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Thursday, 7 July 2011
Page: 4338

Tiger Airways


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:24): My question is to the Minister representing the Assistant Treasurer, Senator Sherry. The Greens welcome the government's support for CASA's moves to protect the safety of passengers by grounding Tiger Airways. In light of this, however, the airline continued to sell tickets for five days, including bookings for flights in the month of July which have subsequently been cancelled. What action will the government take to stop Tiger or any other carrier from doing this in the future?


Senator SHERRY (TasmaniaMinister Assisting on Deregulation and Public Sector Superannuation, Minister for Small Business and Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) (14:24): Thank you for the question because it does provide me with the opportunity to highlight the actions that have been taken on this matter in the context of Australia's new consumer law, which came into effect on 1 January this year. I am sure all senators and those listening are aware that Tiger Airways Australia was banned from flying by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, CASA, with immediate effect on 2 July on the basis of serious and imminent risk to air safety. CASA announced on 6 July that it will apply to the Federal Court to extend the ban until 1 August 2011 on the basis it needs more time to investigate the operations of the company.

Initially the company continued to sell tickets to consumers for flights to commence from the end of the initial ban period, being Saturday, 9 July. Both the ACCC and the state and territory consumer regulators did take prompt action under Australia's new Consumer Law. They contacted, spoke to and informed the company to notify it that selling tickets to consumers without a reasonable expectation of being able to provide services would amount to a contravention of Australia's Consumer Law. As I said, this is new national law; it was introduced from 1 January this year. It does highlight single national law: we were able to see with regard to this matter prompt, nationally consistent action—and I emphasise nationally consistent action—which may not have been possible under previous legislation. So I think it does illustrate that the new national Consumer Law can operate effectively. (Time expired)


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:26): Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I would like to ask whether the minister is aware that on Tiger Airways' website it states that passengers who have bought tickets for flights between now and 31 July will be refunded. However, when you look at the website, there is absolutely no information as to how to apply for that refund. Is the government doing anything to ensure that customers and passengers do get their money back in a timely manner?


Senator SHERRY (TasmaniaMinister Assisting on Deregulation and Public Sector Superannuation, Minister for Small Business and Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) (14:27): I do understand that, in response to contact with the regulators, the company, Tiger Airways, did stop selling tickets. It offered to refund moneys to passengers for all flights up to and including 31 July—the date to which you refer—and offered its sincerest apologies to consumers. I am not aware and I have no advice as to what is on the website, but obviously, consistent with the need to provide a refund of moneys, Tiger Airways would need to ensure there is actually a channel for those moneys to be collected. Firstly, though not having read the website and having no notification in the brief before me, I am sure that the chairman of the ACCC as well as the state and territory consumer regulators will ensure that there is a channel for refund moneys owed to consumers to be promptly refunded. (Time expired)


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:28): Mr President, I thank the minister for his answer and I have a further supplementary question. Passengers have told the ABC that they did not know their Tiger flight was cancelled due to safety concerns until questioned by journalists once they reached the airport. Given airlines ask passengers for their email addresses and phone numbers before completing their booking, what measures are the government taking to ensure that passengers get informed quickly that their flight is seriously delayed or cancelled due to safety concerns?


Senator SHERRY (TasmaniaMinister Assisting on Deregulation and Public Sector Superannuation, Minister for Small Business and Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) (14:29): Thank you again for the question. Regarding the issues you have raised about notification to customers, I do not have advice as to whether or not they would fall within those matters that would come under the surveillance authority regulatory oversight of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. In today's world, however, you would expect that an airline flying in this country, given the data that they collect and systems they need to operate, could, and indeed should, be able to notify passengers promptly using what would be regarded in today's world as reasonable, up-to-date, efficient and speedy methods of communi­cation. I think that it would be perfectly reasonable. (Time expired)