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Tuesday, 16 November 1993
Page: 2888

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Transport and Communications) (4.27 p.m.) —In brief response, and I intend to give a full response, to some of the nonsense that has been delivered here again this afternoon by Senator MacGibbon and Senator Ian Macdonald: Senator MacGibbon, who unfortunately did not attend the estimates committee meeting last night—as he acknowledged—should have. If he had attended the estimates committee meeting last night, he would have been in possession of a minute from the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation—sent to me at my request—providing clarification of these statements that have been given to the estimates committee which were allegedly grossly incorrect, appallingly wrong and so on.

  I might add that the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation is an organisation that is not only highly professional and independent of the Civil Aviation Authority, but also in a real sense can be seen to be the watchdog of the CAA, particularly if incidents are involved. Senator MacGibbon, of course, has not read that document and he should. As I said last night, it is a question of debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Senator MacGibbon —You have misquoted me; I will come at you on that.

Senator COLLINS —Senator MacGibbon had his turn and I did not interrupt him.

Senator MacGibbon —Because you weren't here.

Senator COLLINS —That is correct, but I came down here very quickly. Senator MacGibbon constantly has this aura, this atmosphere, of authority about him but it is always wrongly based. Nobody will forget—Senator Schacht and I certainly will not—the famous Senate Select Committee on Certain Aspects of the Airline Pilots' Dispute where Senator MacGibbon delivered a tirade of allegedly authoritative material which turned out to be garbage when it was analysed.

  I will respond to his earlier attack on the CAA—he has a 20-year history of attacking the CAA and its predecessors and so this is not a recent phenomenon.  For example, Senator MacGibbon carried on at length during the matters of public interest debate in the last sitting week. He talked about the appalling new procedures that the CAA had introduced with briefing for pilots. He made an assertion—totally without foundation, as I subsequently discovered—that there are now only two operators to cover the whole of Australia in terms of pilots getting briefings over the new computerised system. I am not a pilot and I am not an engineer. I am, as I described myself last night, a professional passenger and nothing else, but because I am used to Senator MacGibbon's garbage, I immediately checked it out. There are, in fact, 16 operators, not two.

  I might add that I availed myself of the codes to access the system and put in a putative flight plan from Alice Springs to Darwin. It took me five seconds to access the system—we timed it. In less than five minutes I had a full hard copy print-out of every piece of information that I would have needed for that flight available on my fax machine.

  Further to that—Senator MacGibbon might be interested in this although he never is because 90 per cent of what he says turns out to be factual garbage—I then rang the 008 number which is also provided and had a very interesting talk with the CAA operator who looks after all of those computer banks. He was obviously a long-term CAA employee. When I told him about some of the allegations that Senator MacGibbon had raised, he laughed and said, `What utter rubbish'. The cold, hard facts are that in the so-called good old days, which Senator MacGibbon referred to, even with the briefing officers, the majority of pilots still got their briefs over the telephone. The huge advantage of this system is that one gets hard copy briefs on access by dialling a phone number.

Senator MacGibbon —If you own a fax.

Senator COLLINS —These days the cheapest reasonable aircraft that one can buy costs about $50,000 and that would be bottom line, and it costs $300 to get a second-hand fax machine. I bought one. Pilots do own fax machines because of the enormous convenience that it gives them. It means that they do not need to go near a briefing office.

  The operator said to me, `The one disadvantage of this automatic system, the one sad thing about it for me, is that in looking after this computer system I'm doing a job that was formerly done by 200 people. But the pilots are delighted with it. It gives them better information than they ever had before. It is instantly accessible whenever they want it at any time before the flight without the need to go anywhere to get it'. As distinct from Senator MacGibbon's assertions that one would have to wait half a day to get on the phone because there are only two operators, it took me five seconds to access the system and the pilots love it. (Time expired)

  Debate (on motion by Senator O'Chee) adjourned.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston)—Order! The time for consideration of government documents has expired.