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Tuesday, 11 April 2000
Page: 15738

Ms LIVERMORE (10:31 PM) —I want to speak tonight about an issue that I first raised in the House at the end of last year. At that time I called on Airservices Australia and the Minister for Transport and Regional Services to reconsider their decision to downgrade the Rockhampton airport to a category 5 airport. To me the proposal to downgrade the Rockhampton airport and reduce the level of safety and support services at the airport as a result seemed a backward and illogical step when the government has just spent $7 million on extending the airport's runway to international capacity.

My call on the minister was obviously to no avail because in January this year, at the same time the Prime Minister was making his very short-lived commitment to stop pulling services out of regional Australia, our airport in Rocky was downgraded and three firemen were given redundancies. I believe one of those firemen finishes up tonight, and I wish him well in the future.

The Minister for Transport and Regional Services has yet to come to grips with what the downgrading means for Rockhampton and our plans for the region to capitalise on the extended runway by working to attract international tourist flights directly into Rockhampton airport. The minister was very happy to get up in the House on 14 March and spruik about the airport's new ability to accept and attract international flights. His exact words were: `... foreign air carriers will have unrestricted access to regional international airports such as Rockhampton'. However, only days after he performed the opening of the extended runway, when questioned about his department's downgrading of the airport the minister was completely stumped. The minister's answer indicated that even he recognised the absurdity of the department's decision to downgrade the support facilities after enhancing the airport's capacity. The minister said:

If there was some ruling ... it would obviously have applied to the airport at a time when it was not capable of taking those big international flights anyway.

When the minister recovered, his lame answer to the people of Central Queensland who have high hopes of the enhanced airport facilities creating new tourism opportunities was to say that the international standard fire and support services will be returned to the airport if required. Really, Minister? So the minister expects people in Central Queensland to believe that statement. We have seen the tax office close. We need that back and it has not reopened its doors. The minister has given us no guarantees about Telstra jobs that exist in Rockhampton. Is he going to give us those back if we ask for them?

All these government services have been taken away from Central Queensland never to return, but the minister expects us to believe that he will restore the support services at our airport when we ask him to. He expects us to go out there and promote our facilities to potential international carriers and tourist operators when we do not have the support and safety services to allow them to land at our airport. He has given us a glimpse of an opportunity and then nobbled us just as quickly.

The minister's promise to restore our airport's fire services is even harder to believe when you read the draft Civil Aviation Safety Regulations for Aerodrome Rescue and Fire Fighting Service that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority under the minister's direction hopes to implement from 1 July. Under the new regulations Airservices Australia will no longer be required to provide a firefighting service at Rockhampton airport. It is right here in CASA's notice of proposed rule making at paragraph 6.12. The outcome of the proposed 350,000 passenger model on the present Australian situation will determine that, among others, Rockhampton would not require a firefighting service. It is right there in black and white.

Rockhampton currently accepts over 331,000 flights per year, not counting the 10,000 military personnel who landed at the airport in commercial carriers during the annual military exercises at Shoalwater Bay. There is no question that this is an airport with a large capacity at this stage. We are out there trying to make this a sustainable and successful facility into the future. So where does this draft regulation leave our plans in Rockhampton for accepting international flights? How does the imminent axing of the existing fire service fit in with the minister's promise to Rockhampton to increase fire services? The minister is very happy to come up to Central Queensland and cut ribbons, but what about putting in place strategic, integrated policies that give our region a chance? Why give us an opportunity like the extended runway on the one hand but then undermine our chances of making it work for our region by short-sighted, cost-cutting measures like these proposed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority? The minister needs to work with Central Queensland to maximise opportunities, not cut the ground from under us such as he has in this instance with more cuts for the sake of cuts.