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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 11974

Mrs MOYLAN (Pearce) (10:25): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I bring the Air Services (Aircraft Noise) Amendment Bill 2011 to the parliament in response to many people in the electorate of Pearce and beyond who were affected by a significant change in flights paths following the Western Australia Route Review Project. I would like to thank particularly the member for Swan for his support in seconding this bill and my many Western Australian colleagues in this place and in the Senate for their assistance.

The bill is necessary because the agency responsible for the management of Australian airspace, Airservices Australia, now a corporate entity, has unprecedented power to change air flight paths with little regard to the environmental impact and effect of noise on the lives of many Australian people. Importantly, this bill reflects recommendations from the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, and gives effect to the calls in the national aviation white paper for greater consultation with communities in regard to the impact of aircraft noise.

I acknowledge the complexities that Airservices Australia must deal with in administering flight paths and that they manage the safety issues to a high standard. However, obvious difficulties arose between residents in my electorate and other electorates in Western Australia, and Airservices when significant changes to flight paths were made in Western Australia without adequate public consultation. Critically, Airservices Australia self-assessed the impact flight path changes would make, and the process through which complaints from affected residents were handled was severely lacking. The complaints hotline never worked effectively.

I am pleased to say that, since I started action to introduce this bill there have been some changes to the way Airservices operate. The government, during caretaker mode, did introduce an Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, which was a welcome step in the right direction. At least now the public has somewhere external to direct its complaints, unlike in the totally frustrating previous situation, when there was simply nowhere for them to go.

Changes have been made by Airservices Australia since the debacle in Perth, but it is clear that to avoid such situations in the future it is necessary to introduce changes to the act so that the public responsibilities of Airservices in regard to consultation are not simply an optional extra. In various communications since March 2009, Airservices Australia have maintained that community consultation regarding flight paths is not a primary responsibility of theirs, despite the fact they are the ones that institute flight path changes—the only organisation that can do so—and they are the only body equipped with the expertise and resources to engage in such a consultation process. The objective of this bill is to require Airservices Australia to consult and cooperate with government, commercial, industrial, consumer and other relevant bodies and organisations in the modification of existing flight paths and in the creation of new ones.

The bill calls on Airservices Australia to advise the minister responsible for the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 when changes to airspace are likely. Following this, a community aviation advocate will be employed for the duration of the consultation process when new flight paths or changes to airspace are being implemented. This is not a new measure. It was instituted in Sydney and, as former ministers of the current government said, 'If those consultation benefits are good enough for one airport, they're good enough for the others.' A community aviation advocate is to be appointed when the minister is advised of proposed changes to airspace, The role will be to assist, inform and advocate on behalf of affected communities. Another key objective of this bill is to improve Airservices Australia's complaint reporting processes. As I said, this never worked in the past. It will involve a detailed commentary on complaints in annual reports, including the efficiency and effectiveness of the complaint process. It is integral to this bill and it is a key objective of this bill to see the complaint system work as it should.

The Board of Airservices Australia is composed entirely of aviation interests. The Senate report by the Senate Standing Committee on Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport in the previous parliament made an important observation that Airservices Australia is strongly aligned with the aviation industry. so part of this amendment follows this observation to have some independent people appointed to that board.

While I have been committed to pursuing this bill's passage through the parliament, I have been open in consultation with many groups and have listened carefully to recommendations by people in my electorate who are well informed as well as to other organisations that this bill might affect. A common misconception that has arisen while this bill has been waiting to be introduced into this House is that it will present a major issue for airports if consultation is needed every time an airline adds a new service or changes the frequency of a service. Such a concern is unfounded. The bill targets flight paths set by Airservices Australia, not the day-to-day services provided by carriers or, indeed, their frequency. Through consultation, some concerns have also arisen with regard to definitions contained within the bill as it currently stands. These are minor issues that should not affect the overall intent of the bill and certainly, with further discussion, I am sure we will be able to come to some accommodation if necessary in looking at some amendments.

I have spoken several times previously in this place about the circumstances which led to flight path changes in Western Australia and I do not propose to revisit all of those issues—which have so negatively impacted on the electorate of Pearce and the electorates of Hasluck, Canning, Cowan and Stirling—as there is insufficient time allotted in this debate. However, my record speaking on this matter stands in this place. In short, the Western Australian Route Review Project, WARRP, followed a Civil Aviation Safety Authority, CASA, audit finding that changes were required 'to maintain safety, reduce complexity and cope with the rapid and predicted continued increase in air traffic'. The apparent clandestine nature of the processes precipitating the flight path changes, however, as well as the uncertainty and the inconsistency of the rationale for not providing the CASA report to the public, highlights some of the current flaws in the consultation process and the reason for such disquiet from within the community.

While it is understood that air travel and transport are important features of contemporary life, it is clear that a consistent and fair approach to these decisions is required. Decision making needs to be open and publicly accountable. The public have a right to be treated respectfully and an expectation to be informed of proposed and actual changes to flight paths. The fact that I have had such an overwhelming response to this bill from my parliamentary colleagues would suggest that they too are hearing from their constituencies about the problems created by aircraft noise.

Finally, while we have gone about the consultation process, I must make a point of saying that I have had meetings with the Perth airport corporation and they have made some constructive suggestions for amendments, which we are currently looking at. However, I do not believe we can return to a situation where Airservices Australia can simply self-assess. It has not worked in the past and it is unlikely to satisfy the test of public accountability in the future. I commend this bill to the House and look forward to the support of members to see its passage through this place.