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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5521

Mr ZAPPIA (1:32 PM) —I rise briefly to speak in support of the Excise Tariff Amendment (Aviation Fuel) Bill 2010 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Aviation Fuel) Bill 2010. As other speakers have already said, these bills will increase the excise on aviation fuel from $0.02854 to $0.03556 per litre and will generate around $89.9 million of additional revenue over the next four years. Notably, fuel excise has not been increased since 2005 and has not been indexed since 2001. Importantly, all of the additional revenue raised will be allocated to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to allow the authority to more effectively carry out its core regulatory responsibilities, including maintenance inspections and standards compliance. I repeat: all of the money raised will go to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. It is not a tax grab by the government; it is a case where the additional revenue will go into the specific operations of a particular agency of government.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is Australia’s air safety regulator. It reports to the Australian government’s Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government and is accountable to the Australian parliament. In response to the member for Wide Bay and the member for Farrer, who are wondering where all of the additional money will go, can I just remind them of some of CASA’s main functions, because its responsibilities and functions are extensive. CASA’s main functions are: developing and disseminating clear and concise aviation safety standards; developing effective enforcement strategies to secure compliance with the safety standards; conducting comprehensive surveillance of the aviation industry; conducting regular reviews of safety to monitor the aviation industry’s performance and to identify safety trends and risks; issuing operational certificates to aviation organisations; issuing licences, aircraft registrations and other permits; carrying out timely assessments of international safety developments; encouraging the aviation industry to maintain high safety standards through education, training and advice; promoting full and effective consultation and communication with all people and organisations that have an interest in aviation safety. I could go on, but I highlight those core responsibilities of CASA to demonstrate the range of responsibilities that the Australian people through its government expect of CASA—and quite rightly so. The Australian people expect the Australian government to ensure that we have the safest airlines possible within Australia. Airline safety is of paramount importance to travellers— (Quorum formed)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—I acknowledge students from Boulia State School up in the south gallery—the home of the min min light.

Mr ZAPPIA —I also welcome them to the House. As I was saying, this government considers airline safety to be of paramount importance, as I am sure do all air travellers. Compared with alternative transport modes, air travel has a very low accident rate and that is undoubtedly because of the high aviation standards set and the high level of compliance with those standards. Of course, that is no reason to become complacent because we know that with increased air traffic and increasing passenger numbers comes increased risks. To respond to something raised earlier by the member for Wide Bay in his contribution to this bill when he talked about the increasing number of people using airlines, the increasing number of flights and the increasing revenue which the government may raise as a result, in the last two decades air travel within Australia has trebled. Equally in the last two decades air travel overseas from Australia and into Australia has also trebled. Undoubtedly, that increases the work load on CASA.

The most effective way we can minimise these risks to air travellers is to better resource CASA and allow it to thoroughly do its job. The airlines are likely to pass on the additional costs to passengers. Based on current numbers of 50 million travellers on domestic airlines every year and around 23 million overseas travellers to and from Australia each year, I work out the additional revenue amounts to be of the order of 30c to 40c per traveller per trip. It is an amount that I believe most air travellers would gladly pay if they knew the money was being spent to improve their safety.

Regrettably, increased air travel numbers also increases the risk to travellers for several unrelated reasons. Firstly, with increased aircraft numbers CASA staff, without additional resources and support, will themselves be stretched to thoroughly carry out their inspections and regulatory tasks. The obvious fallout from that will be that non-compliance matters may be missed and aircraft operators will themselves begin to take shortcuts and risks. Secondly, with increased air passengers comes more congestion, tighter schedules and more flying time for each aircraft. The likelihood of shortcuts being taken or safety precautions being rushed again increases. Thirdly, as we have seen in recent years, the intensity of competition between carriers has lead to much lower prices and even budget airlines. Lower pricing leads to cost cutting and inevitably all sections of the carrier’s operations are cut to the bone, including areas such as maintenance, inspections and training. CASA therefore becomes more critical. It is only with a properly resourced CASA that operators will not take shortcuts or ignore the safety responsibilities of their service.

I said earlier that in reality aircraft travel is relatively safe, but when an accident does occur it is generally a major disaster. I take a moment to extend my sincere condolences to the families of the two people killed in the crash only yesterday in the Canley Vale area after their plane took off from Bankstown Airport. Because when an accident does occur it can be a major disaster, it has also been the case in recent years that we have seen aircraft become the target of terrorist attacks. Terrorists use aircraft because they know that it is one way of getting their message heard loud and clear. Quite often an airline will be carrying hundreds of passengers and, if the terrorists are successful, it truly is a major disaster. We saw another attempt at that not long ago on a US aircraft. Aircraft safety will inevitably be improved if carriers comply with all relevant safety provisions because if, for example, an aircraft is sabotaged before take-off, a thorough inspection is likely to detect the sabotage. Furthermore, general security of aircraft whilst they are on the ground is likely to be stepped up if CASA provides a more thorough regulatory role. That again comes down to resources.

If we better resource CASA then we clearly ensure that air travel is made much safer. I live in an electorate which has an airport adjacent to it—the Parafield Airport. I know that safety is of major concern to the people I represent. I am frequently contacted about safety matters relating to the airport and that is not to say in any sense that the airport is unsafe but the fears exist whenever planes are flying around you or taking off and landing in relatively close proximity. The best way we can allay those concerns is to ensure that we have a properly resourced government agency to ensure that all of the safety provisions which carriers are expected to comply with, and the airport itself is expected to comply with, are met. If they are, it is my view that the airline industry will continue to be a safe industry. I commend the bills to the House.