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Wednesday, 16 February 2000
Page: 11833

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) (11:06 AM) —I thank senators for their contributions to the debate. Senator O'Brien's contribution had nothing to do with the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 1998, although I think he did make reference to it in the final sentence of his speech. Senator O'Brien highlighted a great number of the inefficiencies in civil aviation safety that developed under the previous Labor government. Those of us who have been here for some time remember that Senator Collins's reign as transport minister in charge of aviation was one series of disasters after another. It is a pity Senator O'Brien was not around the Labor Party in those days. I understand he was in Sydney at the time.

Senator Sherry —That's not true, you idiot!

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Isn't it true?

Senator Sherry —That is totally untrue.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —So he was around. Well, if he was around, it is a pity that he did not help Senator Collins and the other Labor transport ministers with the mess they got themselves into with aviation safety.

Senator O'Brien mentioned some problems with fuel distribution. He quite rightly proved the point that I now make: that the changes in fuel distribution—the changes that he now criticises—all seem to have occurred in 1991 and the years following during which time various Labor ministers were in charge. I suppose that one would say the problems were not directly related to the then minister, as they were problems with the manufacture and not the distribution of fuel. Senator O'Brien has talked about distribution. The problems that have been identified recently at great cost to the community have been related to manufacture. I might say in relation to those problems that Mr Anderson, when they arose, was in constant touch with CASA over them, and remedial action was put in place at the very earliest possible time. They are problems which have caused real loss to Australia, and to regional Australia in particular. They are problems that Mobil will have to address. But they are problems that, since becoming known, the government and CASA have attended to in the most expeditious and proper manner.

We all remember the absolute disaster of the Labor Party's handling of the TAAATS installation. That resulted in a court case, and I think Senator O'Brien raised a question in the recent estimates about the cost to the Commonwealth of that. From my recollection of those days in the Senate—and I do not have any notes on it—it was a cost that could be directly attributed to the incompetence of the Labor minister at the time. The way the then Labor minister, in his incompetence, dealt with it allowed Hughes Aviation to sue and extract a lot of taxpayers' money from the Commonwealth. Again I do not have the figure in front of me, but I recollect from estimates that, just in legal fees alone, we were up for a bill of around $50 million—wasn't it, Senator O'Brien? I think you asked that question, and that is what you would be told in answer. Whatever it was, it was a very large sum of money and it was all directly, I suggest, related to the incompetence of the Labor minister at the time.

Fortunately that has changed. Mr Anderson, a very careful and able minister, is in charge of our aviation policies. His November 1999 statement about a measured approach to air safety reform really sets the direction for air safety and reform of air safety organisations into the future. As Senator Greig and Senator Mackay rightly noted, these particular pieces of legislation are all about making civil aviation safety simpler and more pertinent at all levels and are aimed at making civil aviation safer for the travelling public and travelling operators, including private operators and companies.

So I thank senators for their contributions. I thank Senator Mackay and Senator Greig for their support for the bill and their indication that there will be no objection to it. I table the supplementary explanatory memorandum to the bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.