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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 645

Mr MARLES (11:54 AM) —I rise to speak in support of the Aviation Legislation Amendment (2008 Measures No. 2) Bill 2008. The bill, if passed, will amend the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004, the Civil Aviation Act 1988 and the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003.

The aviation industry is utterly critical to our nation and our nation’s economy. The Australian Bureau of Statistics records that the air and space industry in Australia employs 50,000 people. The value of the air and space industry to our country annually is $6.3 billion. If you include aviation support in that, you can probably double those numbers; indeed, Qantas alone employs 37,000 Australians.

Of course, jobs are very important at any point in time but, given the issues that we are dealing with at the moment and have been discussing in this parliament over the last few days, there is a certain national urgency about jobs and making sure that we who are involved in public policy have a focus on them.

In my electorate of Corio we have Avalon Airport, which is rapidly becoming the second gateway to Melbourne and the greater Port Phillip Bay area. The passenger traffic at Avalon Airport has built up to almost a million passengers in a year. There are well over 1,000 people currently employed at Avalon. Jetstar flies there as one of its two Melbourne destinations. It is home to a significant amount of Qantas maintenance work. Next month, Airshows Downunder, the single biggest air show in Australia and one of the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, will be occurring at Avalon Airport. This will be an event that is attended by Australians in their hundreds of thousands.

I have spoken on a number of occasions in this place about the aspiration of Avalon Airport to become an international airport. With its new general manager, Justin Giddings, a lot of work is being done with the department of transport to ensure that all the regulatory hurdles are overcome so that Avalon Airport, in the not-too-distant future, can be an airport that deals with international traffic as well.

The growth of Avalon Airport perhaps represents the greatest potential for jobs growth in the Geelong region. Certainly, in a broader context of Geelong being a transport and logistics hub, not only for Victoria but nationally, with that all occurring around the northern side of Geelong where Avalon is located, the strategic importance for the Geelong economy and for Geelong employment is absolutely paramount. I think you can say more generally that airports in cities and particularly in regional communities are job centres. They are places of economic activity. Ensuring that they are supported and protected by legislative framework is a very important job that we in this place must do.

Core to airports being economic centres and job centres—and therefore core to Avalon being those—is public confidence in aviation. The bedrock of that is a fundamental belief by the public that it is safe to fly. Indeed, the tremendous expansion of the aviation industry over the 20th century has been founded on a fundamental premise that it is safe to fly. That is why the bills before the House are so important. They go to the very issue of security and safety in aviation, which is the bedrock of an industry that is providing so much employment and economic activity in our nation at a time when we need every bit of that that we can possibly find.

These bills provide additional safety and security measures for our aviation system in four ways. The first measure is to amend the Aviation Transport Security Act to increase the amount of aviation security information that can be collected by the secretary to the department of transport. Currently, the definition of aviation security information in the Aviation Transport Security Act is quite narrow, which means that the kind of information that can be collected by the secretary to the department of transport is correspondingly narrow. It is defined as being security compliance information—that is, information relevant to a person or a body complying with the Aviation Transport Security Act. But there is quite a lot of information out there which may not be directly relevant to a strict compliance with the act but which may be very relevant to security and safety within the aviation industry. It is that kind of information which this amendment will allow to be collected by the secretary of the department of transport. An often quoted example of that is statistics around the screening of baggage or passengers.

The second measure contained in this bill is an amendment to the Aviation Transport Security Act in relation to widening the delegation of functions and responsibilities held by the secretary of the department of transport under the Aviation Transport Security Act. Currently, those functions and responsibilities can be delegated within the department of transport. But in an emergency there may be cause for the powers that are normally exercised by the secretary of the department of transport to be exercised by someone else.

An example which is often quoted in relation to this is the power to direct a plane to land. In an emergency situation, it is utterly essential that there is somebody on deck who has the legal authority to exercise that power and carry out those responsibilities. In a circumstance where the secretary to the department of transport finds himself or herself unable to exercise those functions and responsibilities and there is no-one within the department of transport who would be in a position to exercise those functions and responsibilities, then a situation may arise where an emergency occurs and there is actually nobody who is in a position to exercise the powers that need to be exercised.

To deal with that contingency, this measure will widen the pool of people who can receive a delegation from the secretary to the department of transport in relation to those functions and responsibilities. That pool is widened to secretaries to other departments that are involved in national security and, indeed, other agencies with heads of like standing to the secretary to a department. That in effect widens the pool of potential delegates in an emergency situation so that if there is an emergency and there are a number of people, for one reason or another, not in a position to exercise those powers, a person can ultimately be found who can exercise the powers under the act—an important contingency to be provided through this amendment to the act.

The third measure is an amendment to the Civil Aviation Act in relation to information contained on cockpit voice recorders. Information contained on cockpit voice recorders is strictly confidential. It is appropriate that it be strictly confidential. The people who are engaging in the conversations which form the recordings on cockpit voice recorders need to be able to have whatever conversations they have to have in the complete knowledge that they are acting in a confidential environment. Cockpit voice recorders, like every other piece of equipment, need to be tested and maintained. That obviously means that information may need to be copied or to the person who is doing the testing and the maintenance. This amendment to the Civil Aviation Act provides for an exception to that confidentiality rule within the act to allow for the proper and regular maintenance and testing of cockpit voice recorders.

That may seem like a very detailed and small issue, but in May 2005, after the very tragic air accident that occurred at Lockhart River, with the resultant deaths of 15 people, the cockpit voice recorder that was recovered from that plane in fact had no usable data. This added to the tragedy of that event because it meant the investigation into what occurred was necessarily limited by the absence of that information. So, as detailed and specific as this provision may appear, it is indeed very important.

The final measure contained in this bill is an amendment to the Transport Safety Investigation Act. Firstly, the amendment to this act will stiffen the reporting requirements on accidents and incidents and will also increase the ability of the executive director of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to gather more information around incidents and accidents, which in turn is important to enable the proper research and analysis of those incidents and accidents. This measure will also seek to stiffen the penalty regime for failing to report incidents and accidents and failing to provide information being sought by the executive director of the ATSB. Currently there is a statute of limitations contained in the act for prosecutions by the ATSB for failure to provide information. In some cases that statute of limitations is as short as 12 months. There may well be circumstances where it would be impossible to properly carry out a prosecution within that period of time and so prosecutions are not occurring. This amendment will provide that for serious offences—that is, offences which carry a custodial term of more than six months—there will be no statute of limitations, as indeed there is not in other criminal prosecutions, and for smaller offences there will be a statute of limitations of six years.

Each of these measures seeks to improve the safety and security of our aviation industry. Our aviation industry, as I said, is very critical to our economy. In a nation which Geoffrey Blainey once described as being characterised by the tyranny of distance, aviation is fundamental to the way Australia works. It is fundamental to our way of life. Everybody in this chamber and in this parliament absolutely understands that by virtue of the number of hours that we spend on planes. The aviation industry has, in fact, gone a very long way to overcoming the tyranny of distance which characterised Australia in the past. It is very important to our economy. It is very important to our jobs base. At the heart of our aviation industry is safety. There needs to be public confidence in the industry and people need to know that they can get to where they are going safely. At the heart of this bill is making the security and safety regime of our industry more robust. For that reason I support the bill.