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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29417

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (4:49 PM) —I want to raise a very serious issue: national airspace management in Australia. As the House is aware, Australia is currently undergoing a very technical and fundamental change in the way in which our airspace is managed. In late November, a major part of the new National Airspace System became operational throughout Australia: stage 2(b) of the National Airspace System. This stage changed the status of airspace around many of Australia's airports and en route airspace and is based on the US national airspace system. It should be noted that, whilst it is solely based on the US system, it has a number of fundamental differences from the US system, just as the physical infrastructure for Australian aviation is fundamentally different from that for the US.

At a board meeting of Airservices Australia in Perth last Friday a number of key decisions about the way forward for airspace management in Australia were taken. The Airservices Australia board considered a number of options to modify the National Airspace System stage 2(b) changes to reduce risks for people in the aviation industry and, importantly and fundamentally, for the travelling public. The decisions of the board meeting were:

The en route class E airspace, that was Class C airspace prior to the NAS stage 2(b) reforms, will not be reclassified to Class C in the enroute section of the airspace at this time;

A minimum requirement to address risk in NAS 2(b) is the expansion of Class C steps over Class C terminal airspace; and

Progress Option 3 and the Industry Option through the Safety Management System.

Option 3 retains class E en route, except between Sydney and Melbourne, with class C airspace around C and D aerodromes and minor mitigators. The industry option retains class E en route, with class C around C aerodromes and a modified class E above D aerodromes up to class A airspace and minor mitigators.

I have chosen to raise this very serious issue this evening to clarify for the Australian public these latest developments in Australia's airspace management system because, unfortunately and surprisingly, there has not been a word about these significant developments from the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mr Anderson. This is an issue very much in the public domain at the moment, as evidenced by the 7.30 Report last evening, which did a very exhaustive report on the difficulties relating to the implementation of the NAS. What worries me is that I believe that there is not enough ministerial attention being given to what are very technical issues—issues that are seriously concerning not only the aviation industry but also the travelling public. I contend that it is the responsibility of the minister—and I note that he is also the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia—to inform the travelling public and the aviation community of what is going on. But I am sadly reporting this evening that I believe that the minister is neglecting his responsibilities, because he has chosen not to make any detailed statement about the changes that have been pursued by Airservices Australia since 17 February this year.

The minister has not said a word in this chamber about our airspace management system since a question without notice, a dorothy dixer, on 17 February—more than three months ago. That dorothy dixer should have been followed up by a very detailed statement by the minister, because on the evening of 17 February 2004 Airservices Australia effectively said that there were major problems with the NAS. Since that time—and the record shows it—there have been considerable changes to the airspace management system, but the minister has not had the courage or decency to come in here and explain what is happening. Perhaps he is too scared of the political influence of the Prime Minister's mate Dick Smith and of what he thinks of changes to the NAS—a system that Dick Smith is clearly infatuated with. It is about time we said to the Australian community that the technical experts are running NAS and that enthusiastic amateurs such as Dick Smith are out of the ring. The minister should be prepared to accept his responsibilities and explain what is occurring. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Before I recognise the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, I note that normally members of the executive only get the call in the adjournment in order to extend the debate. However, there have been previous instances where they have received the call. This happened with the member for Hindmarsh. Therefore, I think it is entirely appropriate for the parliamentary secretary to have the call if no-one else rises.