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Thursday, 19 September 1996
Page: 3585

Senator BOB COLLINS —My question is directed to Senator Alston, representing the Minister for Transport. Is it a fact that the Aviation Safety Authority formally, in writing, advised the aviation industry in May this year in respect of emergency locator beacons:

Aircraft owners are urged to continue to fit C91A or C126 ELTS emergency locator transmitters as this equipment provides an important means of saving lives and assisting search and rescue operations and will be required for the appropriate aircraft.

Is the minister aware that a number of aircraft owners—who have now contacted me, I might add—and purchased this more expensive and effective equipment, based on the written advice from the safety authority. Given what the government has now admitted in the Senate estimates—that the Minister for Transport issued a political direction to the safety authority to downgrade both the effectiveness and price of the beacons determined by CASA—are those people who met the conditions, the written conditions, to fit the more effective and expensive beacons now entitled to be compensated?

Senator ALSTON —I am sure Senator Collins appreciates that the detail of that question is not something that I would have before me. Quite clearly I would be prepared to get back to him but—

Senator Bob Collins —I do appreciate that.

Senator Cook —Surf the net.

Senator ALSTON —Senator Cook says `Surf the net.' Yes, maybe it is worth a try when all else fails. But the trouble is, you see, that I have had about 12 hours of Senator Bob Collins in estimates committees over the last few days, and the last thing I would want to do is get out there in the dark of night and suddenly find Senator Bob Collins creeping up on me on a graphic which would probably make sure I got no sleep at all following that.

I will take the detail of that question on notice, but there was one part that particularly struck me, and it was a classic example of how Senator Bob Collins's mouth runs away with him. The second part of that question was: was I aware that a number of aircraft owners had contacted him, expressing concern? Of course, the fact is that I do not know—and I would not know. I am not prepared to proceed on any such shonky evidence. If there are matters of concern that Senator Bob Collins wants to properly relay to the minister, I am sure he will do that in due course.

Senator BOB COLLINS —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I might add in passing that, if the minister cannot handle the heat in estimates, he should leave, by all means. While the minister is seeking this advice from the minister, can he give the Senate an undertaking that he will table in the Senate all of the communications on the question of downgrading the Aviation Safety Authority's requirements: all correspondence, memos and file notes on this issue that were passed between the minister's office—and, particularly, I might add, the senior adviser of the minister—and the safety authority, directing the safety authority to change its decision on the standard of the locator beacons required.

Senator ALSTON —Once again, I think that even Senator Bob Collins understands that you cannot give those sorts of undertakings on the run. To the extent that it is possible to make certain material available that does not conflict with cabinet-in-confidence or any other limitations on the making of—

Senator Faulkner —A bit of a cover-up here.

Senator ALSTON —I think you blokes invented the art of finding reasons for not disclosing documents, but we will approach the matter sensibly, we will take advice on what can be made available and, in due course, you will get whatever you are entitled to get.