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Tuesday, 25 November 2003
Page: 22703

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (2:02 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. I refer to the comments made of his National Airspace System by the acting head air traffic controller, who said:

It's a joke. The whole fabric of airspace management in Australia ... has been destroyed. It has been politicised and trivialised.

Is the minister aware that domestic and international pilots, air traffic controllers, emergency medical service helicopter operators, fixed-wing aeromedical organisations, regional and mainland airlines, and charter and flying training organisations have all said that the new system will be unsafe and will increase the risk of a mid-air collision? Why won't the minister listen to aviation experts and operators and abandon or halt the introduction of this new flawed system?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for his question. For years in Australia it has been broadly agreed that low-level air space in Australia in particular needs reform. Our systems are essentially now based on models developed prior to 1950. Technology has moved on enormously since then, as has best practice internationally. The system that Australia is broadly moving to, it ought to be understood, is the North American system; that is what NAS stands for.

Mr Crean —It's unsafe.

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister has the call.

Mr ANDERSON —The Leader of the Opposition has apparently now become an expert on aviation safety and wishes to advise us that the North American air space system is unsafe. America is roughly the same size as Australia. It has far more aviation activity in its skies than Australia and, of course, it has more inclement weather than Australia has.

Mr Tanner —It has more crashes too.

The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne!

Mr ANDERSON —The fact of the matter is that the government—

Mr Crean —What about safety?

Mr ANDERSON —Aviation safety is purportedly important in the eyes of the Leader of the Opposition. Would you like the answer?

Mr Crean —Yes.

Mr ANDERSON —He would like the answer!

Mr Tanner —We'll just ask Dick Smith!

The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne for the second time! The minister has the call.

Mr ANDERSON —The fact is that the airline companies, the RAAF—the Royal Australian Air Force, hardly known for taking safety flippantly—

The SPEAKER —The member for Bass!

Mr ANDERSON —and a whole range of aviation experts—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Bass!

Mr ANDERSON —believe that this is the appropriate model for reform of air space in Australia. But, further to that, the bodies charged with aviation safety in Australia—plainly CASA, the regulatory body, and Airservices, who are charged with the responsibility for managing air space—have run this through exhaustive appropriate analysis to ascertain its safety. They are satisfied with the direction in which the process is being taken.

Mr Crean —What about all of these people's concerns? You're just ignoring them.

Mr ANDERSON —We are not ignoring them. The Leader of the Opposition charges that we are ignoring them. There has been exhaustive consultation. There is a campaign going on at the moment by the air traffic controllers—I don't deny that. It is not the first time it has happened. It has happened before; it will no doubt happen again. But the objectives of the government relate to maintaining our outstanding standards in relation to aviation safety, harmonising internationally and seeking through that process not only to improve safety in the future but to improve Australia as an international aviation market, as an opportunity and a place where people will come and train and where we can hopefully grow aviation in the future. But I make the point again that the body charged with establishing whether or not it is safe is CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. It has done safety tests and will continue to do so.

Mr Martin Ferguson —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table an email from the government's acting head of air traffic controllers in which the system is described as `a joke'.

Leave granted.