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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Airservices Australia

Airservices Australia


CHAIR: Welcome back. We now have representatives from Airservices Australia. Do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Harfield : No.

Senator WATT: I am really asking for a bit of indulgence from the committee to ask this because there is a developing story in Queensland. Ms Dacey, while you are here, I don't know if you are aware, but one of the main power stations in Queensland has had a very large explosion which has taken out power, I think, across a lot of at least south-east Queensland, if not regional Queensland. It is apparently impacting Brisbane airport in a pretty major way.

Ms Dacey : No.

Senator WATT: Would you mind getting your officers to find out a bit and put on the record what the situation is and what is being done? I actually don't know much about what the impact has been on the airport. It sounds like there might not be any flights. If we could get a bit of information, that would be great.

Ms Dacey : Let me see what I can find out for you.

Senator WATT: Thanks.

Mr Harfield : We're just trying to find out what operational impact is occurring.

Senator WATT: Yes. It would be affecting your team obviously as well.

CHAIR: Senator Watt, are you going to ask questions?

Senator WATT: No. I am leaving it in the capable hands of my colleagues.

Senator SHELDON: I understand that there are plans to relocate up to 65 air traffic controllers from Sydney terminal control unit to the facility at Melbourne airport within the next 24 months. Has a final decision been made about this proposal, Mr Harfield?

Mr Harfield : No. A final decision has not been made.

Senator SHELDON: When is a decision likely to be made?

Mr Harfield : I will call it the full decision. It will be probably in the next couple of months. We're in consultation at this moment in time, particularly with staff. We're taking that consultation, and that consultation will have to be considered before making a final decision.

Senator SHELDON: Do you have any indication of how many of those 65 air traffic controllers are willing to uproot their lives and families to relocate to Melbourne?

Mr Harfield : At this moment in time, what we have offered is that if anyone wants to stay in Sydney, they can stay in Sydney. We would factor in training extra people down in Melbourne if we made the decision. So we are not totally reliant on people moving. At this stage, the indications, if my memory serves me correctly, would be that between five and 10 would be willing to move. A range would be happy to go on a temporary basis down to Melbourne to train others.

Senator SHELDON: With the five to 10, that leaves 40 per cent of the workforce still staying in Sydney. What is the intention of that workforce? The basis is that people are carrying out their normal employment responsibilities in that area as air traffic controllers. Do those who decide to stay in Sydney have a hard mark where the Sydney jobs won't exist?

Mr Harfield : No. In fact, one of the reasons we are considering this transfer of services in the airspace in the Sydney basin to Melbourne is that we will need to increase our staffing footprint in Sydney for the Sydney basin with the International Western Sydney Airport. We're going to have to put in a new air traffic control tower at Western Sydney Airport. There is the air traffic control tower at Sydney Airport; that still remains. There is movement there with staff all the time as well. Furthermore, there are other roles that we have in Sydney that people may choose to do as well. If someone wants to stay in Sydney as an air traffic controller, they will be employed as an air traffic controller doing air traffic control in Sydney.

Senator SHELDON: Just so I am clear—not that you haven't been clear—if there are 55 to 60 people, and we work on the basis that five to 10 said they would transfer, their jobs as air traffic controllers at Sydney airport would be secure?

Mr Harfield : Yes. I will put a clarification. A number of those controllers have put up their hand for redundancy due to their age and where they are in their cycle, which they would be eligible for as well. If people want to stay as a controller working in Sydney, they will be able to do so.

Senator SHELDON: How many redundancies have been offered across the group?

Mr Harfield : At this stage, because we're in consultation, these are people who put up their hand and said they would consider it. My understanding is that—I will correct this if I have the number wrong—it is in the order of about 20.

Senator SHELDON: Is there a concern about losing all that skill?

Mr Harfield : These are controllers who will be getting close to retirement anyway. We would be having to factor in refreshing that workforce with trainees anyway over a period of time. It is always something that we would consider, but it is not a significant risk because the staff we have all have to be trained to a certain level of competency. It is a requirement. After a couple of years, they will have a commensurate level of experience.

Senator SHELDON: An article from the ABC News website from 26 April described the proposal as a cost cutting measure. The Sydney Morning Herald on the same day reported it as a controversial plan partly aimed at cutting costs. Is the relocation a cost cutting exercise?

Mr Harfield : No. There is some cost avoidance that will occur with the replacement of the current facility that the controllers are housed in at Sydney airport. It is a building that I think is 50 plus years old that is coming to the end of its useful life. We have to build a new facility. In putting in the new air traffic control system, we would avoid that cost. As we have to put in infrastructure into Western Sydney Airport—a new air traffic control tower as well as a new fire station—that balances out that we'll avoid putting that extra cost in. However, it is not a cost cutting exercise to transfer.

One of the main reasons for transferring—it is one of the things we learned through COVID in putting in our controllers and service delivery—is that we have a greater staffing base. At our Melbourne centre, we have 450 air traffic controllers controlling the southern half of Australia and even into the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean. To keep the resilience of that service provision, having more controllers around and making sure is better than having a smaller staffing base, particularly where, if we have COVID or some infection, we have to shut down that service. So we are looking at it from a service resilience point of view first and foremost. We are making sure our Brisbane centre and our Melbourne centre can provide and give resilience to our services. On top of that, we get the added benefit of avoiding probably around $50 million worth of costs that the industry has to afford by putting in the infrastructure into Sydney, particularly the Western Sydney Airport.

Senator SHELDON: Is this the first time Airservices Australia has considered relocating these jobs?

Mr Harfield : This is not the first time we have considered relocating the services we provide in the airspace around Sydney to Melbourne. It was considered in 2003. It was considered briefly in about 2015.

Senator SHELDON: On those occasions, ultimately why was the decision made not to relocate?

Mr Harfield : In the first instance, in 2003, that was also timed with consolidating the services in Cairns as well as Adelaide. It was put off and deferred until 2008. In 2008, due to circumstances, it was decided not to proceed at that stage. In 2015 or thereabouts when it was considered, the decision was made to go ahead with Cairns and Adelaide but leave Sydney in situ at that time.

Senator SHELDON: I will move to safety considerations. What are the safety considerations in the reasons for the move? What contingency plans have you got? You mentioned, of course, a potential pandemic, such as COVID, as part of the explanation. Is there anything else you want to add to that?

Mr Harfield : For all of our services, we have contingency plans in place in the advent of equipment failure, industrial action and a range of different things to ensure that we can provide the level of service. When that does occur, if we enter into our contingency plans, we slow the system down to ensure that safety is never compromised. You may have been involved in Sydney when it gets delays because we don't have enough staff or we've had an equipment failure. Everything slows down for the day while we maintain the safety levels. In relocating the Sydney services to Melbourne, we would have to consider the safety of the move in doing the change management. There is no change to the service level that we are providing. We make it more resilient because we have more staff and redundancy with the system. There is no impact to safety at all. The mode of operation we are going to with Sydney is no different to what we did here in Canberra. When you take off here in Canberra or are about to land in Canberra, you are being controlled from Melbourne. That has been done since the late 1990s. It is the same with Coolangatta out of Brisbane, Cairns out of Brisbane and Adelaide out of Melbourne. This is not just an Australian thing. This is also something that is done worldwide. If you are flying in and out of London or the London terminal areas—Gatwick, Stansted, Luton or Heathrow—you're being controlled from Southampton in the south of England. It's not new. This is standard air traffic control practice.

Senator SHELDON: Can you provide on notice whatever internal memo or document Airservices Australia would have drafted which would have provided a rationale on the previous occasions when this relocation was considered but ultimately rejected?

Mr Harfield : Yes. We can.

Senator SHELDON: Thank you. When evaluating this decision, how does Airservices Australia quantify the value of safety against the value of cutting costs? Have they been considered in your decision?

Mr Harfield : First of all, this is not a cost cutting exercise so it is not a consideration. First and foremost, the safety of air navigation is the most important consideration. This decision to do this, when we make it, will be ensuring that there is no impact to safety at all.

Senator SHELDON: Correct me if I am wrong. There is a zero net reduction in the capability of our air traffic control systems. I just want to be clear. If the 65 ultimately decide to remain in Sydney, they do have secure jobs?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator SHELDON: I want to turn to another matter regarding the recruitment of a fire station manager. As you are aware, Airservices Australia has recently advertised 12 AA LOM positions—fire station managers—without having to comply with aviation regulations and MOS. Is that correct?

Mr Harfield : I would have to take that on notice. I am unaware of that.

Senator SHELDON: Thank you for taking it on notice. Why would Airservices Australia allow or want the most senior officers on a fire station to be unqualified?

Mr Harfield : We wouldn't. I think it is related to your first question. I need to make sure of this. Anyone we recruit for a fire station manager would have to meet the requirements for that role. If there are regulatory requirements, they would do so. We would ensure that. I'd have to educate myself on what those regulatory requirements are, so I wonder if I can take that on notice.

Senator SHELDON: You can take it on notice if there is no-one here to assist us now.

Mr Harfield : No. There is no-one here to assist now.

Senator SHELDON: When Airservices Australia asked for an exemption, CFO Glenn Wood from the fire stations made it clear to the committee that it would allow for a better COC arrangement. Is that correct? I understand that when Airservices Australia were asked for an exemption, CFO Glenn Wood made it clear to this Senate committee that it would allow for a better COC arrangement.

Mr Harfield : Do you mind if I take that on notice? I can speculate on a couple of those things. However, I want to confirm what that exemption is about and what exemption we're talking about. I am speculating that it is to do with the qualifications of a fire station manager. I'm just not quite sure. There are a number of acronyms. The acronym of COC could mean a number of things.

Senator SHELDON: I might give you some more questions on notice. I will ask you a couple more questions.

Mr Harfield : I just don't want to speculate.

Senator SHELDON: That's fine. Has CASA been made fully aware regarding these 12 AA LOM positions, or is that again something you need to take on notice?

Mr Harfield : I assume that we would be talking to CASA, but I'll take it on notice to confirm what we have done.

Senator SHELDON: I'll move to another subject. There are some other questions I'll have on notice. I will relay them to you. In May 2020, there was a release of the review of culture at Airservices Australia, as you are aware. We've talked about that on previous occasions here. We are aware that you've done some follow-up surveys of the Broderick review. What can you tell us about these results?

Mr Harfield : We introduced late last year what we call a culture pulse check, where we can check our culture and ask a set of questions on a regular basis. We were starting to do that on a monthly basis. What they were telling us is that we were making very incremental progress in the time. However, there's further work to do. A number of things that came out of those is that it is very much still in line with the results of the Broderick review. There is still a fair bit of work to do. The organisation is not as inclusive as we would like it to be. The fact is that local teams are quite supportive of each other. However, their mistrust of the rest of the organisation is there. There is criticism about the leadership of the organisation. It is not too much materially different to what came out of the Broderick review. We have actioned the recommendations out of the Broderick review. It has been nearly 12 months since the Broderick review was released. We are now conducting what we call a post implementation review of those actions, including that culture pulse check, to ensure that we're getting the right information out of them and we're making the right progress with it rather than just banging around on some actions. One thing we did find out with the culture pulse check is that doing it monthly means we're getting fatigue with people. We're only getting about 30 per cent of the population, about 1,300 employees, regularly contributing when we have 3,600. How do we get the penetration? We are bringing in a person to do that. Are we asking the right questions? How do we do this on a regular basis to ensure that we get the outcome we are trying to get out of the culture review, not just put a tick in the box and say we've completed the actions?

Senator SHELDON: Mr Harfield, that sounds very logical. You should be congratulated on continuing to look at improved practice. Are we able to get a copy of the report and a copy of the survey results?

Mr Harfield : You mean the Broderick report?

Senator SHELDON: We've got the Broderick review. Is there a report attached to the survey results?

Mr Harfield : We publish the survey results to staff as well as the leaders. We can provide a copy of that.

Senator SHELDON: Have you got a copy of a report that assesses that? Is it all the same thing?

Mr Harfield : We started, I think, in January, if I remember correctly. We did January and then we did February and March. We can show you January, February and March. You can see that the shift is incremental at best. That is one of the things we're assessing—whether you need to leave a bit more time, such as doing it once a quarter, for example. One of the questions we ask is: do you believe you'll see material change as a result of this survey? Material change is a big change. If you are not seeing it, you're not always going to get it. Are we targeting it right? We can show that over those reports.

Senator SHELDON: Thank you, Mr Harfield. Can we have a report back on how long it's taking to conduct investigations regarding the safe place? We talked about this on previous occasions. Where are we up to now? Have some of them dragged on as long as 14 months?

Mr Harfield : I'll take that on notice to give you the exact figures. There have been a couple that have dragged on.

Senator SHELDON: Give us an update on that. What are the consequences of the drag? Can you give me a broad insight into why some of those ones are going for 14 months or longer?

Mr Harfield : Some of the time, the individuals that need to be interviewed are on sick leave and cannot necessarily be accessed for a variety of different reasons. That is usually one of the reasons why they do sometimes drag on. Information is not necessarily provided. Sometimes other things can get opened up in the investigation that also need to be looked at. It is not always the most efficient, but there are sometimes some factors that do warrant it. However, it is not a preference because the longer they go on, the longer the uncertainty is there.

Senator SHELDON: Mr Harfield, in the various inquiries regarding the culture within the service, there was some critical commentary about a various levels of staff and management roles. Are any of those people in management who are negatively dealing with culture still in their role? Is there an ongoing program of testing management's attitude to culture change as well?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely. One of the things that was introduced as a result of the Broderick review is about leadership. We have introduced a leadership standard, which is based around ensuring that our leaders are much more humanistic. It is really around basic standards that your leader knows you and values you et cetera. That standard is used as the base assessment for selecting our leaders and managing their performance. I have made it quite clear within the organisation that managing and leading staff from a culture aspect is first and foremost for all leaders. If they don't feel that they have a role in leading the right culture in the organisation, this is not the organisation for them.

Senator SHELDON: I think one of my colleagues wanted to ask questions now. You can break in. I have more questions.

Senator McCARTHY: I might ask a couple of questions on PFAS. I know that Airservices Australia put out a press release in 2018 about the research being done by the University of Queensland and the work Airservices Australia was doing with them. You provided a significant amount of money towards the study. Could someone give me an update as to how that is going?

Mr Harfield : If my memory serves me correctly, I think either the interim report has been delivered or the final report, which I can provide on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: Which final report is that? I had a briefing with the University of Queensland. They are still in the process of their studies. Are you—

Mr Harfield : This is where it may be wrong. There may have been some interim findings of the longitudinal health study that we had.

Senator McCARTHY: That is the ANU one? Are you talking about the ANU one?

Mr Harfield : I will have to take it on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: There was one significant study, and that was the ANU PFAS epidemiological study, which is probably what you are referring to.

Mr Harfield : Yes. We were doing the longitudinal testing of the firefighters with their blood sampling, if that is the one that you are talking about.

Senator McCARTHY: That's right.

Mr Harfield : I thought it was with the University of Queensland. Before I continue talking about something that may not be on the correct theme, I will take on notice to provide you what information we have about that.

Senator McCARTHY: Sure. Are you able to provide information as to how many firefighters have taken up the study?

Mr Harfield : Yes, we can. How many were done previously that did it the second time as well?

Senator McCARTHY: That's right. Have you got that information with you?

Mr Harfield : Not with me. I can provide that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: What is the situation at Yulara, Alice Springs and Darwin airports? I know that PFAS, the foam, had ceased being used in 2010, according to previous evidence you have provided. I would like an update on what is actually happening in those respective airports.

Mr Harfield : We're about to conduct a review at Yulara airport. In Alice Springs, I have to take it on notice. I tried to refresh myself with it prior to coming here, but it has left my memory right at this moment in time. With Darwin, there is a review being done by Defence because it is a Defence estate in Darwin.

Senator McCARTHY: That's right.

Mr Harfield : We no longer use the PFAS related foam. That was transitioned out about a year or so ago, if my memory serves me correctly.

Senator McCARTHY: What about the communications deal with the firefighters that Airservices Australia employs? What occurs now in terms of awareness around PFAS or any ongoing impacts?

Mr Harfield : We have an ongoing program and awareness. I will provide the details on notice of what we do.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you.

Senator SHELDON: I will move to surveillance flight information services, SFIS, you are introducing at Ballina and Mangalore. Does the SFIS adhere to a standard ICAO practice, or are you creating a brand new standard while also trying to implement the ICAO practice?

Mr Harfield : The surveillance flight information service is a service that we provide today in that type of airspace. You will hear it being called outside controlled airspace or class G airspace. The obligation that air traffic services provide is for what are called instrument flight rules for aircraft, which are similar to airlines' regular public transport type flights. We provide traffic information on them to each other. That is a standard ICAO service that is provided, which is mandated as part of the airspace services. What we are doing with the surveillance flight information service is utilising the surveillance coverage we have—either radar coverage or ADS-B, where the controller can see them on their screen—to enhance that service, which is done pretty much today. We're focusing closer to these airports.

There is another added difference that we are providing. Currently, as an aircraft in that type of airspace gets closer to the aerodrome, they switch to what is called a common traffic advisory frequency. Today the air traffic controller or air traffic service provider does not monitor. When aircraft say that they switch to the CTAF frequency, we don't know what communications they are having with any other flight, even though we've given them traffic information. We don't know whether they are sorting themselves out, which they are supposed to do in that airspace. This surveillance flight information service is allowing a controller to be much more dedicated rather than have a large track of airspace around that aerodrome. They are providing the same level of service that they would in a broader way in a much more focused way. So it is the same sort of service class that is there now. The difference is that we will also now monitor that common traffic advisory frequency to ensure the protection.

We have focused on Mangalore and Ballina. It was mentioned earlier today with the ATSB that there was a mid-air collision between two instrument flight rules aircraft at Mangalore earlier last year. This is a quick way of making sure that we can put added protection in those areas. Ballina has increased traffic by 50 per cent to what it was pre-COVID. In December last year, it was Australia's busiest airport. There is no air traffic control today. This is a way for us to make sure that we can manage the safety of those areas utilising the service levels that are there and the technology we have and is compliant and consistent with ICAO standards.

Senator SHELDON: Is it a coincidence that Ballina and Mangalore are the test sites for this system when both saw recent incidents, one a mid-air collision and another a very near miss?

Mr Harfield : There we saw the risk profile and we wanted to make sure that we can manage the risks at those airports more fully. Normally, the upgrading of the service or the service enhancement would be putting in an air traffic control tower, which would take a couple of years to do. It would change the class of the airspace and a whole range of things. This is what we can do relatively quickly to manage the risk at those airports associated with it. As I said, there was the mid-air collision at Mangalore in February last year. As previously mentioned, Ballina is 50 per cent busier than it was pre-COVID. A number of incidents have occurred, particularly over the last six months, where there have been close calls between Jetstar aircraft and hang gliders and things like that. This is a way for us to enhance the safety of those aerodromes.

Senator SHELDON: Given the ATSB's investigations into these incidents at Mangalore and Ballina are not yet finalised, why are the changes being implemented now if they are not quite the changes that are necessary? What are the circumstances if the ATSB's recommendations suggest a different path?

Mr Harfield : If they suggest a different path, we will take that path. We see an immediate risk at those airports to maintain safety so we're doing everything that we possibly can in the timeframe that we can. If there are further things that come out with the investigation that we're not quite aware of, we'll take those actions as well. I didn't want to be in a position to sit back and wait for an investigation that may take 12 to 18 months when we are seeing and managing that risk on a day-to-day basis today.

Senator SHELDON: I want to move to another question. The UFUA, the firefighters union, recently travelled to Port Hedland, Karratha and Newman stations to visit members at those locations. They inform me that they found that at the three stations supported by Airservices Australia they've been breaching and ignoring the call-out contingency rules, which forms part of their approved operations manual. Are you aware of those concerns?

Mr Harfield : No, I'm not. I will take that on notice to review.

Senator SHELDON: Thank you. Take it on notice. Are you aware that these stations range between 2.5 to 5.5 hours driving time between them?

Mr Harfield : I understand that there is that driving time between them, yes.

Senator SHELDON: It was suggested that, rather than allocating a callout officer capable of arriving and having any kind of timely impact, these three stations with Airservices Australia blessing are nominating their own AA LOMs, or fire commanders, at the other stations as the COC officer. Are you aware of this?

Mr Harfield : I'm not aware of it, but I will look into it.

Senator SHELDON: The assertion is that this means they cannot meet any sort of reasonable response time and they can also strip required resources to provide a COC at another station. UFUA members are not happy with this. I'm expressing their concerns. It puts the OIC at those stations in a seriously compromised position, in their view, knowing that there is no COC available for at least 2.5 to 5.5 hours in the event of a crash. It also places the COC officer at risk responding possibly in the evening or night-time on country roads with livestock. Other animals place them at risk along with their own fatigue issues of working their own shift and then responding for 5.5 hours for a COC. Can you make any observations? By all means, take it on notice, because there is some detail there of what is being proposed.

Mr Harfield : They are quite valid concerns from a work health and safety perspective. Everything we've been trying to do is to actually minimise people traveling long distances on roads for a variety of different reasons. I'll take that on notice and review that.

Senator PATRICK: It has been too long since I saw you last. I want to go to OneSKY and the status of that project. From memory, the budget for that was about $1.2 billion. Has that changed at all? I'm going back a few years.

Mr Harfield : No, it hasn't. That is the contract price with Thales for what I am going to define as CMATS, the civil military air traffic management system. It is the kit.

Senator PATRICK: I seem to recall it was something like $500 million or $600 million for your side.

Mr Harfield : If I remember correctly, it's like a 55 to 45 ratio.

Senator PATRICK: Between Defence and yourself. Back in February 2018, I asked some questions around project milestones. You provided me with them. I will duck to things that are closer. The critical design review was supposed to be completed in Q2 of 2020. Did that occur at that time?

Mr Harfield : In Q4 in 2020. There was about a six-month slippage in that, partly due to COVID and getting a few pieces in the dynamics that we had with the work out of Melbourne et cetera. We had to make sure that previous work that had been done had been rounded out. We could then make sure we came out with a CDR as clean as we possibly could, considering that it was one of the biggest milestones.

Senator PATRICK: You have an extra six months. Normally, as a former project manager, that means you have six months of salaries that tack on to the end because you can't close the project down. Is that additional cost going to be borne by contingency within the project?

Mr Harfield : Potentially. The contract that we have is a target cost incentive model, which has pain share and gain share. There are specific milestone payments or sections of the contract that you've got to meet before you can go to the next piece. It is not like a running cost all the way through. At this stage, obviously we are keeping an eye on it and we start entering into pain share the more that that goes on. There are other opportunities that are being picked up.

Senator PATRICK: Perhaps on notice come back and look at whether or not that is going to have an impact on the cost of the project.

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: The next milestone due was the Perth terminal control unit refurbished and ready for installation phase Q2 of 2021.

Mr Harfield : That will be later. We put that on hold during COVID. One of the things we were looking at during that COVID period—we put it on hold—was the potential for us to consolidate our Perth centre into Pearce to try to minimise costs, because we weren't quite sure what the flow-on effect with COVID would be. We explored that. That was on hold due to COVID. That is now underway, but it is not on the critical path to be delivered in time for install.

Senator PATRICK: Do you have a timeframe for that?

Mr Harfield : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator PATRICK: Could you go back to question No. 43 of additional estimates from 2017-18. It is departmental question No. SQ-18000064. This table has your baseline and each of the milestones. What date did you hit them? The PDR, or preliminary design review, was supposed to be completed in Q4 of 2019. Do you recall what date that was?

Mr Harfield : Q4 of 2019 was December 2019.

Senator PATRICK: So that met schedule. So the slippage has cut across predominantly the COVID period?

Mr Harfield : That's correct.

Senator PATRICK: Do you have a change in expected final acceptance date?

Mr Harfield : At this moment in time, we're looking at a range between six to 12 months across the life of the project.

Senator PATRICK: So you are saying maybe 2026 instead of 2025?

Mr Harfield : Yes. That's correct.

Senator PATRICK: What are the mitigation strategies? I presume it means you have to keep the current system running longer and you don't enjoy the benefit of the shared military-civil aspects of it. Is that right?

Mr Harfield : It is not as black and white as that. The rollout of OneSKY and CMATS is done in three tranches. There will be the first release zero, or RZ, as we call it. That first stage allows the military to come off their current ADATS equipment and establishes the system architecture and the flight data processing. For that RZ milestone, at this moment in time, the install work is being carried out at East Sale. This is one of the first sites to occur. Then there will be release one, which is when the civil system, or the civil sector's air traffic positions, will come online.

Senator PATRICK: So Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth?

Mr Harfield : Yes. That will take us a couple of years. Obviously we can't shut up shop on a Friday night and turn on a big bang on Monday. We have to keep the two systems running and move across. Release 2 will bring in further enhancements to the software. We will start getting the benefits and some of the harmonisation benefits as well as some of the benefits to industry through that period from RZ all the way through to R2. We don't have to wait until final acceptance to get all the benefits.

Senator PATRICK: There was a matter of some conjecture that you would end up with a different hardware baseline between the military and the civil systems. Is that where it has gone to?

Mr Harfield : No. We will have exactly the same. That is where the release is. The hardware baseline stays the same all the way through even when there will be a hardware refresh. It is exactly the same across the board. We have these releases, which are the software upgrades as we go along.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. You will remember the awful days of this committee looking into the early stages of this project with some very, very heavily paid consultants. The issue went to consultants. I think we looked at consultants that were receiving a daily rate of more than $2½ thousand. I can't remember the organisation and the project management organisations where there was some concern. I think the auditor looked at it as well. Are you paying any of your consultants more than that $2½ thousand per day rate?

Mr Harfield : Not to my knowledge, but I will take it on notice to confirm that.

Senator PATRICK: Can you give me also an update on the spend on the project to date? Do you look at that from a military perspective, a Defence perspective, and a civil perspective? I don't know how to ask the question. Do I ask Defence what their costs are on their side? How does it work?

Mr Harfield : From our perspective, when you talk to Defence, are they talking about Air 5431 Phase 3, which is their portion of the CMATS project. They are introducing CMATS into them, so it is not OneSKY as a whole. The way that we have set up the contract with Thales doing OneSKY is that we have the contract with Thales in that 55 to 45 split. We on-supply to Defence. So we have the prime contract with Thales and then we on-supply to Defence. Defence costs are around their portion. Obviously there are install costs et cetera with all the different interfaces that are required for their facilities and integration. The costs that we will talk about relate to our facilities and our portion of the contract et cetera to get it in. The agreement with Defence is that we have given Defence a fixed price for things. So we are carrying the risks with the contract with Thales. To get into Defence costs, you'll have to talk to Defence, because we don't necessarily have visibility for Defence.

Senator PATRICK: Are you using earned value management as a method for tracking the projects? I'm getting a nod from the CFO.

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: I accept you might want to redact some elements of this. Can you provide the latest earned value management report associated with the project to the committee?

Mr Harfield : Sure.

Senator PATRICK: Noting that you are behind schedule, is the spend lagging as well?

Mr Logan : Yes. The earned value is close to the expected earned value. We've spent a long time, obviously, with Thales and Defence looking at how we deal with the consequence of COVID. In a really rough sense, we're between 45 and 50 per cent of the spend at the moment, to give you a sense of how far in we are. There's still a fair amount of flexibility in terms of how we manage that over the next few years as well.

Senator PATRICK: I look forward to seeing the EVM report. There might be some commercial bits in there that you need to redact. Thank you very much.

Senator RENNICK: I have some questions about Airservices Australia aircraft noise complaints handling processes. You are welcome to take this on notice if you need to. How many staff in the Noise Complaints and Information Service team are responsible for managing complaints and inquiries about aircraft noise and operations? Where are those staff actually located?

Mr Curran : The noise and complaints handling unit is based in Sydney. The team that handles the engagement more broadly is located also in Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne. We have the team broadly spread out. About six to eight roles are dedicated to the function in Sydney today.

Senator RENNICK: Thank you. How many complaints and inquiries in total does the NCIS team handle each year? Can you please provide a breakdown on the number and proportion of those complaints received online, by phone or by post?

Mr Harfield : We will take that on notice.

Senator RENNICK: You are welcome to. How many of these complaints and inquiries relate to aircraft noise at Brisbane airport? Again, can you please provide a breakdown of the number and proportion of those complaints received online, by phone and by post?

Mr Curran : We'll certainly take them on notice to give you the breakdown. I can give you a feel for that now, if that is helpful.

Senator RENNICK: No worries. Has the number and level of community complaints about aircraft noise increased significantly since the second runway became operational at Brisbane airport in the middle of last year? If so, could you please provide details of the suburbs affected, as indicated by the location of residents who have lodged complaints since the second runway became operational? Do you want to take that on notice?

Mr Harfield : We can say yes to the first part of that question. We'll provide the suburbs.

Senator RENNICK: Great. Does every complaint received by Airservices Australia receive an individual response? Do you count the total number of complaints received or just the number of complaints and who lodged them? What is the process you follow when multiple complaints are received from the same person? Do you have a protocol in place where someone who lodges more than one complaint in a month only receives one response per month?

Mr Harfield : We'll provide you with the protocols on that. There is a range of things. For example, if it is a complainant complaining about exactly the same thing multiple times, we treat that as one complaint. However, if that one complainant complains about two different events, they will be treated as that. We will provide that protocol.

Senator RENNICK: No worries. I will put these on notice for you as well. Thank you.

Ms Dacey : Chair, in relation to the question Senator Watt asked. Brisbane airport is back online running on mains with no delays. The only impact was to the international terminal.

CHAIR: I think it is extraordinary that you can have half a million people go out and get people back online so quickly. My daughter reports that she was back online after 30 minutes. I think it is an extraordinary shout-out to the professionalism of Energex people right across the state that they manage that. That is terrific. I know we have some more questions for you. We have run out of senators. This is quite unlike me. We're going to go to an early break and come back to you. We will meet in 15 minutes at 4.20 pm.

Proceedings suspended from 16 : 06 to 16 : 22

CHAIR: Welcome back to everybody. We're ready to go again.

Senator STERLE: Mr Harfield, this won't take long. Have you received any complaints, either written or verbal, about your chief of people and culture officer, Ms Lucinda Gemmell, since September last year?

Mr Harfield : Yes, I have.

Senator STERLE: How many?

Mr Harfield : Four different complaints.

Senator STERLE: Either written or verbal.

Mr Harfield : Four in total. They have all been independently investigated.

Senator STERLE: Are they all completed?

Mr Harfield : There is one that is still underway to be completed. The other three have been completed.

Senator STERLE: Can you tell us what the outcome has been of the investigation?

Mr Harfield : It is not substantiated.

Senator STERLE: How many were investigated by the investigative branch that until recently reported to Ms Gemmell?

Mr Harfield : None.

Senator STERLE: Could you tell us how many investigations about Ms Gemmell sent to Safe Place were dismissed?

Mr Harfield : None of them were sent to Safe Place.

Senator STERLE: Have all complaints and allegations been fully disclosed to the Airservices Australia board?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator STERLE: That is fine. Thank you very much.

Senator RICE: I want to go to issues with Brisbane airspace design and the use of dependent separation approaches in Brisbane's airspace design. What can Airservices Australia say about whether the use of dependent separation approaches is compliant with ICAO standards?

Mr Harfield : I will ask Mr Curran to answer those questions if he can.

Mr Curran : If I may, I would like to take that on notice with regard to the ICAO compliance.

Senator RICE: Have you done any review of whether it is compliant with the ICAO standards?

Mr Curran : As a part of the process to implement the Brisbane new parallel runway, there was both a design and an implementation safety analysis undertaken. It was to assess the safety of the design and whether it could be implemented safely. It was committed to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority for endorsement. Whether that actually directly linked to ICAO I would have to take on notice.

Senator RICE: Who did that assessment?

Mr Curran : Airservices Australia technical experts.

Senator RICE: An internal assessment?

Mr Curran : Yes. That's correct.

Senator RICE: In terms of that internal assessment, that was using your in-house integrity and standards specialists?

Mr Curran : It would have been a mixture of experts from Airservices Australia operational air traffic control personnel as well as our in-house safety and risk assurance area.

Senator RICE: It has been put to me that the design principles for the independent parallel runway and the dependent runway approach are flawed and non-compliant with ICAO safety standards. Has that been raised with you previously?

Mr Curran : I'm not aware of such an issue being raised.

Senator RICE: An issue that has also been put to me is that as a result of the design, there is a concentration of noise over certain suburbs because the independent approaches have been suspended in Brisbane. Could you talk us through what has changed for those of us who aren't experts in runway approaches? What is the difference between an independent approach and dependent approaches?

Mr Curran : Yes. I will talk you through that and perhaps be able to provide some indication around the changes post COVID. The operation of dependent approaches to an airport like Brisbane essentially means that there is a reliance on aircraft that are arriving to the other parallel runway. In a sense, it's as if both runways are treated as if there is a single runway there. That is a mode of operation. Independent approaches are where runways are sufficiently spaced, which is the case in Brisbane. They are wide enough. There is enough distance between two of them that, under the right circumstances, we can operate as though they are just two completely independent runways.

Senator RICE: What is the current situation, then?

Mr Curran : The situation is that we would typically operate in that independent mode when there is a demand level such that we need to be able to operate the runways independently of each other. During the COVID period, traffic has been substantially reduced, as I'm sure you're aware. As a consequence of that, we operated the runways in a dependent mode.

Senator RICE: What has operating them in dependent mode meant for the concentration of flights over particular suburbs?

Mr Curran : A number of modes are permitted to be used at the airport. I think it means that we are operating in a particular mode. We have been operating in that mode not simply because of an Airservices Australia choice. We have been operating in that mode because of a response to air traffic changes. As a result of COVID and border closures, there has been quite a healthy air transport market within Queensland. Rather than it being the normal number of flights to southern ports such as Sydney or Melbourne, there have been operations tending to the north inside Queensland airspace. The way that we serve those flights has been in accordance with the modes appropriate for that configuration of traffic.

Senator RICE: I'm confused. You're saying that you have been operating in a dependent way because the traffic has been reduced due to COVID. Your answer just then actually implied that that has not been the case—that you have had more flights going north.

Mr Curran : The mixture of operations has been significantly different to what we would have experienced without a COVID situation. There has been at certain times very few flights operating from the southern runway, which would head south. There has been a greater use of the new runway, the northern runway, for flights heading north. That has been a different mix of destination than would normally be the case for an airfield like Brisbane.

Senator RICE: If things go back to normal—not that we know what the new normal is going to be—and flights going south presumably increase over time, you're saying that, if you then need to shift back to an independent approach, you'll be able to do that, there's nothing stopping you from doing that?

Mr Curran : That's correct.

Senator RICE: In response to a question on notice you said that over the 14 months to the end of February 2021 Airservices Australia engaged 26 consultants for operational and administrative consultancies at a cost of $13.089 million. So you engage external consultants quite significantly, given that?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator RICE: In response to another question you said that Airservices did not engage another air navigation service provider to review the closed STAR option at Brisbane Airport and that no consultants were used by Airservices Australia in the flight path design work for the parallel runway airspace. Can you tell me why you did those two design changes without independent review from external experts?

Mr Curran : I'll have to take that one on notice. I think the plain answer is that we have the competency and capability in-house and we're able to undertake the work ourselves.

Senator RICE: But it has been common practice by Airservices to engage external consultants, so you basically felt that you didn't need to engage external consultants?

Mr Harfield : Not for this particular event because this is one of our stock-standard core competencies. An example of the engagement of operational and administrative consultancies across the board is the Broderick review, which is one of the consultancy we would use. There are administrative consultancies or operational consultancies if we're bringing in testing for PFAS at locations, for example. They are the sorts of things we use the consultancies for. A core competency, such as airspace design and air route design, which we are doing constantly, we wouldn't necessarily bring in a consultant for.

Senator RICE: In answer to another question you said that Airservices did not engage the UK NATS to review airspace design models at Brisbane. However, the Brisbane Airport Corporation did and Airservices Australia designs the flight paths and develops procedures and modes of operation. Are you confident with what the private operator of the airport did in terms of conducting that review into Airservices Australia's airspace design for Brisbane?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator RICE: There's no conflict of interest there?

Mr Harfield : It's not uncommon for the airport to engage someone to look at how the airport should be run more efficiently. At Perth, for example, when we had significant delays back in around 2007 with the mining boom, UK NATS were brought in to check runway occupancy times to improve the operation of the airport, so it's not uncommon.

Senator RICE: I presume you were provided with the outcome of that UK NATS review?

Mr Curran : I'll take that one on notice; I'm quite not sure. In the normal course of events, yes, there would be a healthy exchange in a potentially robust engagement around the different views.

Senator RICE: Can you also then take on notice what issues or concerns were raised in that review and how they were resolved?

Mr Curran : Yes.

Senator RICE: I now go to the difference between proposed and actual flight path design. The 2006 environmental impact statement originally promised Brisbane residents that flight paths would primarily be over water; that if flight paths over residential areas were necessary they'd be minimised; and that residential areas overflown by departing aircraft should not, to the extent practical, also be overflown by arriving aircraft. But the community are telling me that you've failed on all four accounts—that nearly a third of flights continue to fly over Brisbane residential homes and families between 10 pm and 6 am; that flight paths have been concentrated over not just inhabited areas but, in fact, over some of Australia's most densely populated residential areas; and that the same Brisbane residential areas overflown by departing aircraft on flight path I are also overflown by arriving aircraft on flight paths G, H1 and H2. How do you respond to those concerns from the community?

Mr Curran : The communication and engagement with communities in South-East Queensland around the use of the parallel runway system was that there would be a preferred mode to operate over water where practicable.

Senator RICE: So you're basically saying it's not practicable?

Mr Curran : The two main drivers for our ability to operate the over-the-water mode, which is absolutely the preferred mode, are traffic levels and weather. Those are the two primary drivers. Since the runway was opened, we've been operating over the bay in excess of 50 per cent of the time for departures and in excess of 40 per cent of the time for arrivals.

Senator RICE: Do you agree that that's very different from what the community was promised in the EIS?

Mr Curran : No. That's certainly not my interpretation and that's certainly not what was communicated in the engagement activities in which Airservices participated. The third mode was always made clear—that it would be subject to weather and traffic load.

Senator RICE: It's certainly not what the community understood they were promised during the EIS process. You've got a community that's pretty grumpy. Do you accept that?

Mr Curran : We certainly have seen an elevated number of complaints. As was touched on earlier, we provide a noise and complaints handling unit. We've seen 1,591 complainants since the runway was opened. Since the beginning of this year, that works out to about six to eight individual complainants per day. Some of those complainants are making multiple complaints, but we're looking at—

Senator RICE: It's having multiple impacts on their ability to have peace at home. It impacts on their children. It impacts on sleeping babies.

Mr Curran : We have seen an elevated number of complainants since the runway opened. In a sense, that is not surprising. It is in the order of six to eight complainants per day.

Senator RICE: Following the release of the Australian government's national aviation policy white paper in 2009 there was the launch of the Significant Impact on the Local or Regional Community Guide, which now forms part of the Airports Act. You are familiar with that?

Mr Curran : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator RICE: It's a pretty critical thing to be aware of if you are concerned about air noise and impacts on local communities.

Mr Curran : I am aware of it.

Senator RICE: Then why do you need to take it on notice?

Mr Curran : I am aware of it.

Senator RICE: This document is sometimes also referred to as the trigger guide. It says:

Impacts may result from one element of a proposed development rather than the development as a whole. Intermittent and cumulative effects need to be considered and if the proposed development is to be undertaken in stages over a period of time, the impacts of the development once completed need to be considered, even if the potential impacts will not be evident in the first instance.

Do you agree that the changes that the residents have experienced since the airport was opened are so significant as to constitute a trigger for the major development plan and the EIS to be revised and reviewed as per those guidelines?

Mr Curran : I'd want to familiarise myself with the guidelines specifically before I answer that question, so I will have to take it on notice.

Senator RICE: Okay. Is Airservices doing any internal modelling or calculations to estimate the financial and economic losses being incurred by Brisbane residents as a result of the flight path design—decreased productivity, decline in property values, reduced livability?

Mr Curran : Airservices isn't undertaking that kind of study. The only study that I am aware of that relates to impacts from the infrastructure development—that is, the new parallel runway—relates to the sorts of benefits that were foreseen in relation to job creation during the construction phase, or job creation and economic benefit resulting from its operationalisation.

Senator RICE: How were the impacts on the communities now suffering covered off in the EIS? If you're saying that those are benefits, how were those considerable disbenefits, the costs that the community are bearing, covered off?

Mr Curran : I'm simply saying that's the study that I'm aware of in relation to the impacts. The EIS does have a number of sections that deal with some of the impacts that you've pointed to, some of the disbenefits, and it does contain some information around loss of sleep for shiftworkers—these kinds of negative impacts—in the EIS. It was a 2006-07 document, as you're aware.

Senator RICE: Given the level of concern by residents, are you looking at all at potentially reviewing the impacts on residents? I presume, when you're talking about the number of residents' complaints that you're receiving, that they have increased over the period of time since the EIS was undertaken.

Mr Curran : Yes, there has been an increase in complainants. We are looking at about 250 complaints on average per month associated with Brisbane Airport since the new parallel runway opened. As I mentioned previously, that works out at about six to eight complainants per day.

Senator RICE: My final question, then: what are you doing about those complaints?

Mr Curran : We have a post-implementation review which is a part of our standard process. We undertake that, typically, around 12 months after a major change like this. The reason for that time frame is that it allows a period with all the seasonality that we would normally get, to look at the performance. The noise modelling and the forecasting that is done is all done around a 12-month time frame, and so the 12-month period is important for us to allow that amount of time to lapse since the change was implemented.

Senator RICE: When is that going to be undertaken?

Mr Curran : We are intending that from July. I don't have a precise date, but it will be in July that we'll commence that, and there will be community engagement as part of that. Importantly, one of the challenges we have with the Brisbane new parallel runway is that the opening of it occurred during a COVID period, with much reduced traffic. So it's proper that we take—

Senator RICE: So once traffic boosts up you can expect to have many more complaints, you would think?

Mr Curran : That may be the case, but I think it's important, in terms of a proper process, that we will ensure that we look at the traffic levels during the COVID period but also as traffic levels normalise. The reason I mention that is that we will need to conduct the PIR—the post-implementation review—in two phases, so that all those issues can be properly considered.

Senator RICE: So you're starting that review in July, with community engagement, but that review will continue on for some period of time because you need to get traffic levels back to some level of normality.

Mr Curran : That is correct, yes.

Senator RICE: And what changes could occur if the outcomes of that review show that the impact on residents is unacceptable?

Mr Curran : I don't want to presuppose the outcome of it, but certainly there is the potential for some changes to flight path and operations. It is the case, however, that moving a flight path tends to go from one neighbourhood to another neighbourhood, so it becomes a trade-off and a matter for consultation and engagement with communities. I should also flag that, for those communities that are nearer to the airport, the options and solutions around what sort of abatement can be offered them is relatively limited, given that we need to have aircraft lined up some distance from the runway in a straight line, essentially. So for those communities that are directly in the line of the airport the options are relatively limited.

Senator RICE: So they've just got to suck it up. Thank you.

CHAIR: I believe that completes our questions for Airservices this afternoon. Please go with our thanks.