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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Airservices Australia

Airservices Australia


CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Harfield. Senator Patrick.

Senator PATRICK: We were talking about fire appliances at the airport. I was just trying to understand how this fits in. This kind of started off with us talking about Proserpine and the fact that we're going to get a fire station stood up in Q4 of next year or Q2 of next year, I think.

Mr Harfield : Q4, so by 30 June 2020.

Senator PATRICK: So the end of Q2 next year. That led us to a discussion about fire trucks, but it sounds to me like you're actually in the process of procuring those trucks for that airport. Is that correct?

Mr Harfield : No, we'll be using a reallocation of our existing fleet for that airport.

Senator PATRICK: Okay, so that's not the cause of the four years, which I might come back to. Just in relation to the fire trucks, we're having a discussion. I don't know who the expert is or whether—

Mr Harfield : Our resident expert is interstate at the moment, so we got them to prepare a brief on the design rules, which we can table. Unfortunately, they're interstate today, so we got them on the phone to prepare a brief for the committee with the detail.

Senator PATRICK: Fantastic. Do you want to table that brief?

Mr Harfield : Yes, I'll table that.

CHAIR: We'll want to interrogate that. I'm not just going to have it out in the open. So, when you're finished, I'll—

Senator PATRICK: Sure. I was asking questions in the last session to try and understand what it is that might make a fire truck for Australia different to a fire truck for, perhaps, New Zealand. I was just looking. They got some new fire trucks in 2014. What would be the difference? I understand you might have a starting desire to comply with the Australian Design Rules, but I wonder—if they're only minor, and these trucks are not on the Australian roads very often because you basically place them at an airport—whether or not them not requiring it is fatal to the procurement or the safe operation of the vehicles in some way.

Mr Harfield : Take the point of reference there, the Australian Design Rules. The brief that we're providing shows, with the current fleet of trucks, the major design changes that were made by Rosenbauer. For example—as we've got in the brief, when you get there—for the weight of the axle mass limits, the Australian design requirement is 12 tonnes and in Europe it's greater than 12 tonnes, so we've had to have the modification of the design to make sure it's only 12 tonnes across the axles. There's another there: left-hand versus right-hand drive. There are also a number of exemptions to the Australian Design Rules that are there, which we've tried to explain. Part of it is around the requirements that the trucks that we utilise must comply with the Australian Design Rules.

CHAIR: So you've said two of them. Left-hand and right-drive is a given. The axle tonnage is one of them. I'm going to try and study this. From the evidence, my take-out this morning was that there were significant difficulties in meeting Australian Design Rules with an off-the-shelf product from somewhere else in the world.

Mr Harfield : That may not necessarily be the case now, but it was the case when we purchased this fleet of trucks back in 2003.

CHAIR: Okay, we were talking about the acquisition of trucks. Do you know what the axle weight capacity of the trucks overseas is, if it's 12 tonnes here? This is the weight of the vehicle itself, loaded, on an axle—is that correct?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

CHAIR: So what is the vehicle loaded if it's not 12 tonnes? How much does it offend?

Mr Harfield : I don't know what the original design tonnage was.

Senator PATRICK: And—

CHAIR: No, just hold on. This is my frustration. This is why we went away. You know it's a problem, but you can't detail the problem for us. If it were 12 tonnes and one gram—which I know it's not, but it helps me make the point—this committee may get very exercised to help you get an exemption from that. So we need to know what we're dealing with, not just that it's over 12 tonnes. Is it 40 tonnes, is it 50 tonnes—in which case, we'll abandon the ideal? So, if you've got these people—I'm sure you've told them to keep the phone handy—we'll ask that question. The left-hand right-hand drive is a given. Is it a big deal for these manufacturers to switch from left to right?

Mr Harfield : We may be talking at cross-purposes. This is a result of the current fleet of trucks that we procured in 2003-04. With the current fleet, the tender that went out required adherence to the Australian Design Rules.

CHAIR: Understood.

Mr Harfield : Rosenbauer decided to redesign their existing fleet to have a truck that met—

CHAIR: To apply.

Mr Harfield : As a result of that, we ended up procuring, at that stage, literally, the production line, because we're the only ones that use that modified vehicle. What we are now doing with the replacement of this fleet is that we'll be going out to tender again and we're in an RFI to find out what is in the market today, which may mean that current off-the-shelf will be able to comply with the Australian Design Rules today. Back in 2003 it didn't, and this is the position that we're in.

CHAIR: Yes. But when we parted company here before lunch, we had established, I thought—colleagues can correct me—that one of the reasons it took three years to get Proserpine stood up is a delay in getting these trucks, for all of these issues.

Senator STERLE: Because of the ADRs.

CHAIR: No, hold on. No, let me finish. It'll save me coming back, and back again. Now we understand that the trucks—the fleet that's going to Proserpine—already existed. So that no longer contributed to the three-year delay.

Senator STERLE: That's right.

CHAIR: What may have contributed to it is: for you to replace the trucks that you're going to send to Proserpine, there's a delay in wherever you took them from. In my mind, we were talking about the future. What we as a committee wanted to know was what the impediments were that have stopped you getting an off-the-shelf product, if you like, so that we could make a judgement—I know this is what motivated me—to determine whether we set out to help you bust through these false ceilings that shouldn't exist if it's one gram over 12 tonnes or something so that we could get the three years down to two years or one year or, God forbid, something shorter. That's what was on my mind. You may have something else on your mind. I'm sorry to interrupt Senator Patrick—when he's finished, I'll take over—but that's what I'm interrogating. We think that we've still got three-year lead times. We were given to believe it's because of the specs around the trucks that aren't readily available. Now that question hangs in the air. I'll clarify it with my examination. So I want to know what the future looks like, not what the past looks like, and I'll be coming to you to ask about the Proserpine trucks. If they existed then that's not the reason why it took three years to get Proserpine up.

Senator STERLE: When we left here, there was the belief, Mr Porter, as you were saying, that the trucks didn't match the Australian Design Rules. It's been told to me since you left the room here that the ADRs were changed to meet the truck. You had us believe it was the other way around. That's not the case.

Mr Porter : We do have some exemptions—it's in the submission—to the Design Rules. That's what we were talking about, and we were also talking about the future fleet and also the fleet that was going to be provided for Proserpine.

Senator STERLE: I'll tell you why. I've got this document here. It's called 'Austria Newz: Advantage Austria Sydney'. There's a little paragraph dedicated to ASA, to Airservices. It says:

All the ARFF (Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting) vehicles delivered to the ASA comply with the Australian Design Rules such as the signage and illumination. Most of the PANTHERs—

I believe there are about 90 of them that have come across that have been made there in Austria; you can tell me if I'm wrong—

delivered are not only identical in their basic construction, but identical right down to every screw.

Anyway, colleagues you work out what you want from that.

CHAIR: Let's get a response to that. They can tell you that that's wrong.

Mr Harfield : No, that is correct. The current fleet of trucks that we have are all Australian Design Rules compliant. This is the procurement that we went through back in 2003.

Senator STERLE: But you didn't change the trucks to meet the ADRs. The ADRs were changed to meet the trucks. All this construction stuff, one-off design—that's a bit of hard work. By the time you get to the 90th, it's negligible. That's true.

Mr Porter : The tender that went out specified that the vehicles were ADR compliant.

Senator STERLE: Yes.

CHAIR: Specified that the vehicles had to be ADR compliant?

Senator STERLE: Yes.


Mr Porter : And so they are. And with the exception of the exemptions that we've outlined.

CHAIR: Yes, but Mr Porter this was in the context of the delays.

Senator STERLE: That's right.

CHAIR: So you put a tender out to say they need to be compliant with Australian—whatever they are—regulations, and they were. But are you suggesting that the delay of three years, which is the impression you left me with, was the result of the effort by the supplier to get them compliant with the Australian rules?

Mr Harfield : I think that there was confusion on what we were talking before where we were talking about how long it took us to get trucks. But the delay into getting Proserpine up and running is more to do with construction and issues like that which we've said that we'd go back and have a look at the safety case and the time frame of getting things established.

CHAIR: What do you mean construction? Do you mean pour a slab, put a wall up, put a roof on—is that what you're talking about?

Mr Harfield : Going through the design and construct of the fire station, making sure that we go through our procurement processes et cetera plus establishing the service. The vehicles that we will use for Proserpine will be sourced from our existing fleet.

CHAIR: Yes, I heard you.

Mr Harfield : So before, when we were talking, we got confused about what would be our normal time line to bring a fleet on, and what our current fleet is—

CHAIR: No, no. Can I say, Mr Harfield, that may have been what was left in your mind. I was absolutely buried in the context of Proserpine in that conversation.

Senator STERLE: So was I.

CHAIR: And my final statement before lunch—and I remember it, fresh in my mind—was: well, there's the explanation for why it took three years to get Proserpine up because it took three years to get a truck. Now, we know that that's not the case any longer. I'm not going to make a big issue of it because we all take away what we do from conversations, but I'm a long way off being finished on this subject about these trucks. I want to ask one final question—and we won't interrupt you again; well, we can't make that promise!

Senator PATRICK: Or plan not to!

CHAIR: These truck designs don't offend Australian design rules, right? So get your welder out and do this and so on Why aren't there proponents in Australia who do complex vehicles—all sorts of them? Why aren't they out there busting for the work? What is restricting Australian service providers from being able to deliver and compete for the tenders in relation to these trucks?

Mr Harfield : Nothing that I'm aware of.

CHAIR: But something is, obviously, from the tenor of our conversation before lunch. It was clear that you were having to travel around the world to find someone to do it. There are only two people who do it, and they're both busy sort of thing.

Mr Harfield : Our existing fleet of trucks is ones that we purchased in 2003-04. The reason is now that we're out to an RFI, out into the market for the next set of fleet of vehicles, and we may find out that there'll be an Australian provider able to meet the specifications. Back in 2002-03, at that stage, there wasn't.

CHAIR: Do you actively work with a potential that may well give an advantage to Australian companies? I don't mean a particular Australian company. I wouldn't be against any effort you put in to give Australian companies an edge by encouraging them, working with them, talking through the issues. Has that happened? Or do you just put an ad in the paper and say, 'Come hither, come all, who want to put a tender on this truck'?

Mr Harfield : Normally it would be putting out a tender to industry. Sometimes depending on what the tender is, we try to stimulate the market through an RFI so that people are aware that what we maybe looking for, but it's something that we can definitely look into as we go through this procurement for this new fleet.

Senator STERLE: Can I clarify if I may: did you actually write to the Australian truck manufacturers and body builders?

Mr Harfield : No, Senator.

Senator STERLE: No. There's the difference, see, Senator O'Sullivan, because I've had them in my office only a month or so ago, and they're dying to pick up work. They weren't talking about fire engines, of course.

CHAIR: Well, will you? Will you write to them and ask them to engage with your people to look at the specs and understand the product that you want, and let them get out in front so that they can encourage their membership to compete for this?

Mr Harfield : We can definitely look at it. Yes, I'll commit to that.

CHAIR: All right. Thank you.

Senator PATRICK: You've actually released an RFI. Has the RFI gone to Australian companies?

Mr Harfield : I have to take that on notice. I have to check the list.

Senator PATRICK: An RFI is a request for information.

CHAIR: Who's responsible for the release of the RFI?

Mr Harfield : That'll come out through aviation rescue firefighters.

CHAIR: So that's through you, Mr Porter?

Mr Porter : That's correct.

CHAIR: So can you answer the senator's question?

Mr Porter : In terms of the detail of who went out, I can't.

Senator PATRICK: That's been done through AusTender, I presume?

Mr Porter : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: AusTender would be tracking exactly who has responded to that.

Mr Porter : I can take that on notice. I can provide you with the list of who's been—

CHAIR: Oh, Mr Porter, let's have a crack at it here, hey? You're in charge of this. You can't tell me when you put it out?

Mr Porter : So is it—

CHAIR: No. Please, just stick with me here. We'll do the simple dance before we get into the waltz. When did it go out?

Mr Porter : In the last few weeks is—

CHAIR: In the last few weeks. Have there been any responses?

Mr Porter : Not to my knowledge.

CHAIR: Not to your knowledge. Well, there you go. That might have been the answer. Because you'd monitor it, wouldn't you? You'd be notified when there were responses—

Mr Porter : When—

CHAIR: and you would, without even keeping a notebook in your back pocket, know whether they were all from overseas, all from Australia, or a mix of both, wouldn't you?

Mr Porter : Not at this stage, no.


Senator STERLE: But, just for us, we haven't built these specialist firefighting vehicles for aviation for 24 years, correct? So, if you just put out a tender saying, 'Hey, this is next model we want to go to,' you can understand Aussies would probably think, 'They're not even worried about us, because they haven't said, "Can you be part of the design? This is what we require.''' If I was an Aussie manufacturer and I saw that pop up in the paper, I'd probably think, 'Bloody hell, they wiped us out 25 years ago, so what chance is there for us now?'

CHAIR: Can I ask one other question. Have you or any of your staff, or anyone in the organisation, taken a trip to—where is it?

Senator PATRICK: Austria.

CHAIR: Austria in the last five years, to meet and have a look and go to lunch?

Mr Harfield : We've just procured the air stairs, a set of rescue stairs which are Rosenbauer, so we would have had people over at Rosenbauer—also with the existing contract.

CHAIR: Sure. How many Australian companies has the same contingent of your people been to and had a bit of lunch and a look around their facilities to see what they can do?

Mr Harfield : None. But, as I said, we'll take your—

CHAIR: Do you get the picture?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely, and our engagement with the industry now, even though there is an RFI out—

CHAIR: I won't be here, but I guarantee you this committee will be taking a very special interest in your procurement policies around these vehicles to be satisfied that Australian companies have been encouraged and have at least had a fair crack at the title.

Mr Harfield : Sounds good.

Senator STERLE: Are you replacing the fleet of 90, or is it more?

Mr Harfield : It will probably be more than 90 because of growth, going into the future.

CHAIR: I'll be watching this from the outside.

Senator PATRICK: And the order of magnitude of the cost of these things? I think New Zealand paid $1.6 million or something for one.

Mr Harfield : If I remember from the current Mk8 vehicles that we got, it's around a million dollars a pop. That's just in round terms.

Senator PATRICK: So it's a good $100 million procurement—

Mr Harfield : Absolutely, yes.

Senator STERLE: That was $100 million back then?

Mr Harfield : That was back then, and there'll be more vehicles—

Senator STERLE: One million per vehicle 20-odd years ago—or 14 years ago, sorry.

Senator PATRICK: Yes. I think New Zealand paid $1.6 million.

CHAIR: I just want to be clear. With the ladder thing or any other acquisition you've had from that company, have they ever made any contribution whatsoever to the cost of visitors from your department?

Mr Harfield : Not to my knowledge, no.

CHAIR: They haven't said, 'Send over three people. We'll pay you to come over to a seminar we've got, to have a look at our'—

Mr Harfield : No, we would be paying our own costs.

Senator BROCKMAN: When an RFI goes out on this topic—and I know you've committed to making sure Australian companies who operate in this space become aware of it—does it go out to individual companies or is it just made available?

Mr Harfield : My understanding—and there are others more familiar with the procurement process—is that it's made available on AusTender. There might be some people that are approached to say, 'There's an RFI out,' or there might be an advertisement that there's an RFI out, but it wouldn't necessarily be going to individuals concerned, unless it's a restricted RFI.

Senator BROCKMAN: My concern there is that then, as a matter of getting the most competitive tender for the Australian taxpayer, you would want the widest possible audience to that RFI. So unless you go out and make sure that you contact as many suppliers as possible, including the Australian suppliers, you don't know whether you're actually going to get the broadest range of applicants possible to the process?

Mr Harfield : Depending on our understanding of the market.

Senator BROCKMAN: You may only get the one supplier you already use because they're going to be in contact with you already?

Mr Harfield : Whether it's an RFI process or not, some of the preliminary work is trying to explore what the market is that is available. As I said, in this case we need to do some more, but most of the time whether you'd capture everybody or not is to do with how familiar you are with the market.

Senator BROCKMAN: But, by definition, you should be familiar with the market?

Mr Logan : If I can add to that, the request-for-information process is about discovering the market and getting a good understanding of it—it's not actually moving to the tender process itself where it's issuing out to say, 'We now want providers to supply against it.' There's still the opportunity that we talked about to expand the market through that discovery to understand, through this part of the process, what the market actually looks like. Based on that information and that market assessment, which we've committed to making sure that we understand the Australian content, we would form up a tender and then issue that tender to go into the competitive market at that point in time.

Senator BROCKMAN: Apart from merely going up on a website, which I accept is advertising it, would both these stages be well-ventilated through the industry? Are there trade magazines or forums in which you would actively promote the fact that there is an RFI and, in the future, a tender process available?

CHAIR: We just talked about that, and the answer was: no, they haven't.

Mr Logan : For the tender process, absolutely. We need to stimulate the market to make sure that we actually get the best outcome, and I think—

CHAIR: Yes, but you haven't done that with the RFI?

Mr Logan : Not sufficiently for the RFI, no.

Senator PATRICK: I'll just go once to the design rules. It relates to the 12 tonnes. On notice, can you give us the difference in tonnage above the 12 tonnes or what the difference is? Once again, I use the example of a ship that must do 30 knots and whether or not you'd be in a position, if it was 12.5 tonnes, to go back and find out the reason why it's in the standard, which may ultimately never affect an operation of the firefighting service. Rather than just go, 'There's a requirement we must meet,' go back to the people setting the requirements and ask, 'Why did you pick 12.5 or 12 tonnes?' It might be because there's some road in the Northern Territory that will never be used by one of your fire trucks that has a limit on it or something. I'm just wondering if you could go through that process.

We'll go back to the Proserpine delays. It's not the trucks that are the delay. Once again, I'm trying to understand: is there any other explanation for how long it's taken them? You might recall my former colleague Senator Xenophon was somewhat annoyed at the speed at which you required people to upgrade to ADS-B. You placed the requirement on aircraft operators to do certain things, but here we've got an instance where a regulation requires you to act. You've gone above 350,000 passenger numbers, but there's no requirement in terms of time under the act for you to respond to have a fire station. Maybe there's a lack in the regulation that just has this open-ended requirement that at some stage after you've hit 350,000 passengers—maybe 10 years later—you can have a fire station there.

Mr Harfield : No, it doesn't—

Senator PATRICK: How does it work, then?

Mr Harfield : I'll explain the process that we went through with Proserpine. We have already taken on notice to give the detail in there with the safety cases associated with it. With regard to your reference to the ADS-B, that requirement came out in 2005 for a 2017 implementation, just to put that into context. In September 2017 we received the 350,000. We've got a requirement to, within about three months, provide a safety case to CASA on how we will establish the service once it reaches 350,000. That safety case was submitted to CASA at the start of 2018 and we received it back in, I think, February 2018. It outlined the process we would take to establish the service by the middle of 2020. Once we received that, we started going through a procurement exercise for establishing and building the fire station. We have to locate and work out where we can build the fire station to meet the response times, come to agreement with Whitsunday Coast Airport. We're now starting to build the fire station—or we've gone out to procurement and we've got that. We're about to have the contract finally negotiated and signed and, at the same time, ramp up the staffing levels to be able to staff that. This is all outlined in our safety case and the process that's there, and we can explain that. As we said earlier, we've taken it on notice to go back and have a look at that to see what we can accelerate.

CHAIR: Firstly, for the Hansard, we've had a document tendered under the heading of Airservices. It's a single page and opens with, '1. Australian design rules—ADRs.' Are there any objections to that being tendered? There being no objection, it is so tendered. Mr Logan, earlier you talked about the ICAO conventions impacting on the formula for how the freight rates are. But ICAO only applies to international routes, doesn't it?

Mr Logan : What I thought I said, for the Hansard, was that the international convention is that those are typically used. So not International Civil Aviation Organization conventions as such—

CHAIR: So it's not prescriptive.

Mr Logan : It's not prescriptive, no.

CHAIR: It's just that people have chosen for consistency to run them down through the domestic stuff as well.

Mr Logan : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: You've sparked my memory, Chair. Regarding the flight from Whyalla to Adelaide, you said before that, if you land at an airport in Melbourne in an A380 you get charged according to the category of fire services that would normally be required.

Mr Harfield : Your rate of charge is dependent on the category of the aircraft for the ARFF charge.

Senator PATRICK: If I only had a Q400, assuming the airport has no or low passenger numbers, there's no requirement to have a fire service for a Q400 to land. I'm just trying to work out—

Mr Harfield : Unless there are 350,000 passengers going through the airport, when we'd have to establish a fire service. Up to that stage, if there aren't 350,000 passengers passing through, there's no requirement to have an ARFF. Or the other requirement is that there's an international service.

Senator PATRICK: So the charge kicks in because of the 350,000?

Mr Harfield : The charge kicks in when we establish the service at the airport based on the 350,000.

Senator PATRICK: I was just trying to work out a way we could maybe not have these regional flights paying for these services, to somehow reduce the cost.

Mr Harfield : It's a user-pays service—it's only if there is a fire service there that they pay for it.

Senator PATRICK: And they pay according to the category of aircraft that they are?

Mr Harfield : Of what they are, yes. And in category 6, which is most regional aircraft, they pay that network charge that is networked across the entire operation. So it's subsidised by the capital city aerodromes.

CHAIR: Mr Harfield and, through you, your officers, thank you for your preparation and for meeting the additional demands we made on you today. We wish you safe travel back to your intended port.

Mr Harfield : Thank you.

Senator STERLE: Dr Kennedy, have we had any response yet to my questions?

Dr Kennedy : We're off calculating those 13 weekly numbers. What we're providing for you, because we have to calculate it, is the amount spent per week over the 13 weeks of the campaign.

Senator STERLE: Okay. Thanks.