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Monday, 4 June 1984
Page: 2441

Senator TOWNLEY(5.30) —Perhaps you, Mr Chairman, can give me some direction about which way the chamber should now go. Are we to sit here and pass the estimates about which questions were asked in Committee meetings several weeks ago and to which we have not yet been supplied with answers. I believe that they have been given to the Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley), found not to his liking and returned to the Department of Aviation for re-examination. Perhaps you, Mr Chairman, could give us some direction as to whether we should continue or what we should do.

The CHAIRMAN —I think you are asking me to do more than my position allows. I am in the hands of the Committee on this. I understand there have been precedents for information being provided after the estimates have been passed. It is up to the Committee to decide whether to pass the estimates.

Senator TOWNLEY —I find it unsatisfactory not to have that information. Maybe we will have to find other ways of bringing the information to the notice of the chamber if it is not here now. I impress upon the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) that I would like it as soon as possible. Whilst I am on my feet I do not want to go into the whole matter of the aircraft that crashed in Bass Strait, because that really is not something entirely suitable for this Committee, but I wish to ask the Minister if his officers can give some advice as to whether there have been any alterations to the regulations, or whether there are any proposed alterations to the legislation, regarding the use of single engine helicopters over water and other matters that may have made it possible to have saved the lives of at least one of the two people in the aircraft that went down in Bass Strait on 17 July last year. I am sure the Minister will be aware of the things that the coroner reported during the last week or two, as reported in the Launceston Examiner of 15, 16 and 24 May. I am sure he will know that there was a deal of criticism about the delay experienced in getting a helicopter over to the place where the gentleman was seen in the water with his life jacket on. Those of us who live south of the main island of Australia, although some of us think that Tasmania is the main island, will recognise just how cold the water is in Bass Strait in the middle of July. Speed therefore becomes essential.

There have been discussions before in the Senate on this matter. I do not want to go over it all but I suggest to the Department that it would be an idea to have some kind of aircraft ready and waiting for such a circumstance to happen. Many aircraft fly across Bass Strait, some of them single engined, and many of them go down the route from Wilsons Promontory to Flinders Island. I think I said when this matter was before the chamber previously that I do not think it would be too much to ask one of the pilots who work for the Department to be on call during weekends, which is the time when most of these flights take place. I suggested also that that should be done without any extra requirement for pay because, in these days of beepers, the pilots could be easily contacted within a reasonable range of the aircraft that was to be used for the dropping of a raft or whatever. I am particularly worried about what might happen if a larger aircraft were to fall into Bass Strait. In the incident to which I am referring it was said that one of the problems was that the officer was operating under pressure. The Launceston Examiner of Tuesday 15 May states:

The deficiencies in performances which occurred were the result of working under pressure.

I think that some of the people who are likely to be in this kind of situation or directing a search should perhaps be trained a little better than they have been. But I particularly want to know whether there is any thought of changing the regulations so that single engined aircraft can go out to sea in a time of emergency. What has to be done to get that approval? Can we not speed up this whole process of getting an aircraft over the area where there might be not one or two people in the water but perhaps 10 or 20?