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Transport Minister comments on the proposed inquiry into the Civil Aviation Authority following the crash of a Seaview Air plane with the loss of nine lives

ELLEN FANNING: The Federal Transport Minister, Laurie Brereton, denies that air safety operations in this country are out of control. Even as Mr Brereton announced the latest inquiry into the Civil Aviation Authority just last night, he was still insisting he had not been lax in his responsibilities. Sir Laurence Street will have the authority of a royal commissioner when he looks into events surrounding the fatal crash of a Seaview Air plane earlier this month.

After withstanding a gruelling day under Opposition attack in the Parliament, Mr Brereton last night left a Cabinet meeting to speak to A.M.'s Fran Kelly.

FRAN KELLY: Laurie Brereton, would you agree that all the instances we've seen in the past few weeks would lead everybody to believe that CAA air safety operations are completely out of control? Is that a fair statement?

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, I wouldn't say that, but there are some real issues of genuine concern to me and I know to the whole of the travelling public, and they are being addressed through the processes we've instituted - the parliamentary inquiry, the police investigation at the moment and the royal commission powers being vested in a judicial inquiry which I announced last night.

FRAN KELLY: Well, what will the powers of that judicial inquiry be?

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, they're all of the powers that are necessary to compel the taking of evidence so that we can have a full and proper investigation of the Civil Aviation Authority's dealings with Seaview Air's operations. I'm not looking for a very long inquiry but I'd like it to be a comprehensive one and to report by early next year.

FRAN KELLY: The Opposition wants that inquiry to investigate your behaviour in all this. Will that be included in the terms of reference?

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, I've got nothing to fear in terms of my behaviour. After all, every time evidence has been brought forward by the Opposition or anyone else, it's been acted upon and acted upon very quickly. It's not any laxity on my part that saw the Shadow Minister for Transport decline three opportunities to come forward with his evidence in June and July of this year. But he did ask me for a parliamentary inquiry in order that he could present his evidence, and I set up that inquiry. So at each point when a genuine concern has been expressed, there's been an avenue developed for that to be processed.

FRAN KELLY: Well, that's true. You say you acted quickly, but John Sharp made these accusations in May this year. Did you then, as the Minister responsible, go personally to the CAA? Apart from calling for a parliamentary inquiry, did you get on the phone and say: What is this all about?

LAURIE BRERETON: I spoke to him personally, and I sent across his remarks and called for them to be investigated. I set up the parliamentary inquiry so that he and everyone else could have this matter properly investigated.

FRAN KELLY: But through all this, Minister, were alarm bells ringing in your head enough for you to have daily or constant contact with the CAA, at least to say: What is going on here? I want constant reports here; I want this fixed up.

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, of course the Civil Aviation Authority who had, after all, the statutory duty - they're a government business undertaking, they're independent of the Minister, they've got these responsibilities - of course they were expected to carry them out.

FRAN KELLY: But that was May this year. Now, every day almost, we're reading of some other different complaint, different problem with air safety, different cover up with the CAA, and why didn't you know about all of this?

LAURIE BRERETON: One of the things that arisen in the wake of the Seaview disaster is a whole range of material that's coming to light for the first time. There have been a great number of leaks from inside the Civil Aviation Authority and there have been numerous things said that cause general public concern. And it's for that reason that Sir Laurence Street will conduct his inquiry.

FRAN KELLY: As the Minister responsible for CAA, how much confidence do you have in the management, the senior management of CAA right now?

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, when I've had a problem, as I had with what I knew was a very inadequate performance by the Director of Air Safety, I put it to the executors of the CAA that he should be transferred from those duties. And he was, immediately. That was on Monday ....

FRAN KELLY: Isn't there enough evidence now, though, to show there's a few more inadequate performances?

LAURIE BRERETON: I think none of us should get ahead of ourselves. We should await the parliamentary inquiry, the police investigation and the work to be undertaken by Sir Laurence Street. Then there'll be an opportunity for the public and for all of us to proceed with certainty.

FRAN KELLY: And will they allow some kind of scrutiny of your performance in all this as the Minister responsible?

LAURIE BRERETON: They'll provide an opportunity to scrutinise the Civil Aviation Authority's dealing with this matter. If anyone has any complaints about me they can bring them to the Parliament any day of the week or to the parliamentary inquiry or anywhere else. I repeat: I've got nothing to hide in this matter because I haven't withheld any information at any point along the way.

ELLEN FANNING: The Federal Transport Minister.