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Wednesday, 9 October 1996
Page: 3830

Senator MacGIBBON(6.50 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I cannot recall any report presented to this parliament with such a huge list of failings of dereliction of duty by an element of the Public Service—in essence, that is what the Civil Aviation Authority was at the time, even though it was classified as a government business enterprise.

I am not a lawyer like Senator Cooney and I do not know the precise legal meaning of the phrase that I am going to use to describe the actions of the Civil Aviation Authority, but as a layman the Civil Aviation Authority is culpable of criminal negligence. It does not give me any pleasure to say this but if Senator Collins were in the chamber he would confirm I have been making the point for many years that there are grave and crucial inadequacies in the administration of the regulatory authority in Australia with respect to aviation.

This huge report—I have been unable to put it down, but I have not got terribly far with it; the first 100 pages or so makes fascinating reading in the way it details all these shortcomings—relates to the loss of an Aero Commander aircraft operated by Seaview on 2 October 1994. In a speech I made in this chamber a couple of days later, I instanced three points that were grave areas of deficiency in the regulatory authority. I said at the time:

The most difficult area in Australian aviation is undoubtedly the charter operators—the third level operators. That is the hardest area in which to make money.

Later on I said:

The three common faults in this cash strapped area of aircraft operations are: overloading of aircraft, which is very common; an extension of duty times for aircrew way beyond the statutory level; and inadequate maintenance. The CAA ought to be putting its surveillance activities into that area in order to protect the travelling public.

This report two years later essentially finds that they were the three critical shortcomings that we faced.

We are in this mess because the Labor Party through its years in government adopted the economic rationalist argument of cost recovery. That reached its high point between 1990 and 1992. It is interesting to see in this report from page 91 onwards in chapter 3 where the consequences of this cost recovery doctrine are laid out starkly. It shows that this had its origins in the user-pays doctrine at the time, when the industry was seen as the customer and that the customer must be pleased at all times.

As I pointed out over the years when this doctrine was being run, the user-pays doctrine is false in relation to aviation. The glib argument from the government of the day was that, if people want to fly in aeroplanes as passengers, then they should pay for the full service. I argued consistently through all those years that there is a public interest component in aviation, that the community benefits in many ways, and that, particularly from a regulatory point of view, that is a function that should be funded, in part or in whole, by the public purse. You do not ask people in the community to pay directly for every service the police force renders. In many ways the Civil Aviation Authority, the regulator of the industry, is in the same position.

We are now seeing the failure of that doctrine written large. Tragically, it has been seen in the case of two very serious accidents where a large number of lives were lost—the Monarch aviation crash and the Seaview crash, which this report deals with. The problem still remains with us because, although the CAA has become CASA, the regulatory authority is no better today than it was then. I hope this Senate passes an amendment to the act which allows the board to be changed and puts people of professional ability onto it. The real problem lies within the CAA administration itself. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.