Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Minister says Tim Fischer's leadership of the National Party is secure; believes the public has a lack of confidence in the competency of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority

PETER THOMPSON: The crash of a Falcon Airlines plane off Cairns last Sunday night has prompted fresh criticism of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, CASA, with the mother of a Falcon Airlines pilot claiming she advised the authority, seven months ago, that the airline was a disaster waiting to happen. Fortunately, no lives were lost on Sunday, but the office of the Federal Transport Minister, John Sharp, has now written to CASA about its response to complaints about the airline and any conflicts of interest relating to CASA officers. The Minister's in our Parliament House studio now to talk to Pru Goward.

PRU GOWARD: Minister, thank you for joining us this morning. And just very quickly before we get to Falcon Airlines, the leadership of Tim Fischer. Do you accept that there's criticism from Queensland, that you're too much a Liberal Party and not identified enough with National Party interests?

JOHN SHARP: Oh well, there's always criticism from Queensland ever since I've been a member of the parliamentary party. The Queensland element of the party has always found good reasons, in their view, to criticise the leaders and those who they see at the top of the party. So I don't see this as being any different to what we've experienced over the last 12 or 15 years.

PRU GOWARD: And he's safe?

JOHN SHARP: Oh, Tim's very safe. Tim's doing a good job; he's taken some tough decisions and he's doing a very good job.

PRU GOWARD: Now, to the Falcon Airlines crash. Your letter to Justice Fisher, which I have, is particularly concerned about the activities of one CASA employee, David Kilin, who apparently at one stage also had shares in Falcon Airlines, which is the trading name of Barrier. What is your concern there?

JOHN SHARP: Well, CASA employed this Mr Kilin earlier this year to be a flying operations inspector. At the time of his employment, it's alleged that he owned shares, and a large parcel of shares, in this particular airline. Now, there have been concerns about a conflict of interest. Here you have a person charged with the responsibility of monitoring the operations of airlines also owning airlines.

PRU GOWARD: But he sold the shares.

JOHN SHARP: Well, he did sell the shares, but it appears that the person he sold the shares to is somebody who lives at the same address as he lives at, and so the concern about conflict of interest continues because of the relationship between himself and the owner of the shares that he once held.

PRU GOWARD: And so, as far as you're concerned this is an issue of public confidence in CASA?

JOHN SHARP: Well, it is an issue of public confidence in CASA. It also goes to the competence of CASA. If CASA is doing its job properly, then these conflicts of interest would have been dealt with some considerable time ago, and yet today they still exist, and we want to make sure that the process that CASA employs is the proper one and that we can ensure that their surveillance of this airline is being carried out properly.

PRU GOWARD: Minister, no lives were lost in this crash off Cairns, but it seems, from the nature of the letter and the way it's been set out, that this is your opportunity to suggest the board of CASA, headed by Justice Fisher, now ought to be sacked or dismissed by executive movement. Correct?

JOHN SHARP: Well, this is part of what I would see as the normal process for me to be monitoring CASA, because I'm very interested in the performance of the civil aviation safety regulator.

PRU GOWARD: So it's not part of another move to get rid of Justice Fisher and the board?

JOHN SHARP: No, it's not part of a move to get rid of Justice Fisher and the board. I mean, as you know, I've made that quite obvious, but it is a move to ensure that CASA is doing the job it ought to be doing and in a way that removes any doubt about its competence. And so that's my job, I see, over the next few years.

PRU GOWARD: Do you think there is any doubt about the confidence the public has in CASA?

JOHN SHARP: I think the public does have a lot of doubt about the competency of CASA. It's had some disastrous occurrences over the last few years and to this date. Because I believe that the board is not properly qualified to be doing the job, I think that public confidence, or that lack of public confidence, continues.

PRU GOWARD: Minister, thank you for your time this morning.

JOHN SHARP: Thank you, Pru.

PETER THOMPSON: The Federal Transport Minister, John Sharp.