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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5523

Mrs HULL (1:45 PM) —I rise to speak in opposition to the 25 per cent increase that is being imposed upon the aviation industry at this time through the Excise Tariff Amendment (Aviation Fuel) Bill 2010 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Aviation Fuel) Bill 2010. I believe that no research has been provided to us to determine why it is a 25 per cent increase. I entirely support the excise tariff amendments that have been put forward by the Leader of the Nationals and the shadow minister for transport simply because we have not been given any understanding as to what constitutes this 25 per cent increase and what was put into the mix to have the minister and the department determine that it should be 25 per cent.

It seems to me that the speakers on the government side of the House have totally missed the point. There is no objection to making the Civil Aviation Safety Authority efficient; there is no intention at all to reduce their importance in regulating airlines and aviation in general for safety purposes. The fact is that CASA’s funding from the aviation fuel excise has increased from $53.96 million in 2002-03 to $78.37 million in 2008-09 and will continue to increase as the industry expands, and the industry is expanding in a dramatic way. There needs to be accountability on CASA’s behalf as to why they seek this type of increase. It seems that there is a view on the government side of the House that CASA are entitled to get whatever they want and that they do not have to be accountable for the expenditure or live within their means as they should.

I am here in support of the aviation industries, particularly Regional Express, which I believe is a home-grown airline that has demonstrated its worth and its value. Unlike the former speaker has indicated, Regional Express simply does not cut costs, does not scrimp on maintenance and would never jeopardise its passengers. It is the same with QantasLink and any airline that is serving regional Australia. The fact that you have such an increase means that companies like Regional Express have to find an additional $200,000 or $300,000 per year from their bottom lines to be able to pay for this increase so that CASA can build their ranks. But the salt in the wound for airlines such as Regional Express, which are the very operations that will bear the cost of this 25 per cent increase, is that they are already paying CASA significant money. There is full cost recovery every time CASA walks into their hangars, every time a safety inspection occurs and every time CASA wants to undertake an operation and comes into the business of, say, Regional Express. There is then a full cost recovery and the CASA officials are being paid significantly for coming into these hangars and into the industry.

In my view, it is like a double bite at the cherry. The fact is they are already being paid by this aviation industry for everything that CASA does within their facilities and on their aircraft, yet now they are expected to bear the cost of a 25 per cent increase on top of that. Obviously, you will find that this will have to be passed on to the consumer. The speaker before indicated that we have seen competition amongst airlines and thus reductions in air fares, cuts and shortcuts on maintenance and a whole host of things. I have seen no evidence of that and I am sure the airline operators would object to that kind of statement. I believe our aviation history speaks for itself and I look at the benefits we have from regional Australia being served by regional airlines. I am sure they would feel offended if anyone suggested they were cutting costs, reducing maintenance and endangering the lives of their passengers because that would be far from the truth.

The issue here is also the consultation process that was not undertaken. Normally you would have a stakeholders meeting where you would explain the reasons and the formula behind the increase that has been struck—in this case a 25 per cent increase that will be met by aviation carriers—and you would try to get some feedback from the airlines as to how that will affect them and the impact that may have on the way in which they can service the regions. If we want to call on regional aviation to provide health and medical services into regional communities, to provide opportunities for business growth and the establishment of industries in regional areas and to service our regions to give an equality of life to those who live in rural and regional Australia—and we expect those airlines to expand their operations and make losses, and maybe be marginal on routes and have some routes make little profit—we have to understand what makes up the airline industry and that company. I look at QantasLink and Regional Express and I say what a great job they do in providing us with the facilities and the access to medical specialists in city areas from which we have not been able to attract them. Surely that has to get some recognition.

In many cases, regional Australians have to have access to a low-cost carrier in order to access health and other facilities in major capital cities for chemotherapy, radiotherapy, ongoing cancer services and many other things that affect regional Australians. By the very nature of the way in which this has been imposed, it will have an impact on the consumer. The consumer does not want CASA cutting costs in order to ensure that they are able to fly safely. But surely the consumer expects to have an understanding of what formula goes into the increases in prices of air tickets that are passed onto them. They will soon find that affordable air travel will become almost out of the question.

I am disturbed about the issues with the aviation industry and the lack of consultation. I oppose what the government is trying to do. What should have happened is a major consultation process with all of those in the industry. Then there should have been consideration as to what benefit and what value regional aviation provides to the lives of regional Australians who do not have a major metropolitan hospital parked next door to them or do not have public transport access on trains, ferries, buses or such like to get them to and from their medical facilities. There has been a lack of recognition of just how significant aviation is to regional Australia. The smaller of these airlines will most definitely be the hardest hit.

I note that just recently the minister was in the chamber and indicated his great delight—and I join with him in that great delight—in welcoming and congratulating Regional Express on taking the initiative to establish the Australian Airline Pilot Academy. They put in their own $20 million, with no money from government—not a dollar. They are going to see students graduating. The dreams and aspirations of young people right across Australia to become pilots are now able to be realised through a loan program, with Regional Express providing loans to students. When they are pilots, they are then contracted to stay within the company for a period of time. Regional Express were congratulated. I am sure that the minister will join with me on this.

Over 50 per cent of Regional Express’s workforce was poached in 2008. They said: ‘Well, we can go out backward. We’re certainly not going to cut our costs or cut corners on the maintenance’—which is what the previous Labor government speaker seemed to say would happen or has happened or will happen. They said, ‘No, we’re going to invest $20 million of our own money in pilot training, such is our commitment to rural and regional Australia.’ The mere fact that they have undertaken this huge expenditure on an academy that the minister opened just a few short weeks ago and congratulated them on means that these aviation providers should have been consulted with further. On the back of trying to ensure that Australian pilots are trained in the very best of facilities and trained to the very highest of standards, before their excise costs are increased by 25 per cent they surely deserve some discussion. I support the amendment and I oppose the government’s legislation.