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Thursday, 14 November 2013
Page: 279

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:03): Labor welcomes the minister's statement and the announcement of a further review into the regulation of aviation safety. As the minister said, this country has an enviable record of aviation safety, the result of governments of either political persuasion taking a nonpartisan approach to this issue, as is entirely appropriate. During the period in which the current minister was the shadow minister, when it came to safety and security issues they were dealt with in a manner above politics, and I intend to adopt exactly the same approach. It is absolutely critical that safety not be an issue which becomes part of the political contest.

It is also the case that, when it comes to aviation safety, we can never be too cautious. Continuous improvement must always be our aim, and our pursuit of the best possible aviation safety framework must always be beyond politics. When I became the minister, I commissioned significant reform to the aviation sector through a properly planned green and white paper process. That was the first time that Australia had put in place a comprehensive plan for aviation that went to safety and security, regulatory issues, workforce-planning issues, the general aviation sector and international agreements, so it was a comprehensive plan, not for just a year or two; it was a comprehensive plan for decades ahead.

All the recommendations on safety and security were put in place by the government. We had a process for a strategic plan, including accelerating the modernisation of Australian regulation. I would hope that this review takes it to the next stage. We introduced a board of governance for CASA, chaired by Allan Hawke—a process that received the support of the parliament. In terms of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, we improved its governance structures as well by having commissioners and by extending the ATSB's responsibilities to also look at rail and shipping, so that you had a comprehensive approach to transport safety issues.

I think this plan has got it right by looking forward and making sure that it looks at the strategic framework and the balance that must be there between appropriate safety, regulation and costs. The minister referred to that and I would agree with that. I would say this, though: there should be no compromise in terms of safety being the absolute priority—something I am sure that the minister agrees with.

I also welcome the appointment of David Forsyth to chair the review. I know David well. I appointed him to chair the board of Airservices Australia in 2008, a position he held with great distinction until last year. Under Mr Forsyth's leadership the board led a major program of investment in critical safety infrastructure, air traffic services and training of skilled personnel.

About $1 billion is being invested in upgrades for air services. We have seen new air traffic control towers. I have opened them not only in capital cities such as Adelaide but also in regional centres such as the Sunshine Coast and Broome. The air traffic control process is also being streamlined to achieve greater cooperation between defence systems and the civil aviation sector.

I am also pleased that the coalition has appointed overseas experts to this review because, in an industry that is by definition international, it is critical that we consider overseas experience.

In fact, just before the recent federal election, I welcomed the ATSB's decision to invite the Canadian Transportation Safety Bureau to undertake an independent review of the ATSB's investigation methodologies and processes.

That review commenced in August. It aims to provide the ATSB with valuable insights about possible improvements in the conduct of investigations. It is due to report to the minister next year, and I look forward to discussing that process with him. I am pleased that Mr Forsyth will be joined in this new review by Don Spruston from Canada and Roger Whitefield from the UK. Both men are indeed highly qualified.

In conclusion, the aviation sector injects some $7 billion into the Australian economy each year. Australia has an enviable record of aviation safety, but we should not be complacent at any time. We need to ensure that we keep our personnel appropriately trained and skilled and be prepared to provide proper resourcing.

In 2010, I was very proud that Labor announced an additional $90 million in funding over four years to provide CASA with long-term funding stability. That was not an easy process to get through our cabinet, but people recognised that this was a priority. I would say to the minister that it is important that the resourcing from government to these organisations in charge of safety and security also be kept up. This extra assistance that we provided has allowed the authority to better meet the demands of a growing and ever more complex domestic and international industry.

The proliferation of low-cost carriers, the huge growth of fly-in fly-out airline and helicopter services, and the emergence of unmanned aerial systems are just some of the big challenges facing aviation safety. Others include new aircraft types and the wider use of satellite based technologies. There is always a balance to be struck between safety regulation and cost. This balancing is best done by experts, not politicians.

I welcome the minister's acknowledgement today that Australia's safety performance is among the best in the world and that it is built on a strong regulatory system. The opposition will follow the review and carefully consider its recommendations when they come forth in May.

I say to the minister that I believe it would be appropriate that there be a confidential briefing given to the opposition before the release of the recommendations. I have committed to him, publicly as well as in private, to ensure that these issues continue to be held as those not the subject of political debate. As I say, I pledge cooperation with him on this matter and give credit to him for the way in which he dealt with difficult issues such as the introduction of body scanners here in Australia, which was introduced without political rancour and with bipartisan support.