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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25993

Senator RIDGEWAY (2:24 PM) —My question is to Senator Ian Campbell, the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. It concerns increased landing fees at regional airports. What steps has the government taken to consult with remote and Indigenous communities about the proposed user-pays approach to airport fees which will result in a likely increase in air traffic control fees and airport rescue and firefighting service charges? What response has the government had from operators such as flying schools, charter operators and the Royal Flying Doctor Service on this question?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —It is an issue that is very important to rural and remote communities and of course to remote Aboriginal communities. During my time in the portfolio I have had regular contact on this issue. In fact, I made myself a point of contact in Western Australia for the transport portfolio for regional and remote interests, and I certainly listened very carefully to submissions made to me by people such as the Royal Aero Club of Western Australia, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and others.

As I understand it, the Airservices Australia paper that was distributed was an options paper. It was driven, as I understand it, by an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission necessity. The government has made it quite clear in all of its statements that it will, under no circumstances, allow landing fees to become prohibitive for organisations such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service, flight training schools or groups, such as Aboriginal communities, who need as a matter of necessity to have access to goods and services through air transport. They need these services particularly during the wet season in the north because often roads and other potential transportation networks are simply not there. The government is very cognisant of this.

Airservices are doing what they are required to do under the law and under regulation. In some parts of the country the proposals are being promoted as some sort of law that is about to come into force. That is not the case; they are out there for discussion. Quite clearly, any senator who has come into contact with people who have seen that paper knows that the sorts of proposed increases are way above what anyone can afford—way above what air training schools can afford, what Aboriginal communities can afford and what the Royal Flying Doctor Service can afford. So we are going through a process to bring in a system of landing services charges that is fair, equitable and affordable. The government has given assurances in that regard and I am very happy to give Senator Ridgeway assurances for the communities he represents. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services is engaged in discussions on this important issue. We are very keen to make sure that people feel some assurance about future landing service charges, and we will seek to give them that assurance as soon as possible.

Senator RIDGEWAY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer and the government's response in ensuring that the costs will not be prohibitive. Is the minister prepared to give an undertaking to the parliament that the government will act immediately to offset the impact of this proposed restructure of airport fees? Will he provide that information to the parliament so that some fair assessment can be made, particularly given the likely severe financial impact that it will have on everything from mail services through to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and, more particularly, in relation to the delivery of fresh food and milk to rural and remote Indigenous communities, who quite frankly are suffering poor health circumstances. Getting fresh food there is vital to changing that circumstance.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —Firstly, can I make it clear that these price increases are not price increases; they are contained in a discussion paper. Airservices Australia will be making a submission to the ACCC in relation to the pricing of these services, but the government has made its policy quite clear, and that is that it will make sure that whatever pricing comes out of the process is fair and affordable. So I can give reassurance to those communities that the government will ensure that the pricing of these important air services is affordable. We are trying to get two policy outcomes: one is affordability and the other is high-quality service. The government is absolutely certain we can achieve that, but I do commend Airservices on the consultation process they are going through. It is open and transparent, as will be the remainder of the process.