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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21778

Ms O'BYRNE (5:31 PM) —Australia's security and safety environment has changed dramatically in recent years, as a result of events both here at home and overseas. At present a lot of energy is quite rightly focused on improving security in airports and airspace. However, what concerns me greatly is that there is not a lot happening in the way of legitimate reform to maritime security or a real understanding of aviation safety. The government has to realise that maritime security is not just about chasing fishing boats around the region to stop the stealing of toothfish—although we do care quite a bit about that in Tasmania—or ensuring that boatloads of refugees cannot make it past Christmas Island to the mainland. Maritime security is about security within our ports, it is about the safety of our maritime workers and it is about the success of future international trade and relations.

Historically, Australia's maritime industry has not been subject to the stringent security requirements that have been enforced in the aviation industry. This now means that we have a situation where changes will be required of an industry that has had next to no consultation on what are appropriate security and safety measures—a situation which I find quite ludicrous. The maritime industry has expressed concern that proposed regulations for maritime security have not received proper exposure, concern that these reforms go beyond the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code and concern that they cannot be tested against any guidelines for a maritime threat assessment to determine adequacy, because ASIO as yet does not have any guidelines for a maritime threat assessment.

Maritime security in Australia has indeed been managed in a very poor manner. In a nation that has one of the largest shipping tasks in the world, structural changes should receive more attention. However, the maritime industry, along with the ALP, is acting in good faith to progress this issue, and we must compensate for the incompetency of this government in the handling of these important issues. Of course, the introduction of new security regulations will not just happen and, as you would anticipate, the Howard government is forcing the maritime industry to bear the huge implementation costs. The minister and the government believe that because the aviation industry is forced to pay for security measures it is okay for the maritime industry to pay as well. Perhaps the minister needs to be aware that, just as the airlines pass on the increased security costs to the travelling public, the maritime industry will have to transfer the costs of implementing new regulations through the supply chain.

It is possibly also worth pointing out that the industry has significant concerns regarding cost escalation as the associated maritime security levels are escalated. Moving from default level 1 to level 2 is likely to add substantial costs—and heaven forbid that there be a huge resource cost to move to level 3. Of course, the precise nature of these costs is difficult to ascertain at this stage, because the regulations, as we know, are absent. The maritime industry will have to pass on the costs through the supply chain, and ultimately consumers will pay. The federal government may need to be reminded that it is responsible for national security, and this responsibility extends to embracing measures to protect the Australian community, government and institutions from harm. The government cannot be permitted to walk away from the associated implementation cost of securing our nation.

My home state of Tasmania relies heavily on our ports to facilitate trade between the islands and the mainland, and it concerns me that assistance is not being provided to Tasmanian ports. It concerns me that the government is, through a sleight of hand, slugging consumers yet again. Tasmania's four port authorities will need to deal with the new security requirements, and should the costs flow from the ports through to consumers Tasmania's very small population will be hit hard. I suspect it will be hit harder than any other state.

I know it is a pointless exercise asking the government whether an economic analysis has been done to assess the flow-on impact of any new port security regulations, because I know there has been none. In a nutshell, the government's handling of maritime security has been nothing short of incompetent, which leads me to a second point—the government's blind ineptitude in its introduction of the National Airspace System. This weekend I had the opportunity to meet with Civil Air and some very concerned air traffic controllers in Launceston. The fact that so many air traffic controllers and pilots are concerned about the safety of air travel once the National Airspace System is introduced in Tasmania on 27 November quite frankly frightens me, as a rather frequent flier. But this week many more aviation industry representatives and experts are also raising concerns—concerns which, I might add, have been dismissed by some private pilots, who are arguing that the whole safety issue is really just a ploy for commercial entities to control the skies and a union grab for jobs. This week aviation industry groups, including the emergency medical service helicopter operators, fixed wing aeromedical organisations, regional and mainland airlines, more organisations from the general aviation industry and charter and flying training organisations have all thrown their hats into the ring to raise concern over air safety under the National Airspace System.

I therefore have to ask whether the government does not find it alarming that so many aviation experts are telling us that our safety will be compromised under the National Airspace System? Does the government also not find it alarming that, based on the safety comparison carried out last week, the airspace over Tasmania would become one of the most hazardous in the country? If experts are telling us that through the implementation of the National Airspace System our airspace will be downgraded to an unprecedentedly unsafe operating environment then should we all not be just a little more concerned? When air traffic controllers are saying they will not be able to provide normal collision avoidance separation services because the new maps under this system are missing vital radio frequency boundary information should we not be asking more questions and examining how this issue can be addressed? The government needs to stop yielding to the influence of a small minority who seemingly control Australia's airspace for their own personal use and to start listening to the experts and the people who actually use this airspace on a daily basis.

The issue of air safety cannot be held to ransom by this group. Although its members rightly argue that there is need for reform in airspace management, frankly I do not believe that should be at the expense of public safety. Around 1.2 million people fly in and out of Hobart and Launceston airports every year. Surely the safety of aircraft passengers should be the foremost priority in this debate. The vocal minority advocating the implementation of the National Airspace System argue that it works in the US and so why shouldn't it work in Australia. It seems that there is one fundamental difference in the management of airspace in the US and the management of airspace in Australia and that is the fact that the US has 85 per cent radar coverage of its airspace across the entire country. Members of the House may be aware that Australia has some 15 per cent radar coverage, which covers the eastern seaboard area. Tasmania has no radar coverage under 20,000 feet and, with no guarantee that all the aircraft are talking to each other on the same radio frequency, management of airspace becomes very dangerous.

New Zealand has recently revoked this system because it found management of airspace was becoming too dangerous. In addition to this, many air traffic controllers in the United States, upon hearing Australia was to implement the National Airspace System, began warning against its use because it would be too dangerous. Why does the government insist on implementing a system that is not supported by anyone in the aviation industry except a small, unqualified and unaccountable lobby group with lots of money?

This group, the Airspace Reform Group, is claiming that the implementation of the National Airspace System will save $70 million. This claim has already been discredited, and still the government refuses to back down from its potentially disastrous decision. I have the greatest respect for small-aircraft pilots who fly in and out of the airspace in Launceston and, whilst I know they are very familiar with the operating conditions and have a very good relationship with the tower staff, we can never be prepared for the maverick that comes in from elsewhere, does not know what they are doing and causes some significant aviation disaster.

It has further been identified that the government and the association plan to move control for a substantial amount of airspace—except for around the Launceston and Hobart airports—to the Melbourne control tower. I must confess that I have great concerns about this—and not, as members of the government have insinuated, because it is going to impact on staffing levels and therefore on some union member levels. The reality is that the same amount of staff will still be required in order to manage the airspace in the areas immediately around Launceston and Hobart. However, this decision will impact on the ability of local operators with local knowledge and local experience to make calls and judgments in relation to safety. It will also mean that when people enter those airspaces immediately around the airports it will be the first time that the air traffic control station really will have any responsibility or power to work with them. So I have to echo the concerns for safety of the people who are the experts. I like to feel very safe when I am in a plane, and I feel safe because I trust the pilot to know how to fly and I trust the air traffic controller to know how to manage the traffic of planes through to the ground.

Considering the statements made by both organisations recently, I no longer feel that I am going to be very safe flying in Tasmania after 27 November. The government needs to take control of this situation and address what are fundamental and legitimate concerns being raised by professional pilots and air traffic controllers. The implementation of the National Airspace System must be delayed until all safety concerns have been addressed and resolved. The travelling public in Tasmania deserves no less, and the travelling public around Australia deserves no less.