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Tuesday, 16 November 1993
Page: 2887

Senator IAN MACDONALD (4.22 p.m.) —I note what the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority said about safety regulations in his review in the report which was tabled today. As my colleague Senator MacGibbon has mentioned, the Senate estimates committee sat quite late last night in its second round of hearings into matters involving the CAA, specifically matters relating to safety matters.

  As I indicated last night at the estimates committee meeting, I am at somewhat of a disadvantage in inquiring about matters of safety relating to the CAA because I do not have the technical experience or background to understand all the terms and implications. But I can say that there has been an increasing swell of opinion in recent times about concern for safety in the skies over Australia. My colleague Senator MacGibbon has raised that on many occasions.

  I inquired into safety aspects at the original hearings of the Senate estimates committee, particularly because of my interest in the crash of the aircraft at Young in June this year. As a result of those original inquiries, certain information was given to me. Subsequent to that inquiry, it was suggested to me by many independent observers that the answers that I had been given were not quite factual. There was no suggestion that there was a deliberate attempt to mislead the Senate, but rather suggestions of incompetence and simply not knowing the situation and not knowing the job.

  We received some information last night. I was given some categorical assurances by officers and by the Minister for Transport and Communications (Senator Collins). I regret to say that it has been suggested to me this morning that those assurances are not quite accurate. I do not make judgments at this time, but they are matters that we are pursuing. Should that turn out to be the case, the Senate will hear a lot more about it. I did ask some questions. Bearing in mind that this matter is sub judice, I was not too specific about the crash at Young. I asked for information about whether Monarch Airlines had sought assistance from the CAA and whether that assistance had been given or refused.

  I asked about planned surveillance of regional airline operations in New South Wales and for assurances that surveillance would be carried out. I asked some questions about whether an officer of the CAA was aware before the crash that the autopilot had been removed from that aircraft. I was given answers and I accept them as they stand at this particular time, but it has been suggested to me that there may need to be follow-up questioning on some of those matters; the suggestion being, again, that perhaps I have not been given—can I say in the politest words—the full story.

  I was also interested to hear that in recent times there have been four inquiries at different levels into the safety of the airline system in Australia. Information is to come to me on just how many inquiries into safety there have been over the years. It was suggested to me by Senator Collins that this proves how conscious the CAA is of safety matters. Of course, there is another interpretation—and this is the concern that is raised with me by people in the know and in the industry—that while there have been many inquiries into air safety nothing is ever really done to implement the recommendations of those particular inquiries. We will be looking at that a fraction further when I get the results of the information from the Senate estimates committee.

  I simply raise again, in talking to this report, questions of air safety in Australia. I should also mention the case in Longreach that was briefly referred to by my colleague Senator MacGibbon where a man was prosecuted for apparently flying without a licence to pick up a woman in dire need of urgent medical treatment in a flood. Senator MacGibbon mentioned the facts, but he did not mention that the matter went to a trial by jury and the pilot defended himself and was acquitted. (Time expired)