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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 11987

Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (11:21): I was ready to say that I very reluctantly rise to oppose this, the Air Services (Aircraft Noise) Amendment Bill 2011. I know the member for Pearce well and I know she would have introduced this with great conviction and, from her perspective, for all of the right reasons. Therefore, I am disappointed that the member for Canning chose to be so political about an issue which is of concern to all of us and on which, really, we are debating only minor differences in the way we believe these issues should be approached.

I am sympathetic to the countless families who are adversely affected by aircraft noise. However, this bill will do little to ease this impact and does not take into account changes which have been made in this area since the Labor government came to office—changes that the member for Canning unfortunately chose to ignore; either that or he is ignorant of them.

The bill would require Airservices to consult with communities on any changes to flight paths which would result in any impact on the environment or an individual's enjoyment of their place of residence. It would also require the minister to appoint and fund a community aviation advocate to represent the affected parts of the community during the consultations. What the bill does not take into account is that Airservices is already required to undertake an environmental impact study before making significant changes. Airservices also participates in the community aviation consultation groups, an initiative of the government's aviation white paper.

In May this year, Minister Albanese issued a strategic direction to the Airservices board under section 17 of the act, which requires that Airservices effectively consult with the community on any significant developments or changes to its services. If this bill were passed, Airservices would be required to consult on any change to airspace management, irrespective of how insignificant it was or whether it was on safety grounds. This would result in a significant drain on resources and would impact on Airservices' ability to operate safely and efficiently. I point out that the government's community aviation consultation groups already assist, inform and advocate on behalf of affected communities, the role which this bill would assign to the community aviation advocate.

Surprisingly, this bill makes no mention whatsoever of the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman. In September last year, Mr Ron Brent commenced his appointment as Aircraft Noise Ombudsman. A core function of the ombudsman is to monitor and report on the effectiveness of Airservices' community consultation processes on aircraft noise related issues as well as the handling of noise complaints by Airservices.

Another significant amendment which this bill would make is a requirement that Airservices provide detailed commentary on complaints made in relation to its conduct, including handling of complaints. Airservices already reports on noise complaints and matters relating to the Commonwealth Ombudsman in its annual report. In terms of future noise complaints reporting, the Airservices annual report will include the independent Aircraft Noise Ombudsman's annual report.

The bill would insert in the Airservices corporate plan the need to minimise the impact of aircraft operations on the environment and residential areas. The Air Services Act already requires that the board must consider the Commonwealth government objectives and policies in preparing the corporate plan, including the minister's strategic direction to the Airservices board under section 17 of the act, requiring Airservices to effectively consult with the community on any significant developments or changes to its services. The establishment of airport planning coordination forums, another initiative of the white paper, will help improve planning consistency between airport land and that beyond their perimeters. The government has also made changes to the Airports Act 1996 which require new work at airports with a significant community impact to undertake a major development plan.

Over the past three years, the government has taken many steps to abate the impact of aircraft noise and to better consult with affected communities around airports. The bill does not enhance the current legislation but has the potential to adversely affect the safety, environment and efficiency of Australian aircraft services. Further, the bill fails to recognise the improvements which have flowed from the aviation white paper, including the establishment of community aviation consultation groups at our major federal airports and the appointment of the dedicated Aircraft Noise Ombudsman. In these circumstances I am unable to support the member for Pearce's private member's bill, but, again, I state that I know she is very genuine in her motivation in putting it forward and is putting it forward with great conviction. To recap, I believe that many of the issues she is trying to overcome are being adequately addressed by the current minister through his aviation white paper and the initiatives he has taken until now. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.