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Thursday, 20 May 1993
Page: 952

Senator REID —My question is directed to the Minister for Transport and Communications. Why was merit abandoned as the criterion for job selection for students from the Centre for Air Traffic Services?

Senator COLLINS —I am not aware that merit has ever been abandoned in that sense. In terms of training of air traffic controllers, there is an important issue which, of course, concerns those honourable senators who come from Tasmania, and it is a position which the Civil Aviation Authority has adopted and which I fully support.

  For some years, training of air traffic controllers has been conducted in a tertiary institution in Tasmania. For some time, the CAA has expressed its concern about the high failure rate, if you like, of the graduates from that institution to actually make it on the job. The change results from that concern and the decision of the CAA to establish a national system of air traffic control which involves the establishment of two complete backup air traffic control systems in Brisbane and Melbourne—that is, complete duplications of the air traffic control system that can be used in the case of a failure. Those backup systems are absolutely ideal for training air traffic controllers on the job.

  I gave this matter a great deal of consideration when I was the then Minister, and it was felt by the CAA—and, I might add, in accordance with practice around the world—that it would get a far greater degree of rigorous control, and of course the control has to be very rigorous in training these officers, if they were trained on the job rather than having them trained in a separate institution in a simulated air traffic control situation. Having seen it work, let me explain how it works. The backup systems are in a position to actually replicate the real life situation that is going on in the control room next door. In other words, what is actually happening in the air can be brought up on those screens at the same time, with of course the satisfaction that, if the trainee controllers do not do it properly, two aircraft do not actually collide with each other while the trainees are training.

  With the establishment of what is going to be very sophisticated and expensive backup equipment it made far more sense to utilise that backup equipment for the training of air traffic controllers, rather than continuing it in Launceston. I conclude by saying that merit and expertise remain the primary criteria for the training of air traffic officers.

Senator REID —I ask a supplementary question. I inform the Minister of a letter from the Civil Aviation Authority dated 6 January 1993 which says, in part:

The ballot for places occurred in Canberra on Tuesday, 5 January 1993.

Is the Minister really telling us that a raffle is better than merit when it comes to employing air traffic controllers?

Senator COLLINS —No, it is not reasonable to place that interpretation on my answer.

Senator Knowles —What is it?

Senator COLLINS —I will explain precisely what is going to happen with the training of air traffic controllers. I have said that I strongly support the decision of the Civil Aviation Authority. Air traffic controllers in future will be trained by CAA controllers in the backup systems that will operate as part of the national air traffic control system in Brisbane and Melbourne.