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Wednesday, 9 October 1996
Page: 3839

Senator MacGIBBON(7.34 p.m.) —I wish to take some moments of the Senate's time on the adjournment debate tonight to complete the few points I was making during presentation of documents an hour or so ago with respect to the royal commission inquiry into the Seaview accident. I was saying that the cost recovery policies of the Civil Aviation Authority, which was the regulatory authority of the time, had its origins in Labor government policies of the user pays doctrine of the mid-1980s, and that the application of that user pays doctrine reached its high point with the Civil Aviation Authority in the 1990-92 period, when it was known under the notorious title of the affordable safety doctrine. This is detailed to some degree in chapter 3 of the commissioner's report, from page 90 onwards.

The application of the cost recovery doctrine to aviation had its origins in an inquiry called the Bosch inquiry in the mid-1980s. The Bosch committee recommended that there were a lot of inefficiencies within the then Civil Aviation Authority and that they needed to be corrected first. When they were corrected, then it may be possible to go to 100 cost recovery from industry in a 10-year period. In actual fact, the CAA, with the support of the government, went to 108 per cent cost recovery inside a period of two years, and quite radical changes were made in the authority. As I said at the time, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. The regulatory authority ceased to have the authority that it needed, or ceased to exercise properly the authority needed, to regulate aviation within Australia safely for the travelling public.

The Civil Aviation Authority made another mistake in its quest for commercialism. There is nothing more bizarre than a Public Service body when it tries to enter the commercial world. They do not have the skills, the experience or the system of reward and censure that the commercial world applies to its operators in industry. They made a mistaken definition of who the customer was. They saw the customer of the regulatory authority as the aviation industry itself—the airlines and the operators of aircraft for hire and reward and other operators of aircraft. The consequence of seeing the airlines and the industry as the customers, rather than the general public, who are the real customers of the industry, led to a policy of appeasement with all the flaws that flow from a policy of appeasement.

The flaws were manifested in the form of a degradation of surveillance on the industry. They invested this in the buzzwords of the time. They moved from what they called quality control—direct, hands-on surveillance of going around and inspecting companies, aircraft, aircrew and maintenance organisations and seeing for themselves what happened—which they said was now old fashioned, to what was called quality assurance, where they designated various people to discharge that responsibility subject to audit. In itself, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but it fell down because the Civil Aviation Authority failed to run adequate audit checks on the people that it gave delegated authority to.

In the report of the commission there is a very appropriate quote from an in-house journal of the Civil Aviation Authority at the time. One of the officers of the Civil Aviation Authority wrote in the journal that if Moses had believed in quality assurance rather than quality control he would not have come down from the mountain with the Ten Command ments; he would have come down with 10 guidelines. That is a rather tragically apt commentary on what happened here.

This report is absolute proof of the failure of the regulatory authority at the time and the operational doctrine that it followed. If this were all behind us, there would not be any point in my taking the time of the Senate tonight to talk about it.

I have been mixed up in the aviation industry for over 30 years as a pilot and for about 29 years as an aircraft owner. I have had an intimate involvement with the regulatory processes over a period of years from the time when it was the old Department of Civil Aviation through the move to the Department of Transport and back to the Civil Aviation Authority and now CASA. I have a very great fear that the situation today is no different from what it was two years ago when this dreadful and avoidable accident happened.

I cannot see any evidence at all that the quality of the regulatory authority has improved in any way at all. I do believe that the changing of the name of the authority has left the same practices in place. It is not the same people there. A lot of people carried on from the old CAA, but the same practices, the same mind-set and the same ineffective surveillance are still there.

There is still a very great tendency to pick on the little rabbits of the industry, to pick on the people who do not fight back. Within my own personal experience, I have seen cases where people in the industry have been wrong, they have been quite culpable of breaching regulations, but they have fought back with ferocity and the regulatory authority has backed off. With a soft target, the authority will go in hard. They will take them to court and pursue that person relentlessly but, if someone fights back, the authority will not stand up and exercise its power responsibly and effectively. This report from the commissioner is testimony to that fact. I advise everyone to read it. It is a litany, an endless chain, of a lack of application of power at the correct time and in the correct way.

At the same time, the board in pursuing rabbits really exercises power very, very crudely. The ability to suspend licences of pilots summarily on the spot before any evidence is collected, and to do that with severe economic penalties on individuals who are operating in the industry, is without parallel in our society. No-one else can have their livelihood taken from them without due process being applied.

I come back to the point: I see no evidence at all that this authority has changed in any way at all. Its principal fault is a lack of professionalism in its ranks. The Senate has before it a bill to remodel the board of the Civil Aviation Authority. I think it is very important that that is done. While the members of the board at the present time are estimable people with worthy lives, ability and all the rest of it, very few of them have any knowledge of the industry at all.

This is a very complex industry. It does need people who have both an extensive exposure and knowledge of the industry and have been at it for a fair while. It does need as its chairman someone who is a professional airman or a professional aeronautical engineer. It is not a job for people who are motivated by good intentions or something like that. But, at the end of the day, the board really sets policy; it does not set the detail of what the regulatory authority does.

The real problem with cleaning up the Civil Aviation Authority—or CASA, as it is now known—lies not with the Chief Executive Officer but that line of managers below the Chief Executive Officer who, in a general sense, are not capable of discharging the duties they are required to perform. There has to be a change there, otherwise the authority will not improve. Sure, we need to revise the regulations because in many ways our aviation industry here is very over-regulated compared with other countries. Those regulations, when they are revised, need to be applied correctly, fearlessly and responsibly.

We need to get people back into the Civil Aviation Authority, or the CASA, the way it was back in the days of the DCA, who know the industry intimately at all levels. We need to have a clear objective of not looking after the customer, but of looking after the public interest, the travelling public, the people who pay fares to be flown on either charter or regular public service flights. We need to look after those who send freight by aircraft and those who live under the flight paths of aircraft. That is the primary responsibility and it requires targeting and the setting of priorities with respect to surveillance.

I do believe we have to take the authority back in as a department of state. We as a parliament do need to be able to oversee it. I mention that because one of the former heads of the Civil Aviation Authority, Mr Baldwin, when all this nonsense was carried on in 1990-92, absolutely refused to explain it to the parliament. He said he was the chief of a government business enterprise and he was not answerable to anyone in parliament. This is a matter that urgently needs addressing. The authority must be answerable to the parliament so that all of us can have oversight. (Time expired)