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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 4925

Mr ZAPPIA (10:52 AM) —Listening to the member for O’Connor, I was not sure if we were speaking about a mining bill or an airport bill, because it seemed to me that he spent more time talking about the mining industry than he did about the aviation industry and airports in particular. I say to the member for O’Connor that this side of the House certainly understands and values the mining sector in this country. We understand the contribution it makes and we believe that that contribution is significant. We also believe, however, that the mining sector ought to pay a fair share for resources which are owned by the Australian people and which can only ever be sold once. About a decade ago, one in three mining profit dollars were coming back into the Australian community; today it is about one in seven dollars. In addition, as you would well know, Mr Deputy Speaker Washer, coming from a mining state, the system of having royalties imposed upon the mining sector is not a very efficient system at all, because it is a volume tax: if the companies are not making any profit they still have to pay the royalties.

Under the government’s resource super profits tax, to which the member for O’Connor was alluding a moment ago, all of the funds that will be raised will go into three key community areas. One is infrastructure, to which he was referring just a moment ago—infrastructure that ultimately will also benefit the mining sector. Secondly, funds will go into reducing company tax for companies around this nation. Again, that includes mining companies. Thirdly, funds will go into increasing superannuation for Australia’s working people from nine per cent to 12 per cent over the course of the next decade. It seems to me that it is all about fairness and nothing more. I repeat what I said earlier: this government certainly does understand and value the mining sector, but it also acknowledges its responsibility to the Australian people at large for resources which are owned by the Australian people and which can only ever be sold once.

Returning to the essence of the Airports (On-Airport Activities Administration) Validation Bill 2010, I will make some brief comments. By way of explanation, the Airports (Control of On-Airport Activities) Regulations 1997 empower authorised persons to issue infringement notices for the breach of certain rules. These include parking infringement notices. It has become apparent that the appointment of authorised persons at some airports has not been kept up to date. This extends back as far back as September 2004—it goes back to the time of the previous government. This was an administrative oversight by the department and in some cases also by the airports. As a result, infringement notices issued could be invalid and may have no legal effect. This presents an issue for anyone who was issued with an infringement notice that was invalid and paid the fine. They may still be liable to prosecution for the alleged offence.

This bill is all about trying to clarify the issue for these people and for the airports. It is about correcting an anomaly that has been brought to the minister’s attention. The bill will ensure that the rights and liabilities of all persons will be the same as if the infringement notices had been validly issued, it will avoid a potential requirement for the Commonwealth to reimburse amounts paid in respect of any infringement notices, it will confirm immunity from prosecution for the relevant offences of recipients of infringement notices who have paid the amount as per the infringement notice and it will ensure that all actions performed and powers exercised by an unauthorised person or a person purportedly authorised—or not authorised, through this oversight—to perform such actions and exercise such powers are legally effective.

Confirmation of immunity is important, because a driver can face much steeper penalties should the matter be taken to court. Immunity from prosecution for an alleged offence is provided by payment of a parking infringement notice—in other words, a parking fine—which is generally about one-fifth of the maximum penalty for the associated offence if the matter is taken to court. Since 25 March this year, all infringement notices issued are valid and the authorisations are now all up to date. Clearly, the issue of authorising the personnel has been fixed up, but there is a lag period between 2004 and March this year during which the anomaly still exists.

In its annual report on airport performances, the ACCC notes that there are concerns that the airports’ monopoly position could be used to exploit the public. Indeed, airports do have a monopoly over the businesses they are in. Consumers may have a choice of carriers, but they do not have a choice of airports. This is a matter that concerns communities wherever airports are located. It is not simply the case that airports have a monopoly over the business they are in. It goes much further than that. When the airports were privatised by the previous government, the operators of those airports were effectively given immunity from local government and state government laws. As a result, they not only have a monopoly but also have a free hand to do almost exactly what they want within the confines of the airport.

Having said that, I accept that most airport operators are good corporate citizens and are prepared to work with the relevant state and local authorities. But that is not always the case, and it is an anomaly that, quite frankly, ought to be rectified. As we all know, airports today no longer simply provide aviation activities. What we have seen at most airports is the development of land which they considered to be surplus to their aviation needs. Those developments are generally commercial developments—commercial developments which, in my view, ought to be treated, approved and dealt with by local government authorities and state government authorities in the same way that any other commercial development within their jurisdiction is treated. Regrettably, that is not the case.

I know that the minister has the right to approve the airport master plans, and this is a process that generally occurs every five years. But even within those master plans there is often not the detail, in terms of the development that is going to occur, that there ought to be and which would in turn enable local communities to have some input into what is occurring. It seems to me that that, as I said a moment ago, is an anomaly which ought to be rectified and which I believe was never, ever the intent in allowing airport operators to have immunity from state and local government laws. The immunity should have applied only to the direct aviation activities and to nothing else.

I will digress for a moment and respond to something that the member for O’Connor said when he was speaking on this bill a few moments ago about the mining companies having to provide the infrastructure required to carry out their operations. In particular, he referred to the need for some of the mining companies to provide their own airport facilities. Can I say in response to that that it is not unusual for developers today to have to provide the relevant infrastructure for their developments, whether it is a mining operation or something different. In fact, there has been a huge debate in recent years across Australia in respect of the level of infrastructure that developers are expected to provide as part of their overall development. Today it is not unusual to see in the city areas a developer of either residential or commercial developments also provide the necessary roadworks, drainage works, electricity systems, gas supplies and the like as part of the overall development plan. So for the miners to have to do the same is simply consistent with what is expected of all developers wherever they may be throughout the country.

I said a moment ago that the airports have a monopoly position over the airports that they operate. It is a concern that generally follows and is consistent with the privatisation of any asset. Wherever assets have been privatised we have seen concerns emerge as time passes. One of the concerns I will comment on is in respect of the level of car parking fees being charged by some of the airports around the country. In 2008-09 the five major airports generated around $278 million in combined revenue through airport car parking. This represents about 12 per cent of their total revenue. The highest car parking income generated was at Melbourne Airport, where $90 million or 20.5 per cent of total revenue raised was from car parking. It is estimated that Melbourne Airport makes about 75 per cent or $67 million of profit from its car parking operations. I would have thought that car parking should have simply been an adjunct service to the aviation activities. The 20.5 per cent compares with around eight per cent for Sydney, Perth and Adelaide airports. It is a fairly large discrepancy, and it is certainly not consistent with what is being charged at the other airports. Even the other airports, some would say, are charging more than they need to.

According to a previous ACCC report, passenger numbers increased by 41 per cent since 2002, but parking revenues grew by 77 per cent—almost double. There was a time that business operators provided parking for their customers, but it seems that providing parking at a cost is now core business of many airports and there to be exploited. It would be interesting to know if the number of infringement notices issued has also increased as the cost of car parking increased and the revenue to the airports increased. It would be only human nature, if you can avoid to pay for the car parking, given the cost that you are confronted with, to probably do so. And in trying to avoid the car parking fees you are more likely to be issued with an infringement notice, particularly today, where at most airports you can barely stop for a moment without someone coming along and telling you to move on.

I recall that at the Adelaide Airport, before the new airport was built, there was at least an area for very short-term parking for anyone who simply wanted to unload their luggage, take it into the airport counter and then come back to the car. You cannot even do that today unless you have a driver with you that stays within the car at all times and effectively keeps the car motor running. That kind of service simply does not exist, and I believe that is something that has been a loss to the people that use the airports. It was not about necessarily avoiding car parking fees; it was simply part of the convenience and service that was provided to customers at airports. In fact, when you consider some of the car parking charges at airports today and then look at some of the discount fares you can get to travel from one capital city to another, the car parking charges are almost as high as what you can sometimes get an airfare for—but that is another matter. This is a bill that tries to rectify, as I said earlier on, an anomaly relating to the authorisation of the people who issue infringement notices and in turn ensures that those people who have been issued with the notices are also protected by not being charged a second time or taken to court as a result of this anomaly.

I certainly, as I have said throughout the course of this speech, would like to see a total review of the way that airports do charge their fees for car parking. It is a matter that, frankly, I would like to think might be included in the airport master plans, and have the authorisation of the minister in terms of the level of charges that they can apply. But that is something that I will obviously need to take up with the minister. Having said that, this is a bill which, as I said throughout the course of this speech, overcomes an anomaly. I commend the bill to the House.