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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Performance of Airservices Australia

ANGUS, Mr Stephen, Executive General Manager, Air Navigation Services, Airservices Australia

HARFIELD, Mr Jason, Chief Executive Officer, Airservices Australia

WOOD, Mr Glenn, Chief Fire Office, Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Services, Airservices Australia

Committee met at 08:51

CHAIR ( Senator O'Sullivan ): I open this Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee into the oversight of the operations of Airservices Australia. The committee is inquiring into the operation of Airservices Australia under Senate standing order 25(2)(a). I welcome you all here today. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings shall be made.

Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that, in giving evidence, they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, but under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that the witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness shall state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground that is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request the answer be given in camera. Such a request may, of course, also be made at any other time.

I remind senators that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Officers are also reminded that any claim that it would be contrary to the public interest to answer a question must be made by a minister and should be accompanied by a statement setting out the basis for the claim.

Finally, on behalf of the committee, I'd like to thank those officials who are attending here today. I now welcome officials from Airservices Australia. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear today?

Mr Angus : Air navigation services is the air traffic control operation.

CHAIR: Thank you, gentlemen. Mr Harfield, I invite you to make a brief opening statement or, if you want to, yield or defer to one of your attending officials to do so. Do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Harfield : No, other than just to say thank you and that we welcome the opportunity to be here. I've brought my colleague, the chief fire officer, Glenn Wood, as well as Stephen Angus, who is the executive general manager. We welcome your questions.

CHAIR: It has become my practice at the outset just to suggest, technique-wise, that witnesses listen very carefully to the questions being asked by the senators and respond in—well, I should use the word 'responsive'. Be responsive with the answers, otherwise, as we all know, this will go on and on and we'll come back until we are satisfied that we've got the information that the committee requires to make its deliberations.

Senator GALLACHER: I'm going to go to the Brisbane and Adelaide situation. Mr Harfield, you were saying that the TRA assessment is not a CASA requirement. You were saying it's up to Airservices to conduct that and you were saying that there's no agreement with ICAO that a TRA should be undertaken prior to changing their crew. Is that what you're telling me in that letter you've written?

Mr Harfield : I'll hand over to the chief fire officer to provide the detail. But, currently, as it stands, we determine the staffing numbers to the category, which are approved by CASA. The TRA model is not part of the current regulatory suite but part of the regulatory review that has been undertaken. It is expected that it will be put into the regulations next year. But I'll ask the chief fire officer to go into further detail.

Mr Wood : I want to say, first up, that we strongly support the use of task resourcing to develop staffing levels, and, in fact, Airservices was a very early user of this type of methodology; perhaps we were the first. Our staffing levels are built on task-resourcing methodology.

Senator GALLACHER: But you're not using it.

Mr Wood : Yes, we do. Our staffing levels are built on task-resourcing methodology, but it's not the model currently published by ICAO. We did support and encourage ICAO to build and include a staff-resourcing methodology in its documentation, and it has it. It has a recommendation to use it, and we've been in discussion with CASA in recent times to have that model reflected in the current Australian regulatory framework. But, at the moment, it's not in there. We are underway, though, to commence a review using staffing resourcing methodology.

Senator GALLACHER: Are you aware of a letter from the Hon. Michael McCormack to the United Firefighters Union of Australia Aviation Branch in Brisbane, which says: 'CASA has confirmed previous risk assessments completed by Airservices in relation to operational staff numbers for ARFFS were endorsed by CASA and are now due for review. CASA has advised Airservices they should complete the ARFFS staffing assessment based on the ICAO standards and recommended practices related to the TRA process.'

Mr Wood : Yes, I am aware of that. Our staffing levels are currently approved by CASA. They are built on task-resourcing methodology, not the current ICAO model. We are currently building that framework. We expect to have it finished by the end of the year. In 2019, we'll be reviewing our staffing levels at all locations under a new TRA framework that is built around the guiding principles set by ICAO.

Senator GALLACHER: How does that relate back to Mr Harfield's letter—which says what? It doesn't put TRA at the centre of the piece? What is your response, Mr Harfield? You came back to us and said: 'CASA has nothing to do with TRA. It's our business and ICAO haven't done whatever.'

Mr Wood : I can—

Mr Harfield : The letter states that we support the TRA; we're implementing the TRA per the ICAO methodology. The current situation is that we use a task-resource analysis model to build our staff numbers, which isn't exactly the same as the new ICAO model, and we build up the staff numbers and then CASA approves those staff numbers. That's what the letter says.

Senator GALLACHER: So, cutting through all of this, in Adelaide you've operated with a certain number of firefighters in the curfew hours. You're proposing to reduce those firefighters. Is that correct?

Mr Harfield : We're currently—

Senator GALLACHER: You're investigating.

Mr Harfield : We're investigating the fact that currently the regulation requires a cat. 5 overnight, which is during the curfew hours, because it's outside public transport operations. That staffing level is one officer and two firefighters. We've historically staffed Adelaide at five firefighters and we're currently looking at why it is above the regulations.

Senator GALLACHER: Just on Adelaide, on that point, if you've got one officer and two firefighters, can you fight a fire in a plane?

Mr Harfield : I'll hand that to the chief fire officer.

Mr Wood : In a certain sized plane you certainly can.

Senator GALLACHER: 'In a certain sized plane'? Are you going to know which plane's going to be on fire?

Mr Wood : That is the level that's provided at Adelaide at the moment. It's important that we continually review our operations at all locations to ensure the safe, effective and efficient delivery of services so—

Senator GALLACHER: I'm all for safe, efficient delivery of services, but I'm not in favour of introducing additional risk. My simple advice has been that, in order to fight a fire in a plane, you need a couple putting the fire out and you need somebody standing by to rescue. Now, can you do that?

Mr Wood : Let me explain, Senator. We're doing some work at the moment. We have five staff on duty at the moment, and we have no plans to change that number. What we are doing is a safety review to understand why we're providing these additional staff over and above the level approved by CASA. There may be some very good reasons for that. So the work we're doing will assess location-specific risks, the emergency response profile at Adelaide during the curfew period, the number of diversions and other things that happen during that curfew period, and the availability of support services. This safety work, which is due to be completed in the next couple of months, will then be fed into the TRA framework that I just mentioned that we expect to be finished by the end of the year. But let me assure you, Senator—

CHAIR: I don't mean to interfere with your line of answers or the senator's questioning, but I have listened carefully twice now whilst the senator has asked you a question and you haven't answered it. His question was quite simple, and I will invite him to repeat it in his own words: with respect to a certain number of personnel, are they capable of dealing with an event of a plane crashing? Can I ask you to ask the question again.

Senator GALLACHER: If there's a fire on the Toll freighter and it's adjacent to 18 other bays, six of which have aircraft on, will three people be able to operate safely and effectively?

Mr Wood : The CASA approval says yes, Senator. We have five staff currently on duty, and we—

CHAIR: Mr Wood, this is going to get longer and louder. You're a professional in the space. The senator's question is very, very clear about whether there's a capacity. I personally don't give a continental fig about who thinks what. I'm interested in your professional assessment as to whether they can respond in those circumstances, so I'd ask you to confine your answer to the burden of the question.

Mr Wood : Could you repeat the question again, please, Senator.

Senator GALLACHER: With a reduction to a team of three, will they be able to efficiently and safely handle a fire on an aircraft at Adelaide Airport?

Mr Wood : During the curfew period?

Senator GALLACHER: Yes.

Mr Wood : If it's a freighter fire, freighters do not have passengers on board, so in terms of extinguishing the fire, controlling the fire and protecting escape paths I would say the answer is yes.

Senator GALLACHER: If it is, say, a medical evacuation, a flying doctor service where it has two nurses, a retrieval team, a couple of pilots and a patient, would they be able to respond?

Mr Wood : That would be debatable, and that's why we need to do the safety work.

Senator GALLACHER: 'Debatable'? It's either yes or no. You were very definitive on freight.

Mr Wood : That's right, but, remember, Senator, we've just said that freight—

Senator GALLACHER: If you've got a passenger on a stretcher, you've got two nurses, you've got an ICU drip-feed, you've got doctors and you've got pilots—

Mr Wood : Correct, so it is a slightly higher risk than the freighter aircraft with two people on board. I expect there could be four to five people on the flying doctor plane. That's why, perhaps, we have the additional staff, and that's what we're looking into to support that and to do the work to find out.

Senator GALLACHER: You know that we've got a magnificent retrieval centre at Adelaide Airport, and that's why we're saving so many people in road accidents these days, because it is a 24-hour facility and the flying doctor does absolutely marvellous work. In the event that there's a problem with one of those planes, can you say categorically that you could efficiently and safely operate?

Mr Wood : Yes, I can, depending on the size of an aircraft. If it's a PC-9—I think they probably operate there—the category 5 level service will certainly, clearly, be able to extinguish the fire, protect the escape paths—

Senator GALLACHER: And category 5 is—refresh the committee's memory—one and four?

Mr Wood : No, category 5 is one and two. We currently provide one and four, and that's what I am saying. We're not proposing to change that level at the moment. We are saying we need to understand why.

Senator GALLACHER: The other question then is: if ICAO says you need people fighting and retrieving and other people standing ready to assist firefighters who get into trouble, how do you do that in that circumstance?

Mr Wood : That's not what ICAO actually says. What ICAO says is that we need to extinguish the external fire, protect escape paths and assist those who can to get off, to escape, and then the rescue will more than likely be undertaken with the assistance of responding services. The rescue of occupants may then occur with the assistance of other responding services. That's why we have it.

Senator GALLACHER: If someone is on a stretcher on a flying doctor plane, I presume that would be the rescue?

Mr Wood : Correct, depending on the situation. Let me just reinforce that we have more staff than the CASA approval level. We have no plans to change that level at the moment.

Senator GALLACHER: Not to be too cynical about this, but your funding model is on passenger numbers?

Mr Harfield : No, it's not. It's based on movements.

Senator GALLACHER: Just refresh my memory. What have the movements at Adelaide Airport been in the last 10 years? There's been something like a 50 per cent increase?

Mr Harfield : I would have to take that on notice, but it has been growing at a reasonable rate.

Senator GALLACHER: It has been growing at an exponential rate. So there is no funding pressure coming on your decision here, is there?

Mr Harfield : No, it's not, Senator.

Senator GALLACHER: There's no funding pressure. That's very clear, because the airport has just built a bloody hotel to accommodate the increased traffic. So there's no funding pressure on this evaluation?

Mr Harfield : Correct.

Senator GALLACHER: That is very clear. Now, if we get out of Brisbane—

CHAIR: Sorry, so as not to lose a train, if Senator Patrick has questions in this space, can we—

Senator PATRICK: I am happy for Senator Gallagher to continue, and I will flick across when we deal with the—

CHAIR: All right. You let me know, Alex, when you think it is a suitable time to transition.

Senator GALLACHER: Can we get the situation in Brisbane. It appears as if the decision is driven—and, once again, let's get this on the record. Brisbane have just put a new runway in. You've put a new fire station in, haven't you?

Mr Harfield : We're in the process of building one with the new runway coming on line in two years, yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Presumably, that would indicate an increase in traffic?

Mr Harfield : Yes, Senator.

Senator GALLACHER: So, once again, you are driven off movements—right?

Mr Harfield : Correct.

Senator GALLACHER: So there is no funding pressure evident at these airports in relation to these outcomes?

Mr Harfield : No, Senator.

Senator GALLACHER: So they're clearly not driven off any funding pressure whatsoever?

Mr Harfield : No, Senator.

Senator GALLACHER: Okay. There's mention made of the reduction in A380 flights to one or two a day and that you're going to take a resourcing decision, which will be that, when there isn't an A380 programmed, you'll reduce it down and, when there is, you'll move it up? Is that how I should understand the proposal?

Mr Harfield : No. That is what used to occur in Brisbane. An A380 is a category 10. The operations are staffed to the relevant category. An A380 is a category 10. Other aircraft are category 9. So, without the A380, Brisbane is a category 9 station, and it used to operate at category 9 and then move to a category 10 during the A380 movements. The model that we have put in, which is aligned to what has been operating in Perth for the last two years, is: now that there is one A380 flight a day, or two movements, we have gone to 24-hour staffing at the category 10 level.

Senator STERLE: In Perth?

Mr Harfield : In Perth that has been for the last two years, but also in Brisbane since 1 September. So they are at category 10 level 24 hours a day, even though there is only an hour and a half of the day where they need to be at category 10, when they could be at category 9 for the rest of the day.

Senator GALLACHER: And you're not changing that?

Mr Harfield : We're not changing that at the—

Senator GALLACHER: So that is 17 firefighters?

CHAIR: Let's hear the tail of that answer. You are not changing that at the moment?

Mr Harfield : No, that was the change made on 1 September, and that is the category 10 level of 14 staff, and the previous category, category 9, is 10 staff.

Senator GALLACHER: So where did the 17 staff come into it?

Mr Harfield : I will hand that to the chief fire officer to explain that.

Mr Wood : That started many years ago. At a time when there were responses to non-aircraft emergencies such as fire alarms and the like and that response level would impede an ability to provide the right level of service, the category of service, at greater than one per cent, we would introduce what's called an additional domestic response vehicle and three people to be able to respond to those emergencies.

Senator GALLACHER: That's incidents in the terminal?

Mr Wood : Well, generally, yes. We maintain our own service performance indicator of maintaining that service level at 99.9 per cent across the country. If that gets exceeded—in other words, we respond to more of the responses such as in the terminal—then we would look at why, and one of the reasons could be that we're doing too many of those responses. In that case, we would work out whether or not we would need an additional three people to respond to those emergencies so we could keep our category level intact at our 99.9 per cent level.

Senator GALLACHER: Where is the efficiency with these three people who have gone? I mean, you had 17. You responded in the terminal, around the airport and you had your 14. Now you only have 14. Does that mean you only have 11 to put out an A380 fire and three could be somewhere else?

Mr Wood : No, it doesn't. The staffing level for an A380 or a category 10 aircraft is 14 staff.

Senator GALLACHER: Okay, so if there is an emergency in the terminal, what happens if they both occur at the same time?

Mr Wood : If they both occur at the same time then with the emergency in the terminal, like at any other location—and that can happen at any location; Brisbane or otherwise—the officer in charge of that response makes a decision about where the priority is and whether or not they would respond to the emergency, or continue with the emergency that they've got. But keep in mind, Senator, with the model we have at the moment the advantage is that with the 14 staff and the situation where you'll have an additional vehicle, that's a domestic type vehicle, we can staff it within the 14. The number of staff in the vehicles required for category can still remain in situ to meet the category requirements and the regulated response times while the domestic response vehicle is attending to the situation in the terminal, wherever it is.

Senator GALLACHER: So these reductions in your contention, in both of these cases, Adelaide and—sorry, Mr Wood, what's your title?

Mr Wood : Chief fire officer.

Senator GALLACHER: You're the ultimate decision-maker in terms of efficiency and safety outcomes, I take it?

Mr Wood : I'm the standard setter for the fire service, yes. In terms of any adjustments to service levels locally, if they're in addition to the minimum standard, that's usually a matter for the local manager based on assessment of the location's specific risks.

Senator GALLACHER: The evidence we've heard here today is that there is no funding pressure at either Adelaide Airport or Brisbane Airport that is driving these changes. These are task risk assessments, and they are about ultimately reducing the number of firefighters available at both airports?

Mr Wood : They're not about—

Senator GALLACHER: Ultimately, they'll result in that if they are successful.

Mr Wood : Not necessarily. The review at Adelaide may indicate we need an increase in firefighters—may do.

Senator GALLACHER: Okay, so I'll put this to you: potentially you could review an increase of firefighters in Brisbane and Adelaide, or alternatively the review could reduce firefighters in Brisbane and Adelaide?

Mr Wood : There's no further review in Brisbane, unless aircraft activity changes again. That's now set, unless that changes.

Senator GALLACHER: So in the event that there's an incident in the terminal and an incident on an A380, someone has to cut the baby in half and make a decision as to which one to respond to?

Mr Wood : In that situation, but this is all risk assessed through—

Senator GALLACHER: By you.

Mr Wood : Airservices has a very precise risk assessment framework with risk specialists to help us through that work. With the current model in Brisbane the level of risk has not increased.

Senator GALLACHER: And you signed off on that and you're comfortable with Brisbane.

Mr Wood : I haven't signed off on Brisbane. That's been a local matter with the deputy chief to sign off on that change, because the service that we're providing is above what the minimum standard could be.

Senator GALLACHER: But surely ultimately you would have to be comfortable with it.

Mr Wood : If it's a change to a national standard, such as when we review the staffing level of Adelaide and we're going to use that new task-resourcing model, I will certainly need to sign that off. It'll be a change to a national standard. In terms of a change to the operating model against an existing standard at any location, the deputy chief fire officer in charge of that region is accountable for that change.

Senator GALLACHER: Well people are certainly putting it to me that in Brisbane there is an increase in risk and an unacceptable increase in risk. You reject that?

Mr Wood : I do, because—

Senator GALLACHER: That's all right. You reject it; that's fine.

Mr Wood : Yes, I reject it.

Senator GALLACHER: In Adelaide, once again, it's a simple proposition—I don't work at the airport; I travel through it often enough—where people are saying to me that if it goes ahead as a reduction then that will also increase risk and, in the event there is an incident, it will curtail their ability to respond. Do you accept or reject that?

Mr Wood : The risk work needs to determine that, and that's what is underway at the moment. The outcome of the safety work will determine the inputs to go into the staffing level review under the new framework, and that will determine the appropriate level of staff at Adelaide—or any location.

Senator GALLACHER: And you've mentioned that you obviously benchmark your airports, so if Adelaide was to be reduced, who would be next? Anybody, or is there no other airport in that category?

Mr Wood : We review our operations on an ongoing basis. We align our service delivery to the aircraft activity. If aircraft numbers increase and the size of aircrafts increase, generally the service increases. Likewise, if the frequency in number and size of aircraft reduce, that could potentially lead to a reduction. That's how it works.

Senator GALLACHER: That appears slightly contradictory, because obviously Brisbane and Adelaide have increased, but you have reduced.

Mr Harfield : We haven't reduced in Adelaide at all.

Mr Wood : No, we haven't reduced. We have not changed anything in Adelaide.

Senator GALLACHER: You're proposing to reduce it.

Mr Wood : No, we're not 'proposing'; we're doing a review and we'll see—

Senator GALLACHER: Do you want me to show you the memo? I've got a memo that says, 'This is all about saving money on rosters.'

Mr Wood : That is incorrect. Let me assure you, there are no plans to change the staffing level in Adelaide until we've done a safety review. The outcome of that review, which considers all of the location specific issues, will be fed in our new task resourcing framework, and that will determine the appropriate staffing level during the curfew period.

Senator PATRICK: I want to switch across to the news report in The Australian about ultimately aiming towards the elimination of manned control towers. You're familiar with that article, Mr Harfield?

Mr Harfield : I'm familiar with the article. The assertion isn't the elimination of manned air traffic control towers, but we'll no doubt get to that.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. What I would like to know is, and it's just really exploratory at this stage—I'll start off with: firstly, how many manned control towers do we have across Australia?

Mr Harfield : Twenty-six. Sorry, 29; 26 fire stations.

Senator PATRICK: Obviously this is a long-term plan. Can you provide the committee with some advice as to where you are at with the plan? Have you gone to industry briefings? Is it just a proposal at this stage? What sorts of time frames are you looking at in terms of introducing to a first site and then perhaps across all sites?

Mr Harfield : We're a long way from even looking at all sites. This is a technology that has flourished in recent years, and is being applied globally at this moment in time. We've looked at it because of the enhancement that it actually makes to safety in assisting the air traffic controllers in doing their job. It is not a replacement for air traffic controllers; it is actually about improving the situation. So in an air traffic control tower environment, you have air traffic controllers looking out the window at the airport. This is about enhancing that; it literally gives a head-up display that splices in all of the radar data and all of that so that the controller can do better.

Where we are at is that we have just gone to market with a number of suppliers to do a number of trials to look at what the potential of the technology can do. We're in the process where we expect to make a decision on a supplier or suppliers in the market to conduct these trials in about March next year. There are three trials that we are looking at. One is a contingency type arrangement for business continuity resilience for Sydney Airport, similar to what's been in place at Heathrow for the last couple of years. This committee would be familiar with the fact that it's known that if there's a disruption in Sydney, it has an effect around the country; therefore, how do we make sure that the service is resilient and able to continue if something actually happened to the tower.

The second trial we're looking at is that, in the longer term, when some of our infrastructure builds come to their end-of-life, there may be a better option of improving safety in a more cost-effective way, and we may be looking at doing a trial here in Canberra. The third trial is looking at where we currently don't have air traffic control towers today in remote locations that are coming up to the risk profile, and applying this technology where it prevents us building a full-blown tower. It's also something where we can actually improve services at some of our more remote locations, providing services rather than having to build a full air traffic control tower. We'll go through, over the next 12 months or two years, trialling that technology once that has occurred. Whether we can make the business case that meets all of the objectives, then we would have to go through the regulatory approvals et cetera to bring it online and operationalise it.

Senator PATRICK: Would you at least have some sort of layout plan of what you intend to do that you could provide the committee with?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely.

Senator PATRICK: I understand that. I don't want to prejudice anything you might do in March in relation to industry, but—

Mr Harfield : We will probably wait until we have completed that exercise to give the full details.

Senator PATRICK: Would you be able to give us summary details?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: This is not a criticism in any way, shape or form. I am trying to understand what you were doing early on in the peace. I will tell you one of my concerns. I am a former project manager. You would be familiar with the term 'system of systems'?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: One of the systems obviously that you are working on now is OneSKY. I think it is reasonable to say that is a relatively risky program that you are progressing?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: You would understand my concern in running these sorts of projects side-by-side. I am wondering if you have done any risk assessment in relation to those two separate systems that are part of the system of systems, whether or not you have done any risk analysis on the interaction of those two systems because there clearly must be some handover?

Mr Harfield : There is a connection into the systems, absolutely. It just goes beyond even the digital towers type environment. There are a number of other technology advancements that we are progressing such as the long-range air traffic flow management, the airport collaborative decision making. And one of the big risks associated not only with OneSKY but with the full uplift in capability in the whole air traffic management is all of the interfaces. If you take the systems by themselves, they are okay but it is in all of those interfaces and interactions where the risk actually lies. That is something that we are actually concentrating on and why we have a chief information officer structured in the organisation who is the design authority who oversights that, because we have also got to add in, with all of those connections, cyber and a range of other resilient type estimates. That is something that we concentrate on fairly heavily.

Senator PATRICK: But do you get where I am coming from?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely.

Senator PATRICK: A lot of times, you are only chained to one system at the time and when you are comfortable with one then you move to the other, and of course OneSKY is still in its infancy.

Mr Harfield : Yes, but just as an aside to let the committee know, the voice communications switch for OneSKY has been successfully implemented into Perth, Melbourne and Sydney on the weekend and so we are well under way. So when you are travelling home, part of OneSKY is already in operation, and so we are progressing along the lines as expected. The big fundamental change is we change and upgrade the overall air traffic management system—that is the system of systems issue. But we have to start looking at it from a system of systems. Historically, we have looked at the system as component by component.

Senator PATRICK: Would you be kind enough opposition supply the committee an overview of the system of systems. I understand it ranges from everything to GPSs to how the baggage-handling systems work and so forth but mostly around aircraft movements.

Mr Harfield : We can provide you the scope.

Senator PATRICK: And then perhaps any risk analysis you have done in terms of this new proposal and how it interacts with perhaps the things that sit next to it?

Mr Harfield : Yes, absolutely.

CHAIR: Would it aid you is to have a private briefing with them to go through and then really pinpoint?

Senator PATRICK: Maybe that follows the provision of that information.

CHAIR: No. This committee has asked for documents and we end up with 170,000 documents that no-one reads. I am wondering, if we have a briefing at the front end, if you can say, 'No, I specifically want that,' or even citing documents as the briefing goes ahead. I am just trying to streamline things for you. If you have a private briefing, they collect the documents. You have a private briefing, you go document-to-document, batch-to-batch and you say, 'I want them; I don't want them.'

Mr Harfield : Maybe that is a good approach.

CHAIR: Does this work for you, Mr Harfield?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Do I have the concurrence of the committee to do that?

Senator PATRICK: The next question I have, I have to ask it. Obviously this committee, if we go back a couple of years ago, dealt with OneSKY and the management of the tendering process of that. It didn't get a good wrap, neither from this committee nor from the Auditor-General. Can you advise me, with this particular new proposal, how you would move forward, noting the lessons learnt or commentary provided both by this committee and the ANAO?

Mr Harfield : Trying to be as succinct as possible, Senator, out of those ANAO audits, as well as from this committee, we've reported back through the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit on the range of the recommendations and the changes that we have made throughout the organisation on our procurement activities, the governance on procurement, the value for money propositions, et cetera. This all complies with the outcomes of those changes. We can provide all the stuff that we've done and reported to the JCPAA on all of the changes that we have made within the organisation as a result of those ANAO audits

Senator PATRICK: So we're not going to see any $5,000 per day consulting contracts that last for a year?

Mr Harfield : No, Senator.

Senator PATRICK: All right. Thank you, Chair. That's all I wanted to explore.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator. Senator Sterle.

Senator STERLE: I have got some information here. I'm going to read it and I'll get your comments as we go through. Pull me up if you can assist me. I want to talk about a specific incident at Brisbane Airport on 5 November this year. I don't have a number or anything like that, so you might be able to help me out. ARFF responded to a fire alarm, and I am informed that this occurred during a category 10 service phase. Do you know what the incident was, off the top of your head?

Mr Wood : No, Senator. We have 7,000 per year; I'm not across each one.

Senator STERLE: Sure. Okay. Let's work our way through it. ARFF responded with a domestic vehicle and crew of one officer and two firefighters, which left the station with two officers and nine firefighters. Once they got there, the guys and girls realised that they needed a breathing apparatus team. That was established stage 1, so a back-up team is to be established immediately, at this point, by the ARFF or the Queensland fire service. Does that sound right?

Mr Wood : That sounds reasonable, Senator. Keep in mind, I'd need to review the incident report myself to be able to give an accurate response.

Senator STERLE: Sure. That's fine. Thank you. An ARFF backup was not sent, I'm told, due to a category 10 movement. I believe that took off from there. It just said, 'A380 Airbus on the taxiway,' so I can't tell you if it was coming or going. Straight away we've got a drop in numbers, and I'm informed the nearest Queensland fire station did not have an available crew or appliance due to another emergency. The appliance would be the breathing apparatus? Is that right?

Mr Wood : Potentially.

Senator STERLE: Potentially? Okay. I am told another crew was sent from a station further away. I just wish I had a number. I have a heap of information here, but to be honest with you, I can't even read it. I don't know how to interpret it.

CHAIR: Is there any prospect that you can table it, if you've got something?

Senator STERLE: Yes. Absolutely.

CHAIR: We'll give it to the witness and they can look at this in context.

Senator STERLE: This will really help if I could table this. Can I take it on notice first, because I want to hang on to it?

CHAIR: Sure. I just sense there is a complete disadvantage to the witness if you've got the material and the witness doesn't.

Senator STERLE: I get that, but we can work our way through it, because my questions will be generic at the end.

CHAIR: All right.

Senator STERLE: Is it correct that—well, you don't know. Can I have a minute to try and work out if I can give it a number? Can you just do that for me, Chair? So 5 November—

CHAIR: Can you share any of the documents that you are referring to, or have they come to you in some sort of—?

Senator STERLE: I'm not quite sure. I would love to but—I have turned into a bureaucrat. Can I take that on notice?

Mr Harfield : I think it would be helpful, if you could provide—if you need to de-identify whatever—we can turn it around within 24 hours, rather than take it as a question on notice.

CHAIR: It could be turned around in 24 minutes if the senator has documents upon which Mr Wood might be able to rely to answer the questions.

Senator STERLE: Can we suspend for five minutes?

CHAIR: Let's do that.

Mr Wood : More than likely, I'd still need to get information from Brisbane to answer that.

CHAIR: Let's not anticipate that, Mr Wood. He may have your entire file and you mightn't need to do that. Let's suspend for five minutes. Would you join us for a cup of coffee or tea over here.

Proceedings suspended from 09 : 29 to 09 : 43

CHAIR: We reconvene the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee. Do we resolve to tender two documents?

Senator STERLE: One document, two pages.

CHAIR: With an incident reference number 19116 in the top right-hand corner of the document. It is so resolved.

Senator STERLE: Gentlemen, I'll give you an opportunity to quickly browse through that. I'll go back but try not to dwell too much. This was an incident at Brisbane Airport which I've already covered over. I'd left it that the BA team was left without a safety net required for 23 minutes for this incident. I don't expect you to know the answers yet. I'm told that this was a direct result of the staffing model being reduced from 17 to 14. Feel free to come in and correct however you can with what knowledge you've got in front of you. Are you able to pull up that number? Is that easy to reference or do you have to go back?

Mr Wood : I have to go back. Even when we do, I note on the back there that the local operation manager, the person in charge at the station, was in attendance, and these types of reports we do—we examine them from time to time and they will need to investigate and understand the reasons for the decisions taken. It's a very dynamic environment, responding to an emergency. There are many things to consider and decisions to be made. There are strict rules to follow in terms of when we advise industry of service level changes and the like. What it will need is our fire station manager or local operations manager to give the reasons in support of the actions taken and so on.

Senator STERLE: Sure. It's been brought to my attention that this is what has happened. It's one of those incidents that you think might be hypothetical, but here we go: there's a classic example for you to go through. Can you take that away and have a look at that? I'm told that the ARFF backup that should have been released was not done until after the category 10 level had been reduced. Does that mean the plane had taken off?

Mr Wood : Correct. That's why we have the vehicles ready for category, and decisions need to be made about that.

Senator STERLE: Rather than me ambushing you and expecting you to answer all that, please take that away and come back to us. There was another incident for which I don't have one of these to give you a number. It was at Perth Airport. I'm sorry. If I had that, I would provide that. This was on 13 November this year. It was something similar. There was a fire alarm to which the domestic response vehicle was required to turn out. During the period, the crews were not available. Crewing at the station was down to only eight firefighters. In this time, an A380 took off. On 14 November, the next day, also at Perth, there was a first-aid call-out again, where the domestic response vehicle was required to respond to a patient. I don't know if that was in the terminal or on a plane or what. As a result of this incident, again crewing levels were not maintained in a sufficient manner to respond to a category 10. But I have no proof that there was an A380 moving.

CHAIR: Can I ask a question in the context of this? Sorry; you can respond to that first, Mr Wood.

Mr Wood : I just wanted to clarify that the two on the 13th and 14th were Perth incidents?

Senator STERLE: They're Perth, yes.

Mr Wood : And the number 19116 is Brisbane?

Senator STERLE: That's correct.

CHAIR: Let me open up with a humorous little anecdote from a past life. They asked a question of constables in the police exam in London. They said: 'You've come round the corner and a gas main explodes, and an old lady and two children are injured. It's left a crater in the middle of a busy street. As you start to approach the scene, a wild dog has started to maul a group of children on the opposite side of the street. Then you notice a van careering around the corner, and it falls into the crater, and you look in and you see that the passenger in the van is your district inspector, and he's naked. What would you do and what order would you do it in?' It's a funny old yarn. The famous answer was: 'I'd remove my uniform and mingle with the crowd'! But, in emergency services areas, we have one-in-100-years floods, one-in-50-years floods and one-in-20-years floods, and I imagine that there are occasions when events occur that just have these cascading effects, and no planning could be relied upon.

Mr Wood : And the regulations actually reflect that. In fact, they describe the situations or the times. If you're not able to provide the required level of service, you're required to advise industry. NOTAM, notice to airmen, and those sorts of processes are in place.

CHAIR: What I'm more interested in is: what is the contingency plan when all the contingency plans are not responding? Do we come down to a leadership thing—

Mr Wood : Correct.

CHAIR: where someone on the ground says: 'Right. There are 100 able-bodied male passages in there that can pass buckets of water. Let's mobilise something'? They deal with it at that minute in time?

Mr Wood : Absolutely, and that can happen at any time. We train for certain scenarios, but, for example, if two aircraft collided and one ended up at each end of the airport, the person in charge would need to make decisions. That's what we do. Our people are trained to make decisions in—

CHAIR: Like if there are three water helicopters there because there has been a fire recently, they'd mobilise them and put them to use. So they do have discretion; they're not crippled by the fact that they're trying to flick through a rule book and run their finger down it.

Mr Wood : Absolutely. The standard operating procedures are guidance material to make decisions upon. We have people in charge that need to make those decisions, and when we can get to the bottom of these incident reports we will understand why they made the decisions they did and whether or not they were in line.

CHAIR: It was promoted when Glenn pointed out they were sent to a nearby fire service, which would make a lot of sense—

Mr Wood : It's what we do.

CHAIR: to find that they weren't there; they were out fighting another fire. The question is: at what point does the guide no longer provide—it says to move to the next fire station, and then the next one, and if they're all out you've got to start to think dynamically.

Mr Wood : Correct.

CHAIR: Your people are trained and encouraged to exercise their leadership powers in those circumstances.

Mr Wood : They most certainly do. I can remember my officer training. They always give you the worst scenario and back-up is not arriving—how do you deal with it? That's what we're trained to do.

Senator STERLE: Chair, I get all of that. What I'm trying to get back to is that there used to be crews of 17. I'm the first one to accept that there is so much you can plan for and so much you cannot. Going back to Senator Gallacher's line of questioning to Mr Harfield, this is not a decision that is active in this review, because of finances.

Mr Harfield : Not at all.

Senator STERLE: You've made that very clear.

CHAIR: Not trying the defend, because the circumstances speak for themselves, but I can remember went I started in business I had four or five clerks in my office who were clerking, and then along came a laptop computer or a desktop computer and five went to one and they did a more efficient job.

Senator STERLE: Chair, I understand that, but this is going the other way. Aeroplanes are getting bigger. So I don't subscribe to your line here on that. I understand. I was in business, too, and I get all of that. I've had to sit back and listen to this nonsense about automated trucks coming, so I get all of that. Anyway, so you don't throw me off where I am going to—we have the Brisbane one on 5 November. You've got that. We've got Perth on the 13th, I think it was, when there was an actual movement of an A380. Then we have the 14th, and I have no proof that there was a movement. What I am trying to get to is that I'm told there are many incidences like this that happen regularly. These are just three examples. I will go through you, Chief, and you, Mr Harfield. Would you stand by an earlier comment that these could be rare? Are these incidences rare?

Mr Wood : We monitor our service availability monthly to ensure that we meet it, and we've got our own internal key performance indicator, as I mentioned previously, maintaining category. That's the time that the vehicles need to be in a position to respond to the aircraft of that particular category. Category 10 need the four vehicles ready to go. We maintain that at 99.9 per cent of the time. That's our internal target. It's not set by regulation; there isn't a hard figure in there. We do that to maintain our own serviceability. That's how we work. We monitor each month, and if any location happens to dip below that, we look to understand the reasons why. It could be staff unavailability, a vehicle breakdown or responding to an emergency. We investigate why and see if there are things that we need to do to change things.

Senator STERLE: What I am alluding to is it's now up to me. If I'm being told there are many incidences, I need to get that information and provide it to you and say to you, 'Do you still think this is rare?'

Mr Wood : Based on our review every month, it is very rare, because we're maintaining 99.9 at Perth since the model came in in 2016 and in Brisbane two months ago.

Senator STERLE: It's up to me now to come back and say—

Mr Wood : That depends, too, Senator, on what the incident is we are talking about and the circumstances of the incident.

Senator STERLE: I understand. I understand if there are sickies and other—I don't know. You need to know that. All I need to know is that, if we have an incident, have we put ourselves in a position where we are a couple of people short when there was no financial pressure to do that.

Mr Wood : We have not done that.

CHAIR: We do gives these guys a tough time. Shall we note that there have been billions of passenger movements in this country over the last—I don't know how long it takes to get to a billion passenger movements, but I imagine it's not a big deal.

Mr Wood : Ten years.

CHAIR: Let's just take 10 years with a billion passenger movements. Has there been any evidence of a catastrophic event where we have failed in a duty of care to respond to it in this nation—where someone has perished and might not have because of staffing levels, equipment levels or resources generally? Have we had an incident?

Mr Harfield : Not to my knowledge.

CHAIR: So there are a billion movements. I just want to give these guys a tough time. I just want to get that onto the record.

Senator STERLE: I thought I was being a pussycat today!

CHAIR: Well, you are.

Senator STERLE: You should have been here for the earlier hearing.

CHAIR: You wore yourself out on the previous witnesses. But I want to congratulate you on the effort in relation to that as a traveller and as an Australian. It's a fantastic record.

Senator STERLE: All I'm saying is: yes, but 10 years ago we weren't having the number of A380s coming in. I think that's a fair question to ask, and there are the wider body aircraft, such as the Dreamliners, that are now coming in.

CHAIR: The witnesses need to know if we expose something. The intent is that, if you've got a resource issue where you're not being properly resourced—because I imagine, Mr Wood, that you don't wake up to try to reduce the budget and do more with less; as a professional, you want to get the best possible circumstance—in effect we're here to help you. If we try to expose that there is a resource shortage, we'll take that up with the government. This committee is noted for doing that.

Mr Wood : What I will add, if I may, is that the operating model that we apply at both Perth and Brisbane—which has the safety benefit of having that additional vehicle in addition to the category vehicle or the domestic type vehicle—is very similar to the operating models overseas. In my capacity as chief fire officer, I am in touch with the chief fire officers at many of the overseas providers, particularly in the UK, and the model we operate here is very consistent with their model.

Senator STERLE: Thanks, Mr Wood, but history will prove—with me and the chair—that that doesn't mean that we can't be better than them.

Mr Wood : Absolutely. That's why we're looking to review all the time.

Senator STERLE: Whether we're talking about vehicle standards or whatever it may be—drones. Who knows?

Mr Wood : Absolutely. That's right.

Mr Harfield : Just to add something on those points—and this is something that the chief fire officer mentioned—this is one of the reasons we continue to review the operations: to make sure that we continue to provide the best quality, safest service. The place isn't static. There will be changes later on that we haven't touched on. For example, in Adelaide we have actually upped the category and the staffing levels during the day because of the growth in traffic, and we're continually looking at it. That's not to say that the risk profile won't change at some particular stage, and then we will make the adjustments accordingly.

Senator STERLE: Sure, but from my side of the table, when I see that we've been operating with 17 and now we're going down to 14 and now there's another review, you can't help but think: 'Oh, no! Is it going to be less next time?' You may prove me wrong and say: 'Whoopsadaisy! We need to go to 17.'

Mr Wood : I was just saying there isn't another review at Brisbane. There has been a review, because the aircraft have changed, and that is now the set level.

Senator STERLE: You're right.

Mr Wood : That was just a change in aircraft activity.

Senator STERLE: Sure, but I've just given a classic example. There is a blatant example, and I'm not making this up. There was an incident, and they rushed off to attend that, and your standard wasn't met for the category 10 or whatever it is.

CHAIR: That hasn't been determined, in fairness.

Senator STERLE: Well, okay. You're going to go and have a look and come back to me. I've only got two more questions. On the Brisbane example that I gave you and what you know about it, I would propose—and I know the answer's going to be that you're going to go and have a look—that the Brisbane example shows that the firefighters were directly put at risk as a result of a lack of backup crews being available. That's what I am putting to you. I understand the answer you're going to give me, and that's fine.

Mr Wood : We'll need to investigate and seek information from the local manager about the actions that were taken.

Senator STERLE: All right. While I'm at it, then—

CHAIR: You promised there were only two questions.

Senator STERLE: Yes, that's right. This is the last one. I believe—and I will get you to come back to my question here—that the current crewing arrangements are not sufficient to meet the requirements of the category 10 response in circumstances where firefighters are unavailable due to deployment to another incident.

Mr Wood : The category 10 resources we provide are suitable during periods of category 10 operations. We manage that key performance indicator and measure each month to ensure that we have a level of service in accordance with the category 10 requirements. Both Perth, since 2016, and Brisbane, since September this year, are maintaining their time-at-category performance level at 99.9 per cent.

Senator STERLE: Yes, but are you saying to me—just to clarify—that the number that is set now, the 14, is the right number for category 10? That's what you've just answered?

Mr Wood : The number I have at the moment, 14, is set on a risk assessment we did in 2007 against the A380 aircraft. That hasn't changed. That is the current standard today. That is appropriate today.

Senator STERLE: I'm not arguing. Sorry, but that wasn't my question. My question went to, when I give you examples of what happened in Brisbane and when someone is diverted somewhere else, how it doesn't meet that number.

Mr Wood : We've discussed that we need to look at instances that happen when emergencies happen.

Senator STERLE: I understand 14 for category 10, but when people are taken away that blows your whole argument out.

Mr Wood : That happens at any level—category 6, 7, 8 or 9. We are required to do our job, basically. Part of that is aircraft response. Part of that is—

Senator STERLE: We can go around in circles.

Mr Wood : Yes, we can.

Senator STERLE: Okay, I've made my point. I'll just leave it to you now and I will work with the chair on when we are going to set a date.

CHAIR: Can I ask the committee to consider the date for the questions on notice to be 18 December. That is so resolved. So let's work towards that. Another standard that this committee will set now is that, if you can't get it all done by 18 December, please do as much as you can and get it into the minister's office so it can get into our hands, particularly at this time of year. Subject to that and the briefing with Senator Patrick, we will decide whether we need to have another hearing. Thank you for your attendance and your frankness. I know that you are all very professional in what you do. The committee wishes you all the best for a safe and holy—I don't know if I'm allowed to say that anymore, so I'll I withdraw 'holy'—Christmas.

Senator STERLE: No, you are with me.

CHAIR: All right. Have a safe and holy Christmas. We hope that you enjoy time with your family. We thank the secretariat for their efforts and, as always, our friends in Hansard.

Committee adjourned at 10:01