through with industry.

Industry are, in fact, the best people to advise on the safety of our skies. There is nothing more important to the industry than safety; yet the government and CASA seem to ignore them and treat them as some aliens when it comes to these questions. If in this instance the industry had been more involved by the government in these issues, the whole thing would have gone through much smoother and much more effectively and we would not be rushing it through in a couple of minutes on the last day of sitting in this parliament.

There are a lot of complaints about CASA. We know they have a difficult job and an important job, but the way they interact with their clients is very, very important. From time immemorial we have had those complaints, and they seem to be on the increase again. We need to ensure that CASA and the government, for as long as it remains the government—and, after today, you would think that would not be very long—or even an incoming coalition government are aware that parliament will be looking at CASA’s expenditure and will be looking at their consultation with industry, and their ability to work with industry rather than against industry.

These bills, as we know, increase the excise levied on fuel by 25 per cent, and the funds raised from that increase are to be allocated to CASA to enable them to recruit new staff and to expand their surveillance activities. I understand that, if this legislation is not passed, 50 existing CASA inspectors will be put off in the next couple of weeks. Of course, one of the reasons that we are letting this through is to provide money so that that does not happen. Some of the money raised by this tax increase will go towards CASA to clear up a backlog of regulatory reforms.

The way in which these increases in levies are calculated has been very clearly enumerated by the shadow minister, Mr Truss, in the other place. So, for brevity, I will not go through the details, except to indicate that not all aviation fuel is subject to excise. The military, for example, are not charged excise on aviation fuel. Importantly, under international treaties, aviation fuel on international flights is also exempt. So it is rather ironic that, while these levies are for safety principally on international routes, it is actually the domestic aviation sector that is paying the levies to ensure safety.

A lot of issues were raised by the committee—and, again, I thank my colleagues on the committee for their careful inquisition into all aspects of this. I know the committee and the airline industry were shattered by the aggressive approach taken by government senators on this committee. Some of the airline operators were quite amazed at the vehemence of attacks by Labor senators—for example, saying, ‘Why didn’t you read the budget papers and so something about this before we got to the committee hearing?’ The people they were talking to belong to an association with one or two employees, who are not in a position to trawl through every line of the budget to try to look at these things. If the minister and the government had taken the time to bring the industry in, had taken them into their confidence to look into these issues and had worked with the industry rather than against them, the whole passage of this legislation would have been much smoother.

The industry was surprised when this came in, in spite of claims by the government. There is no reference in the white paper to an impending increase in the excise on aviation fuel. As I mentioned, the government had not contacted any aviation industry stakeholders on this issue before introducing these bills. It is the same with that disallowance motion that we dealt with last week, which I think we disallowed yesterday—if not, it will be disallowed later today when the government finishes speaking on it. Many in the aviation industry found out about the excise increase when they were contacted by Mr Truss for their opinion on this. Some of them were not even aware of this. That shows the lack of consultation by this government, which is renowned for its lack of consultation, its mismanagement and its lack of understanding of any business principles whatsoever.

Of course, today we seem to have gone out of the frying pan and into the fire when it comes to the leadership of government. We know that the gang of four have been making decisions that have been disastrous for Australia—the insulation fiasco, the ETS fiasco, the mining tax fiasco. All of those things were determined by the former Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister—or about to be the current Prime Minister, I think—Mr Swan and Mr Tanner. So things will not change unless we change the government—and, hopefully that will happen. One of the reasons that the government must change is that this government simply has no idea of good business principles, good management and how to consult and deal with the industry it is trying to administer.

There are many other issues I want to raise, but time is not going to allow me. I do just mention that maintaining Australia’s reputation for safe skies is important and ensuring our top level status with the International Civil Aviation Organisation—ICAO—and with the American Federal Aviation Authority is something that everyone in this parliament and the industry supports. Whilst this is all related to maintaining those ratings, the minister did not mention that at all in his speech. He simply spent his speech trying to create confected outrage because the opposition and the industry actually wanted to have a look at what this bill was all about.

In spite of our concerns and lack of consultation, and in spite of the very aggressive way in which Labor senators attacked the industry at the committee, the coalition will, in the interests of safety and in the interests of allowing CASA to be properly resourced to ensure that Australia maintains its reputation for safe skies, not be opposing this legislation in the Senate. The aviation industry is made up of very reasonable people. They are all willing to pay their way, but they quite rightly expect to be treated fairly rather than arrogantly and in a bullying manner by a government that is renowned for that. Methinks it will get worse with recent happenings in the Labor Party.

In concluding, I make it clear to the government and the aviation industry that the coalition will not be agreeing to any further increases in this excise unless CASA is able to clearly demonstrate that it is delivering better results. As I have indicated, for this government—as long as it remains—and for an incoming coalition government, we will be carefully watching CASA to ensure that they get key performance indicators in place and that they do measure their performance and actually work with the industry in the interests of safety in our skies, which is of paramount importance to all of us and particularly to the aviation industry itself.