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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Airservices Australia

Airservices Australia


Senator GALLACHER: Mr Harfield and Mr Logan, welcome. We'll get straight to the civil aviation traffic management system that you operate and the OneSKY Australia program. There are about a dozen questions on OneSKY. But the first thing, just to set the threshold, is: what service improvements can airlines expect, and when will they be delivered, under your OneSKY program?

Mr Harfield : We signed the contract last week and the announcement was made this morning. I will make a short statement on it which may pick up some of the questions you have. I will touch on what the benefits are and when they will roll out.

As I said, it was announced today that the final contracts for OneSKY were executed last week. It marks a significant milestone in securing for the first time unification of the civilian and military air traffic control under one system. In line with our strategy to use advance work orders in reducing the risk of the program, prior to the commitment to the final contract the system requirement review milestone was achieved in January. This means that Airservices, Defence and Thales now have a common agreed understanding of system requirements and program risks, allowing finalisation of commercial and contractual arrangements.

The final contract value of acquisition is $1.2 billion—$300 million less than where we were at earlier last year. The final cost allocation ratio is 57 per cent Airservices and 43 per cent Defence, meaning that Airservices's allocation is around $690 million. This is in line with Airservices's original and ongoing investment planning parameters that have been publicly available. To put this into perspective, the current civil system, the Australian Advanced Air Traffic System, TAAATS, cost $376 million in the early 1990s. In today's dollars, 25 years on, this is approximately $700 million—very comparable to the more technologically advanced OneSKY investment. Also, with one unified system, both the Commonwealth and Airservices fee-paying airline customers have avoided in the vicinity of an additional $350 million that would have been incurred if Defence and Airservices had pursued separate systems.

While it has taken time to get to this point, it was needed to ensure that the air traffic control system we have in Australia will be the most advanced, the safest and the most secure in the world. It was also needed to ensure that we did the work now, prior to the final contract signature, to reduce the risk of the rollout of the new system, to ensure that it is safe, controlled and seamless for the aviation industry and travelling public.

As a result of the use of the advance work orders, we started work on the voice communication system. The voice communication system will be commissioned later this year. Obviously communicating with aircraft is the most important aspect of the system. The industry will start getting the benefits of the system later this year. Overall the system will allow what we call better route optimisation and allow for better trajectory-based operations, which means aircraft can transit between point A and point B in a much more efficient way, as well as business continuity benefits that allow for an interruption in one part of the system to be absorbed by another.

The work we've had to do with the rollout means that we'll work from west to east and ensure that we keep both systems running in parallel as we transition from one to the other, because we can't shut down the air traffic control system on a Friday, retool and then start it up on a Monday. A study that was done a few years ago showed that a four-hour stoppage of the air traffic control system would impact the airline industry by over $100 million. Therefore we progressively will roll out the benefits over the next few years and will see, from west to east, aircraft being able to get between point A and point B in a much more efficient way.

Senator GALLACHER: Is that a written statement?

Mr Harfield : Most of it is.

Senator GALLACHER: Can we have that tabled?

CHAIR: Is there any objection to that being tabled? There are no objections.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you for that opening statement. I will just drill into that statement. What service improvements can airlines expect? When will they be delivered? So two questions: what service improvements can airlines expect, and when will they be delivered?

Mr Harfield : As I just mentioned, route optimisation, for example, means a more efficient air traffic route between point A and point B, from arrival and destination. There is also what we call trajectory based operational improvements: instead of it just being about the air route, it would also be about climb and descent; therefore, the trajectory of the aircraft is much more efficient catching the winds and has better use of flexibility between civil and military airspace for both civil and military operations. Aircraft will not necessarily have to go around restricted areas or areas that the military currently use. Areas will be better shared. There is also the benefit of a better service, and of more reliability and maintainability of the air traffic system. As I mentioned, a four-hour stoppage can directly cost the air traffic system up to $100 million overall in impact; therefore, focussing on having more updated technology is the business continuity aspect.

Senator GALLACHER: So when will these improvements be delivered?

Mr Harfield : They'll be progressively rolled out over the next few years from the end of this year.

Senator GALLACHER: Can we be more specific?

Mr Harfield : As I said before, we're starting with the voice switch. The voice communication system will come online and commissioned in the civil environment later this year, which will give some benefits. We progressively roll out the system from west to east. Because we can't shut down and then start up, we will progressively move position by position across from the west. As those positions come across, there will be benefits being realised.

Senator GALLACHER: So when will this system be fully operational?

Mr Harfield : Technically the program will end in about the 2025 time frame at the latest. The reason we say that is we'll progressively bring it online from about 2020, because we've got to move across, sector by sector and airspace to airspace, and that takes time. And in setting up for the contractual arrangements and to ensure that we actually have a seamless transition between the two, we have signed up to what's called a probability 90 schedule, which is 90 per cent accurate, to make sure the risks have all been assessed. For example, during that time frame we could have a natural weather event, such as a cyclone season, that could interrupt the transition schedule, so we need that flexibility. However, we incentivise the contractual arrangements to come back to what we call a probability 50 schedule to work to bring it in sooner. To give you an example—

Senator GALLACHER: I don't need an example. I'm trying to get the answers to two very specific questions. And in answering the very specific questions, you've gone some way towards service improvements. So that will save time, fuel and is going to increase utilisation of the aircraft—is that right?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely, and it's been quantified with an approximate economic benefit of about $1 billion.

Senator GALLACHER: So when will they get that? I'm looking for an end date, not an explanation about the weather or whatever. I can point you to the Public Works Committee, where you're behind on stuff in a number of projects around Australia that you've promised and haven't delivered. We just would like to know about this huge expenditure: when is it going to come into play to allow the travelling public and the airlines to see the efficiency and the productivity and the safety benefits?

Mr Harfield : As I mentioned previously, it will progressively come on as of the end of this year. When it comes to the facilities of the air traffic service centres, which you've raised in relation to the Public Works Committee, they were tied into the schedule and also the cost. We gave an update to the Public Works Committee on that last week. We had to ensure that the reliability and maintenance of things like the air-conditioning and power ensured that it supported the system, but also that the right redundancies were correct, and that could not be finalised until we finalised the contract.

Senator GALLACHER: As you are well aware, Mr Harfield, I've been on the Public Works Committee for seven years, and you've gone from forgetting to refer projects to the committee to not being able to complete them within the allocated time or the allocated expenditure—hence my pressure here to try to get some definitive dates for when these efficiencies will be available. So have you had consultations with the domestic, international and regional airlines regarding these service improvements?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely.

Senator GALLACHER: Can you provide details on the costs of these improvements or the consultation that you had?

Mr Harfield : We've had Deloitte come in and assess the improvements overall, and it has been publicly announced. It's more than $1 billion in economic benefits. I can break that down in the route optimisation that I've mentioned previously: the net present value, $740 million; the trajectory based operation, $116 million; the flexible use airspace, $9 million; business continuity, $195 million; and productivity benefits, $140 million.

Senator GALLACHER: And can you provide, perhaps on notice, the schedule of consultation with domestic, international and regional airlines?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely, we can do that.

CHAIR: In the context of cost recovery, do you expect that whole $1 billion will go back to the travelling public?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely. One of the things that we've been quite conscious of for the civil portion is that while we put these reforms through the organisation we're holding, and continue to hold, our prices where they currently are. As I mentioned in my opening statement, the investment in OneSKY is within our publicly stated investment profile that we've had previously, so these benefits will be on top of any price that the airlines pay today.

CHAIR: And you'll let the market mechanisms—we have to trust the market mechanisms that the savings will go back to the travelling public?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely, because the benefits that I just outlined come to the airlines by reducing their fuel burn; being faster, so they get more turn times on their aircraft; and the fact that there is less maintenance. This means there are lower operating costs for the airlines or the airspace user, which they should then return to the customer.

Senator BROCKMAN: So are there any savings for the Defence Force? I would imagine not, because it's different.

Mr Harfield : There are some benefits for the Defence Force. I would allow them to speak for their specific examples; however, the main benefit is what we call shared use of airspace. At the moment there are restricted areas, where operations occur in the military and are separate and it keeps the civil and military separated. That usually causes some burden on the civil aircraft, because they have to transit around those restricted areas. However, with something like the Joint Strike Fighter, they need a lot more airspace to play in and so there's a benefit in using civil airspace, because we don't use all the civil airspace 100 per cent of the time.

If the committee would just indulge me for a second, I would give you an example of what I'm talking about. Melbourne to Sydney is now the busiest air route in the world. Brisbane to Sydney is No. 8. And out of the four million air traffic movements we manage a year, 60 per cent of those operate between or in or through the triangle of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. In that airspace you have two Air Force bases—Amberley and Williamtown—that are pivotal in supporting our Defence Force. They are where the Joint Strike Fighters will be based, which will need a significant amount of airspace. So we've got some of the busiest civil airspace in the world and some airspace that the military require, and that's one of the reasons why we're looking at OneSKY—to help not only manage that but also facilitate the 60 per cent growth that we still expect over the next 15 to 20 years.

Senator GALLACHER: I think you just informed the committee—was $1.6 billion the total contracted cost?

Mr Harfield : It's $1.2 billion.

Senator GALLACHER: And what was the estimated total capital cost of OneSKY at the pricing proposal that was withdrawn in 2016?

Mr Harfield : I'll hand that to our chief financial officer to make a comment.

Mr Logan : Airservices's share of the $1.2 billion is about $690 million. Within the pricing proposals in 2015, the rough order of magnitude was about $600 million. However, some of the full cost of the contract was going to expand past the lifetime of that pricing proposal. That proposal was due to go from 2016 to about 2021 or 2022, so we weren't expecting to recover the pricing. I think the other important point is that the recovery of the cost will occur over the lifetime of that asset. We'll be putting the asset in. It will be starting to be progressively worked, as Mr Harfield said, from this year—

Senator GALLACHER: What was the estimated total capital cost of OneSKY in the earlier pricing proposal, which was withdrawn?

Mr Logan : It was in the order of $600 million.

Senator GALLACHER: Defence had a component above that?

Mr Logan : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Of $240 million.

Mr Logan : No. There were two elements to the Defence numbers: there was a sharing of what was at the time considered to be common costs of about $255 million; and there was another amount above that for the unique specific defence.

Senator GALLACHER: What was the total cost in that earlier proposal? You had $600 million.

Mr Logan : It was around the $1 billion to $1.2 billion range.

Senator GALLACHER: You're saying there's been no difference in the outcome?

Mr Logan : Not substantially, no.

Senator PATRICK: I'd like to ask a supplementary to that. In the original budget you put forward in 2014, the total price of the system was $731.4 million—that's according to the figures that Defence have provided the Auditor-General. The original approved budget was $731.4 million.

Mr Harfield : That's Defence's budget for their component of the system, not the overall budget. The pieces in the Auditor-General are a reference, AIR5431 phase 3, which is their component of the OneSKY. It's not the total budget for OneSKY: you have to add the civilian side to it.

Senator PATRICK: I'd best ask them how that's changed. What was your original approved budget in December 2014?

Mr Logan : Given the way the organisation operates, it doesn't receive government appropriation, so we're running the organisation on a business basis. We look at the business case and get an understanding of what the cost impact is to the organisation over the long term. As I said to Senator—

Senator PATRICK: Back when Defence were hardening up their numbers to take to second pass, what were your numbers—what were your business case numbers back in December 2014?

Mr Logan : About $600 million that I referred to Senator Gallacher.

Senator PATRICK: So you're saying there's no cost change across the approved budgets of both Defence—

Mr Harfield : I can't talk for Defence but, from an Airservices point of view and as I said in the opening statement, $690 million or thereabouts is in line with our original and ongoing investment profile that we've made publicly available and is in our corporate plans.

Senator GALLACHER: Perhaps if we can ask this question on notice, it might clear this up. Have there been any costs associated with the transition and ongoing operation of OneSKY since that earlier price proposal; and how are those costs shared? You were doing something, and it was withdrawn. Had there been costs associated with that proposal before you get to today or yesterday; and how did you share that with Defence?

Mr Harfield : Senator, I'm just trying to follow so we can actually answer your question appropriately. What do you mean by what was—

Senator GALLACHER: Was there an estimated total capital cost of OneSKY, which was withdrawn in 2015?

Mr Harfield : Not that I'm aware of, Senator. We didn't withdraw it.

Senator GALLACHER: So has the initial proposal changed substantially before the signing of the contract?

Mr Harfield : You want to know where we've been through the negotiations, because we've been mentioned.

Senator GALLACHER: Yes.

Mr Harfield : We'll give you some more detail on notice. I should also mention that the $1.2 billion we signed the final contract for is $300 million less than where we were faced last year at $1.5 billion.

Senator BROCKMAN: You're telling a good news story, Mr Harfield. It's confusing everybody.

Senator GALLACHER: But the actual tender process ended up with one sole winning tenderer who wasn't deemed to be value for money. That's where we ended up last year.

Mr Harfield : Correct, and that's because at that stage we were in the process and we weren't going to sign a contract until we had achieved that value for money. That's the work that's been done over the last six to 12 months and has been articulated since then, and this is where we've ended up.

Senator GALLACHER: If there is a really good news story in all of this, what is the intellectual property deal that arises out of it? Is it international first or a combination of military and domestic air traffic control management?

Mr Logan : If Thales were to take this exact product, you can imagine the intellectual property has its own particular issues. If they were to take this product and sell it, as is, into the international market, then we're entitled to a royalty stream.

Senator GALLACHER: Is that expected to be substantial?

Mr Logan : No. In this market we're dealing with an environment that's different to a lot of other software markets, where there is no upfront software cost. So, the way the business model works in this market—and, again, it's very narrow—is that they will come and give you, in effect, the previous version almost for free but, given the extent of the configuration work that needs to occur to engineer in all of the various surveillance spots in a particular country, then their business model actually works off the implementation in the particular country. So while we've tried to protect, as best we can in this environment and this business model, an element of the intellectual property as it goes to the pieces that we have developed around algorithms and the like, I won't proclaim that it will be an extensive royalty we get as a consequence, but we'll have an element in it.

Equally, we've been working on a strategic partnership with Thales as the supplier and, to a degree, we would also expect that, as happens around these environments, there will be opportunities to partner them into other implementations around the world where we can gain benefit from investment in those other locations.

Senator GALLACHER: I have two further questions. This has been a very long, complex project, and I accept it's a bespoke project, but the fact that Defence have elevated it as a project of concern on their side of the table, how do you account for all the expenses that have been incurred through this convoluted process? Will they all be shipped back to the airline passengers?

Mr Harfield : No, Senator. The first point is that it was announced today that OneSKY is coming off the projects of concern list—it's being removed—because the condition was around getting into contract. The second point is that through the use of the advanced work orders, which we used up until this point to reduce the risk of the program, all of those costs are actually pulled through to the final contract price. So they are actually absorbed in the $1.2 billion. Part of our whole strategy was that we wanted to work and learn from overseas air traffic providers who faced a number of problems. Once you sign up to the contract, then you get into issues of trying to work out how the requirements can be met and then you get into messy contractual arrangements. We have seen that in a number of case studies, and so we tried to do that before we actually committed to the final contract. And that's why we've pulled through all the problems in this program prior to contract signature—we've tried to deal with them. I'm not saying that the road is easy from here. There is still a lot of work to do. However, we'd rather do that before committing and signing up to a significant amount of money. So that's been the strategy we've undertaken.

Senator GALLACHER: How do you propose to service the $690 million investment? Where is that coming from?

Mr Harfield : That comes out of our capital or investment program, which we have declared and which all fits within our current pricing arrangements. Normally it's around about $1 billion over a five-year program—whether it's for fire stations, air traffic management investment—and it fits within that envelope.

Senator GALLACHER: So are you saying you spend over a billion dollars over five years normally?

Mr Harfield : That is what our pricing is based on.

Senator GALLACHER: And you spend $690 million so are you saying this is not going to incur borrowing? How do you currently do your infrastructure?

Mr Logan : Essentially the investment in the end is funded from a combination of retained earnings and debt. Based on the current modelling and the way we have been engaging around our capital investments over the next number of years and, in a sense, our depreciation runs at about $150 million per year, so there is about $150 million worth of natural cash flow funding coming out of our operating profile. It is heading towards $200 million now. Taking that then over a five-year period is about a billion dollars. This program will run slightly longer than five years, as we have noted, and as a consequence we think we could primarily fund it out of retained earnings although there could be some timing issues where we will need to top up our borrowing. Our borrowings currently sit just under $700 million in terms of our external medium-term notes. We are not expecting at this stage to have to lift that by any significant degree.

Senator GALLACHER: Have any lenders or rating agencies expressed any concern about your capacity to service the debt? Your last five financial years haven't been—

Mr Logan : We have Standard & Poor's as the rating agency which looks at our credit. I would have to check the specific timing of it but in the last six months they are conscious of this particular program and obviously quite interested in it. Our headline rating has been maintained in line with the sovereign rating of triple-A. The underlying rating is probably sitting around the A level.

Senator GALLACHER: So what does that mean in the cost of borrowings from triple-A to A?

Mr Logan : Sorry, just for clarity, the borrowing levels are still at triple-A so we are able to borrow at triple-A but the underlying rating of the organisation, if it was truly standalone, would be around about the A level, which is what it's been at for a few years now.

Senator GALLACHER: So are you saying you'll be able to service its expenditure over the next five years and you'll be able to service it on your historic debt levels? You won't be paying a premium because your ratings have slipped?

Mr Logan : No.

CHAIR: For the Hansard, this is my decision, resisted by the deputy chair. We are going to release Western Sydney Unit. They can go with our thanks for being here all day and we wish them the best travel, and the Inland Rail and Rail Policy Division. I will be reviewing the schedule at dinner time and we will see what happens then. We thank them for their attendance and we apologise that they did not have an opportunity to display their wares but I'm sure they won't mind getting to go home four or five hours earlier.

Senator GALLACHER: How much will Airservices have to borrow for this particular project? Do you have a figure on that?

Mr Logan : We don't have borrowings for specific programs. Our corporate plan sets out the borrowing levels for the organisation over the period of time. Our gearing levels are still set to fall within our gearing range. We have anticipated maybe up to $100 million of additional borrowings but that will be dependent on the overall market conditions in the aviation traffic volumes out over the next five years, so there will be a few variables in there.

Senator GALLACHER: Clearly your only option is to fund it out of retained earnings, reserves or debt?

Mr Harfield : That's how we do our entire investment program.

Senator GALLACHER: This is a once in 25-years investment, isn't it?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely.

Senator PATRICK: Continuing on with this project, you must have, I presume, a project plan now in place.

Mr Harfield : That's correct.

Senator PATRICK: So that the committee can follow your progress in the future, can you please provide the committee with a list of the milestones associated with the project and the day. I'm not worried about money but simply the—

Mr Harfield : The expected time frame and the time line?

Senator PATRICK: Yes, so project milestones and then, separately, operational milestones, which goes to what Senator Gallacher was—

Mr Harfield : The transition arrangements between—

Senator PATRICK: Yes, just so we can keep track of those. In relation to licences, I presume the fact you're going to take a royalty means that Thales owns the IP and you have a licence. Is that how it works, or is it that you own the IP and they have a licence?

Mr Logan : There are a whole range of pieces of software in the project—numerous pieces. There are tens of systems and subsystems. Depending on which subsystems, we'll have certain licences for the specifics where we've paid for significant modification, but we won't have a licence where they're using some third-party software in some of the small pieces.

Senator PATRICK: So you have the foreground IP, and the background IP is retained by the original supplier, and you have a licence to use that?

Mr Logan : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: So that's ownership. Airservices actually will own the rights to the IP on the components that we develop here in Australia?

Mr Logan : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: So not Thales Australia?

Mr Logan : No.

Senator PATRICK: But you've given them a licence that involves a royalty to then market this overseas?

Mr Logan : If it's in its pure form as developed in Australia. There are certain elements of that software that they bring in which are already predeveloped, and they retain the licence to be able to use that as they see fit.

Senator PATRICK: So what's to stop Thales at some stage in the future offering this to another country and then claiming a modification? How do you track the configuration of what belongs to Australia and what might be sold overseas?

Mr Logan : It is a difficult process. We are maintaining registers of the development work that goes on, and we will make sure that we maintain a monitor of those diligently.

Senator PATRICK: Do you have a risk register that's associated with this project?

Mr Logan : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: Once again, it might be handy if you tender the risk register to the committee so that we can see what the risks are, and then over time we might see how those risks are retired. Would that be a reasonable proposition?

Mr Logan : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. There's a reasonable amount of development in this project. I presume that's predominantly software development.

Mr Harfield : Yes, and configuration development. As you probably would appreciate, every air traffic control system is different for local conditions and local traffic patterns, and the one element with this particular program which distinguishes it from anywhere else in the world is the size and scale at which it is being deployed. There is no other place in the world that has a system that will be deployed across 11 per cent of the earth's surface. Even for somewhere like the United States, they have a system for en route and a different one for the approach, and each different location has a different system. We are one system. So that scalability piece is a development in itself.

Senator PATRICK: You can confirm that the hardware baseline for both civil and military will be the same?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely.

Senator PATRICK: And the software baseline will be the same, albeit the software on a military platform may have different functionality enabled to the software on the civil system?

Mr Harfield : Correct.

Senator PATRICK: Obviously this system replaces extant systems.

Mr Harfield : Correct.

Senator PATRICK: We've had a delay of three years, I believe, in negotiations.

Mr Harfield : From the time lines we expected, yes.

Senator PATRICK: So that means we've had systems in place that must be getting close to end of life, with a number of potential problems developing shortly as to retaining that capability and keeping that capability going.

Mr Harfield : That is a risk. However, that's one of the things we've been quite cognisant of, for two reasons. One is that with both the Defence system and the Airservices system, Eurocat, the way that I'd put it is 'closing to the economic life'. We can continue to keep them going, but obviously it is much more expensive, and we won't be able to upgrade them and expand them, and it would decay the growth. We've made sure that even in the rollout that was mentioned earlier by Senator Gallacher the Defence locations are up-front, to deal with their particular risk earlier, because we can maintain the civil system in a much better state during that. So, we've been quite conscious, and that's one of the things we've been trying to work out through the rollout—how we can do that but also transition to the new system.

Senator PATRICK: Back in 2014, when you were getting approval for budgets for this, what was the deadline, if you like, for the military system at that time?

Mr Harfield : I'd have to refer you to Defence, because I'd be just speculating. I think it was about the 2019-20 mark, if I remember correctly. However, you'd need to confirm that with Defence.

Senator PATRICK: And what was the deadline where the economics don't work anymore for the civil system?

Mr Harfield : I'll answer that in two components. One is that in just maintaining it in its present sense we could take it through, in an economic sense, to 2023 or 2025. That is what we've got arrangements in place for. However, when it comes to beginning to upgrade and expand the system and make significant modifications to it, we're talking about the 2020 time frame.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. Now, often, as you get close to end of life of components in a system it becomes more costly, as you suggested. Have you looked at the cost associated with the delay that's caused thus far?

Mr Harfield : We have, but for the civil system in 2015-16 we had a hardware refresh of our system. That's the reason we can take it out to 2025. For the Defence one, you'd have to take that up with Defence; I'm not aware of that.

Senator PATRICK: And contingency: obviously this is a project that involves a number of risks, and I guess we'll see what those are when you tender the risk register. What sort of contingency have you applied to this project from a Commonwealth perspective? Obviously there's some risk that sits inside Thales, one would imagine, that they're dealing with on a commercial level. Is it fixed price, or—

Mr Harfield : It's an arrangement where there's a pain-share gain-share mechanism that's been place to try to incentivise, for example, bringing the schedule in earlier, as we learn as we go along. But it's $1.2 billion, because of the overall costs.

Senator PATRICK: And that includes contingency that belongs to Airservices?

Mr Harfield : It belongs to Thales. Thales would have the contingency in there, and then as we retire that and it's not used we would share in that gain as it comes down.

Senator PATRICK: And if it goes the other way?

Mr Harfield : The contingency is that we hold a component and Defence holds a component, and if, for example, things don't go right, then obviously we're spending that contingency, so it's extra cost.

Senator PATRICK: And that's on top of the 1.3?

Mr Harfield : 1.2.

Senator PATRICK: Sorry—1.2 And that's factored into your budgets?

Mr Harfield : Yes, it is.

Senator PATRICK: As you're moving out through your own forward estimates?

Mr Harfield : Correct.

Senator PATRICK: I think that's probably it for me. Thank you very much.

Senator McCARTHY: At the Senate estimates in October last year we talked to you around the non-CASA-approved firefighting foams, and I'd just like to go there again with you, Mr Harfield. We also talked about the current review that you—

Mr Harfield : If I could just clarify: all the foams that we use are CASA certified.

Senator McCARTHY: Okay. So, what controls are currently in place?

Mr Harfield : I will ask Ms Michelle Bennetts, who's our executive general manager of aviation rescue and firefighting, to answer that question.

Senator McCARTHY: Okay.

Ms Bennetts : Sorry, Senator: could you repeat the question?

Senator McCARTHY: I'm just referring to the conversation we had in the previous estimates. Airservices Australia said it was currently reviewing its work health and safety controls. I just would like to follow on from that and ask what controls are currently in place.

Ms Bennetts : Is this in relation to the use of firefighting—

Senator McCARTHY: Aviation risk in firefighting service, yes—the PFOA.

Ms Bennetts : We use firefighting foam for operational purposes only, so we don't actually train with foam at our locations across the country. And where we're needing to engage with the foam, all of our firefighters will have PPE, for example—personal protective equipment—that they're required to use. We have a range of controls in place, procedural in nature, to ensure that where we're involved with foam—or any other chemicals, for that matter, that we're required to engage with on airport—we have appropriate workplace health and safety arrangements in place for our staff.

Senator McCARTHY: If the PPE is your primary control, how and when is decontamination required?

Ms Bennetts : I'll have to take the detail of that on notice. We certainly do take decontamination very seriously as a part of our control environment. For example, if our firefighters go to an operational incident and we're concerned that the PPE has been contaminated, that PPE will be required to be laundered before they can use it again, and so forth. But if you require any more detail on that I'll need to take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: Okay, and also whether there have been recent incidents in terms of decontamination; perhaps you could take that on notice as well.

Ms Bennetts : In terms of where we've actually had to, it would be plentiful, but perhaps we can give you some trends in that regard, or something like that.

Senator McCARTHY: Sure. Who will be responsible for reviewing the controls?

Ms Bennetts : It depends what level. I'm very concerned about the health and safety of our staff, so we often will understand what that risk looks like and ensure that the control environment is fit for purpose. That then rolls down to responsibilities at the local level to ensure that at a local level those policies and procedures are being applied. And then we'll have a range of assurance mechanisms in place to inform me and others that those procedures are being applied as we intend them to be.

Senator McCARTHY: When did the review begin?

Ms Bennetts : It happens on an ongoing basis. We review that risk, for example, quarterly.

Senator McCARTHY: Is your review public, or is it just an internal review? You say it's quarterly.

Ms Bennetts : Yes. We will review that internally quarterly.

Senator McCARTHY: In terms of the legacy of PFAS contamination, have you tested all ARFF firegrounds for PFAS?

Ms Bennetts : We have done testing at all of our current firegrounds, yes.

Senator McCARTHY: Would you care to name all of those, or provide that?

Ms Bennetts : I can certainly provide it on notice, if that's easier.

Senator McCARTHY: Are firefighters still being exposed to PFAS when they train on the ARFF's firegrounds?

Ms Bennetts : We've been working with this suspected contamination for the better part of 15 years. As a part of that we understood the risks across all of our training grounds and put in place some of the controls and things I mentioned earlier in relation to our staff to minimise their exposure. We do have infrastructure all over the country where this contaminant has likely leached into, for example, the training pads. So, we have very conservative control mechanisms in place to minimise exposure of staff and the environment through that process.

Senator McCARTHY: Does that mean they're still being exposed?

Senator GALLACHER: You've got firefighters training on a pad that's contaminated. Even with the appropriate chemicals nowadays, your likelihood of spreading that contaminant out is quite high, isn't it?

Ms Bennetts : These chemicals exist everywhere in our environment, as I'm sure has been discussed in this committee before, including in the Senate inquiry. These contaminants are, for example, in carpets. They're in all wet-weather gear.

Senator GALLACHER: But they're also in creeks, because we've trained on airports and we've leached it through the soil into the creek alongside the airport. So, if you're training on a pad that's contaminated, with copious amounts of water and good chemicals, what will happen is that it'll leach into the soil or go into the soil and go through into the creek next to the airport. Are you doing anything about that?

Ms Bennetts : We're certainly trying to understand the risk profile and prioritising our efforts. It's a big exercise, as you'd imagine, in relation to those environmental risks. From a workplace health and safety risk perspective, which is where the question first started, we certainly do have control measures in place to manage those issues as they're occurring on a daily basis.

Senator GALLACHER: You have a whole town, in Senator McCarthy's part of the country, that has contaminated town water because activities have occurred that have contaminated the groundwater. They basically can't make their town water the way it used to be. Are you training on contaminated areas with copious amounts of water with the risk of contaminating creeks or groundwater around the airports?

Ms Bennetts : We have every control measure in place in relation to their collection of water, for example, for making sure that water that's touching those pads is being properly collected and treated, and so on. We certainly don't train with the intent or expectation that water will run-off in the manner you're suggesting.

Senator McCARTHY: Is it fair to say, then, that firefighters are still being exposed to PFAS during that training?

Ms Bennetts : Are they being exposed to the chemical itself in terms of firefighting training? At very, very low levels.

Senator McCARTHY: How low is low? At what rate?

Ms Bennetts : There are no levels at this point that—we're able to understand what the actual health impacts for our firefighters. The Commonwealth Department of Health, as the committee would know, is still needing to understand what the actual impact of that exposure is, if any, to human health.

Senator McCARTHY: So Airservices Australia is not blood testing or health monitoring the firefighters?

Ms Bennetts : That's not correct. Back in 2007—2009, perhaps—we first offered blood testing to our firefighters. We had a proportion of our firefighters at that point in time voluntarily come forward and have their blood tested. We worked at that point in time with the University of Queensland, and we are currently engaging with the University of Queensland again to scope a second health study in relation to our cohort of firefighters. One of the challenges in this regard is that when our firefighters receive their level, back to the previous point, they don't understand what that means in terms of whether it's good, bad or otherwise. So what we're trying to do with the University of Queensland is scope a study where this cohort of people can contribute to the work that's being done at the national level in relation to the potential health impacts of this chemical.

Senator McCARTHY: Ms Bennetts, that was nearly 10 years ago—

Ms Bennetts : The first one; 2009.

Senator McCARTHY: Does that mean you're still blood testing now?

Ms Bennetts : We're scoping now, and we will seek volunteers from our current and former staff who wish to come forward and voluntarily undertake a blood test.

Senator McCARTHY: Have you got many people taking up the offer?

Ms Bennetts : We went out for an expression of interest—I will have to take the exact number on notice—about six months ago to understand if there was a groundswell of people who were interested in coming forth. We received a proportion of our staff, but not as many as we might have expected—

Senator McCARTHY: What were you hoping for in terms of numbers?

Ms Bennetts : There has been a lot of interest in this matter—a lot of media coverage and so forth. We had had a large engagement with the United Firefighters Union on the topic, and we did expect a large number of people would be interested. Whether they are interested and they come forth when that test gets offered, we suspect they will. It's probably the case that they haven't yet put their names on the list.

Senator McCARTHY: What's the foam being used at Darwin and Townsville airports?

Ms Bennetts : We, under contract to Defence, use Ansulite AFFF.

Senator McCARTHY: Can you describe that again, in terms of PFAS substances?

Ms Bennetts : Ansulite contains trace elements of PFOA, which is one of the PFAS family of chemicals.

Senator McCARTHY: Will that use continue?

Ms Bennetts : We are very keen to change the foam at Darwin and Townsville to that which we use across the rest of our operation.

Senator McCARTHY: What's that?

Ms Bennetts : That's Solberg. We changed the other 24 services we provide to Solberg in 2010. Under contract to Defence, for their operational requirements, we continue to use Ansulite AFFF at Darwin and Townsville. We're still in discussions with them about that.

Senator McCARTHY: When do you hope to change that?

Ms Bennetts : We don't have a firm view on that yet from Defence. We're continuing to work on that.

Senator McCARTHY: How many staff are we talking about at both Townsville and Darwin?

Ms Bennetts : Eighty-ish, off the top of my head.

Senator McCARTHY: And how would that be divided up?

Ms Bennetts : It's probably about 45-ish in Darwin and probably 30-ish in Townsville.

Senator McCARTHY: Again on this issue and the management of PFAS and the mitigation of health risks to firefighters, has Airservices Australia produced any procedures or guidance for firefighters who continue to work in PFAS contaminated sites? I know we had this conversation and you were going to come back with that. What have been the next steps in relation to procedures and guidelines?

Ms Bennetts : We have had procedures and guidelines in this, and in other hazardous chemicals that we work with, out for many years now.

Senator McCARTHY: There hasn't been an update to that?

Ms Bennetts : Not that I am aware of, but I can certainly take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: Is Airservices following the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme recommendations and advice for industries in using products containing PFAS?

Ms Bennetts : I would have to take that on notice. I can only assume that we would be.

Senator McCARTHY: I will just add a couple of questions that. If so, what recommendations and advice are being followed and implemented, and if not, why not?

Ms Bennetts : Okay.

Senator McCARTHY: Would the threshold for disestablishing an ARFFS at an airport stay at 300,000 passengers?

Ms Bennetts : It is currently 300, yes.

Senator McCARTHY: Is the disestablishment trigger remaining at 300,000 per annum, as claimed, or is it being changed to 400,000 passengers per annum?

Mr Harfield : There is a proposal on the table that it be 400,000, but all existing fire stations will be remaining and grandfathered to 300,000. However, it has been said at previous hearings that we are not closing any fire stations, even if they go below the 300,000.

Senator McCARTHY: When do you make a decision on it? You said there was a proposal for 400,000.

Ms Spence : A regulatory reform package is currently being developed. We don't have a final date for introduction. It is going through a drafting stage of the moment.

Senator McCARTHY: The regulatory reform package is currently underway?

Ms Spence : It is being developed at the moment.

Senator McCARTHY: Is it being developed by the department?

Ms Spence : With the department and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.

Senator McCARTHY: We will follow that up at the next estimates.

Senator GALLACHER: How does that line up with the Chicago convention? How does it line up with international best practice, if we pick a figure of 350,000 or 400,000 or whatever, how does that line up?

Ms Spence : There isn't actually an international trigger for when you would establish or disestablish the ARFF services.

Senator GALLACHER: I understand that, but how does it reflect the standards and recommended practices of annex 14, aerodromes, of the international conventional on civil aviation, known as the Chicago convention?

Ms Spence : My understanding is that it would be consistent with international requirements, but I am happy to take that on notice and confirm.

Senator GALLACHER: So, there is an agreement that if an airport has less than 300,000—or an international standard or convention—that they don't matter as much as one that has 400,000?

Ms Spence : No, as I said, there is no trigger threshold in the international requirements. Therefore, the numbers we have would not be inconsistent with any international requirement. But, as I said, I am very happy to take it on notice and put any more context around that, if that will assist.

Senator GALLACHER: So, in very clear brutal terms if you go to an airport that doesn't meet a threshold in Australia at the moment there are no firefighting services?

Ms Spence : At the moment there are a number of aerodromes that do not have firefighting services. The point that I would make as well is that what is proposed is a trigger for risk assessment. You would actually determine through that process whether to establish or disestablish. It is not just a question of hitting a certain number and then getting rid of the service. As Mr Harfield has already indicated, there'll be no changes to the ARFF services currently provided.

Senator GALLACHER: What is the purpose of moving these figures around if we're going to grandfather—retain—all of our firefighting services, wherever they are? What is the purpose of this new figure?

Ms Spence : The changes in the threshold reflect the fact that the original figure of 350,000 was set back in 2002 and there has been significant growth in passengers. The original threshold was set at 350,000 on the basis that it covered about 90 per cent of regular passenger transport passengers, whereas the equivalent now, 500,000, would actually cover 95 per cent of RPT passengers.

Senator GALLACHER: So your evidence is that the 500,000 figure is better than the 350,000 figure because there were fewer people around in 2002?

Ms Spence : No, not exactly. What I'm saying is that the 500,000 threshold probably has a higher number of passengers actually covered than what the 350,000 threshold had back in 2002.

Senator GALLACHER: One of the things that people in the bush get very tired of is when a mobile phone company says, 'We cover 80 per cent of the population of Australia,' and you drive three kilometres out in the bush and you can't get any signal at all. So what is going on with these regional airports? Are they going to be safer under these proposals or are they going to be more exposed?

Ms Spence : One thing I'd note is that the focus has been on the threshold but there are a number of other elements associated with the reform package which I think need to be referred to. One of the issues is actually clarifying the roles of an aviation rescue and firefighting service and also the arrangements with the state and territory fire services. As a result of this reform package, you'd have greater clarity for those airports which currently don't have an ARFF service and wouldn't have one under the new arrangements either. So there are benefits for those regional aerodromes as a result of this reform package

Senator GALLACHER: I'm struggling to see that. What I see happening is that there'll be an airport that has below-the-threshold full firefighting services and an airport that may grow into what used to be the threshold but won't and has a long way to go to get them. You're going to have growing airports with no firefighting services and you're going to have grandfathered airports, with a static or declining service, that do have them. So you're going to have people saying, 'What about me?'

Ms Spence : As I explained, there is a logic sitting behind the figures. But I note the point that you're making around the differences.

Senator McCARTHY: Ms Spence, your regulatory reform package may go to these next questions as to the obligation for the ARFFS to respond to any fire in an aerodrome, whether it started in an aircraft or not. It's obviously been a firmly established practice for the past 20 years that ARFFS will respond to any medical emergencies on an aerodrome. Does Airservices Australia support the removal of safety equipment from the new regulations?

Ms Spence : I might ask one of my colleagues, Mr Wolfe, who's been more closely involved in this process.

Mr Harfield : While Mr Wolfe comes to the table, I can make it clear there is no intention to change our provision of first aid at all on an aerodrome, because the firefighting service is just first aid equipped; it's not paramedic. Secondly, fires on the airfield, whether or not they are aircraft fires, will still be responded to by the aviation rescue and firefighting services. There is no change to that at all.

Senator McCARTHY: Did you want to add anything further to that, Mr Wolfe?

Mr Wolfe : The only thing I would add is that one of the elements of the reform package is actually to improve and clarify the relationship between Airservices and local fire brigades, who do help at the airport with a range of fires.

Senator McCARTHY: So improving that crossover?

Mr Wolfe : Yes; certainly in providing clarity. And that's something that the state fire brigades would welcome as well.

Senator McCARTHY: Where is there no clarity at the moment?

Mr Wolfe : The regulatory package?

Senator McCARTHY: Yes.

Mr Wolfe : It's currently being drafted. We certainly hope to have it out for comment from the various stakeholders, which includes the state fire brigade, by the middle of the year.

Senator McCARTHY: What's changed to make saving people's lives and properties—this is more about what you're doing—no longer the ARFFS's role when you're obviously the most suitably located and qualified emergency service, with full unrestricted access to the air site environment?

Mr Harfield : Senator, I'm not sure I follow you.

Senator McCARTHY: What's changed? Obviously you're going through a regulatory package now. Mr Wolfe spoke about the fact that there needed to be greater clarity. Where is the weakness at the moment? That's probably the best question.

Ms Bennetts : There is none. As Mr Harfield said, there's no intention from a provision-of-service perspective to change anything in relation to the way we have provided first-aid services or our attention to any other emergency on the aerodrome for the last 20 years, as you say.

Ms Spence : The clarity is that it's not written down anywhere. Different arrangements will have evolved over time. I emphasise what Mr Harfield said about no changes to the current arrangements. It's just about ensuring that there are no gaps between what Airservices does and what the state and territory fire services would do at airports.

Senator McCARTHY: Thanks, Ms Spence. I'd like to go to flight paths with Hobart Airport. I refer to the new flight paths that were introduced at Hobart Airport in September last year without consultation or notification to affected residents and businesses. I understand the Senator Duniam lodged a petition on behalf of residents and surrounding areas with the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, which was then Darren Chester MP, on 20 November 2017 and again with then Minister Joyce on 19 December 2017. As of today, the petition has not been acknowledged. Have either of the ministers been in contact with you about this?

Mr Harfield : There has been notification on the number of complaints and the issues around the move in the flight path.

Senator McCARTHY: Who has the notification come from?

Mr Harfield : We would have got it from the minister's office. I've not personally seen it, so I don't know if it's directly from the minister, but it was from members of the public in Tasmania to the various ministerial offices, as well as directly to us. Just to give clarity on what occurred: we changed the flight path in September last year and that change was to improve the safety of the flight paths into Hobart Airport. However, on implementation and after some response back from the community, it became very evident that our community consultation was inadequate and not appropriate.

Senator McCARTHY: So what did you do?

Mr Harfield : We fessed up that we made a mistake and we've corrected the flight path as much as we possibly can, and that will be re-implemented. It's not the exact previous flight path, because one of the navigation aids that it was connected to has been decommissioned with the airport works at Hobart. It will be as close as we can get to the previous flight path. That will be implemented next month, in March. Following that, we put up terms of reference to do a further review, which will have consultation with the community over the forthcoming period, to make further improvements to the flight path and address their concerns.

Senator McCARTHY: When will the communities be consulted in this review?

Mr Harfield : On the initial change that will happen in March, they have been consulted. It's been dealt with. Terms of reference have been put on our website with regard to this, following the review. The consultation will progressively happen over the coming months. In our terms of reference, it can be construed that they will not be consulted until December this year. I can say to this committee that that is not actually going to occur. We'll be consulting with the community well before that.

Senator McCARTHY: Before December?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator McCARTHY: Just on the new Hobart flight path, if we look at the time frame, it says 'implemented in September 2017'. The review won't be completed until March 2019?

Mr Harfield : We'll make the change in March this year, so next month is that initial change. Then that further review would be looking to implement that change in March next year. There's actually a long cycle with changing air routes, which is planning and mapping, plus also we want to make sure that the community consultation is adequate this time around.

Senator McCARTHY: And how can residents be offered relief in the meantime?

Mr Harfield : This change that we're making in March this year, so next month, will alleviate many of the situations that have occurred with the previous change, as it's returning close to—but not all the way to—the previous flight path.

Senator McCARTHY: Okay. Airservices has repeatedly said that the safety of air navigation is its primary consideration, including for the implementation of the new flight path at Hobart, as it should be, no doubt. Do you have any hard evidence to show that air travel in and out of Hobart is now safer than before introduction of the new flight path, and does CASA believe the new flight paths are safer?

Mr Harfield : When it comes to the flight path, the safety aspect is around ensuring there is consistency in those. So it's improving the safety. It's not saying that the situation's unsafe; it's how you can make the overall system safer. The flight path change was giving consistency in certain aspects of the flight path, which means it's much more predictable. Yes, our requirement is that the safety of air navigation is our most important consideration. However, the second consideration is, as far as practicable, to minimise the effects of aircraft operations on the environment, including noise. As we've picked up with the Hobart change, the consideration was purely about the safety aspects. The broader considerations weren't assessed appropriately, and the consultation on that wasn't adequate, so we made that mistake. What we're trying to do with these further reviews is making sure that we can put in something that improves the safety of flying in and out of Hobart but, at the same time, balances the requirements of minimising the noise aspects on the surrounding communities.

Senator McCARTHY: Does any of this have much to do with the Accelerate program, which slashed almost 20 per cent of the Airservices workforce in the last two years?

Mr Harfield : Not at all. There was no real change to any of the functions or any of the people carrying them out. We didn't strip out any functions when it comes to noise. One of the things that we did undertake after the Hobart flight path is that there were some similarities to a previous change in the Gold Coast, which happened in 2016, and a further change that happened in Perth in 2015, well before the Accelerate program. In that review, we did a top-down, very systematic review, because the same issues were coming up time and time again as a systemic issue—around consultation and the way that environmental assessments were being conducted. In that, we found that the people involved at all parts actually had never been in the same room together in all that time. And so we've made changes and implemented a range of things to improve the way that we did it. But I can categorically say the Accelerate program had nothing to do with it.

Senator McCARTHY: So you say systemic issues needed to change. Would you say confidently they've changed now?

Mr Harfield : What I can confidently say is that we've put in a process to actively change those. Those initiatives and recommendations have been implemented. But, because some of them are behavioural, I would like to check in six months time whether they've actually fully changed. The test obviously will be how we improve our community consultation as well as implementing this change to the Hobart flight path this year.

Senator McCARTHY: We'll be checking as well, Mr Harfield. Thank you.

Senator RHIANNON: Returning to the contamination issue, Ms Bennetts, I think you said you've been dealing with this for about 15 years?

Ms Bennetts : That's correct.

Senator RHIANNON: That takes us back to around 2002 or 2003, I guess. There were a lot of reports at the time, after the developments in the United States where 3M agreed with the US Environmental Protection Agency that it should stop manufacturing PFAS. 3M and DuPont were involved. Is that when Airservices Australia became alert to a potential problem here?

Ms Bennetts : Yes, it was around that time.

Senator RHIANNON: You made a comment—I didn't get the words down exactly—but it was something like, 'If there are any human health impacts from this.' You seemed to be querying if there were health impacts. Did I hear that correctly?

Ms Bennetts : Yes, there are no known human health impacts at this point in time.

Senator RHIANNON: I wonder why you make those comments. We hear that regularly from the Department of Defence as well. In September 2016 the United Nations Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee—which Australia is a member of—unanimously agreed on:

… adverse health effects such as elevated cholesterol levels, altered reproductive/developmental effects, endocrine disruption, impaired neurodevelopment, as well as increased risk of cancer associated with PFOA exposure in humans … and that scientific data have demonstrated PFOA-mediated immunotoxicity, primarily suppression of antibody response, in humans.

That sounds really serious, so I wonder why you are so emphatic in saying there are no proven health impacts.

Mr Harfield : We aren't human health experts, so we rely very much on the Commonwealth Department of Health and their advice. The Commonwealth Department of Health states:

In humans, there is no consistent evidence that PFAS cause any specific illnesses, including cancer.

They go on to say:

Individual blood testing for PFAS is not currently helpful to manage any current medical problems or to predict future health problems. All Australians are expected to have some amount of PFAS in their blood due to the wide range of things it has been used for. A broad range of levels would be expected in all communities due to background exposure. There is no level of PFAS that is considered ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’.

However, even though we follow that advice, as Ms Bennetts mentioned earlier, in about 2009 with the University of Queensland we conducted voluntary blood testing, which we assessed. We are continuing to work on the health and wellbeing and monitoring of our firefighters. We currently have a taskforce that is scoping out a further study with the University of Queensland that also includes four of our operational firefighters, a union representative and an emergency vehicle technician, so that we can continue to monitor it.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to move onto that issue about monitoring your workers. I understand that they are given three-year operational fitness medical reviews. Is that the case?

Ms Bennetts : That's correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Does that include an examination of their possible levels of contamination?

Ms Bennetts : It doesn't at this point in time. The only testing they have been offered thus far is the—

Senator RHIANNON: Considering you have known about this problem for 15 years, why aren't you testing the contamination levels in your firefighters and your workers?

Ms Bennetts : We know that they have PFAS in their blood; everyone does. And we know that those who have engaged with the original foam that we had that had PFOS in it will have higher levels of contamination than those who haven't worked with it before. At this point in time, as Mr Harfield just said, what we need to understand is what those levels mean in terms of their health. We are working closely with the Commonwealth Department of Health to better understand that.

Senator RHIANNON: The training academy in Fiskville was closed. Are there other facilities, including training facilities, that have similar levels of contamination to what was found at Fiskville and that have also been closed?

Ms Bennetts : I'd have to take that on notice, Senator—in relation to the levels at that facility and our understanding of them.

Senator RHIANNON: Clearly, the union are working for the health and safety of their workers and their members. Could you just go through how you're working with the union please.

Ms Bennetts : Yes. Mr Harfield just referred to the most recent working group we have, and the union have a representative on that group. They have, in fact, done extensive research in this regard, as you alluded to, and that's proving very valuable in that forum. That working group is presently led by the University of Queensland, scoping the health study that I referred to earlier.

Senator RHIANNON: This is just so serious for people's lives: the uncertainty and the stress that it's causing, partly, being frank about it, because sometimes the departments aren't very forthcoming. I haven't got all the details of how you're undertaking this, but at all the levels of work on this contamination are you involving the union as members of the board? Partly why I'm asking that is that you've only given one example. It sounds like you've got one union rep on one board.

Ms Bennetts : That's not the case. We certainly fulfil all of our consultation obligations with the UFU. We meet, starting at my level and with their secretary, at least on a scheduled biannual basis. The latest one was just a week or two ago.

Senator RHIANNON: Biannual as in twice a year?

Ms Bennetts : It's a biannual scheduled meeting to talk through all issues associated with the relationship between ourselves and the union. Then we have a series of working groups—off the top of my head I think it's around five or six at this point in time—which the UFU are formally represented on, and there's much more correspondence than that between the two parties, as you'd expect.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice to detail what you've just set out—the names of those committees and how often they've been meeting, and, with the biannual meetings, when those biannual meetings started. You did use the word 'scheduled', which made me wonder if they are actually occurring, so could you provide dates on those please.

Ms Bennetts : Certainly.

Senator GALLACHER: Could we go to the new facility at Brisbane Airport. Is someone across all that? Currently it's a category 10 airport?

Mr Harfield : It's a category 10 station, yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Is it 'airport' or 'station'? What's a category 10; is it the airport or the station?

Mr Harfield : It's actually the station. There's a certain category that the service provides, depending on what type of operation occurs at the airport.

Senator GALLACHER: So it's a category 10 airport in my view, but you reckon it's a category 10 station. That means it gets a lot of aircraft of a reasonable size. Is that how a category—

Mr Harfield : Yes. The category 10 is A380s and, I think—

Ms Bennetts : Just the A380s.

Mr Harfield : It is just the A380s.

Senator GALLACHER: Brisbane has had two fire stations for about 30 years; is that correct?

Mr Harfield : That's correct.

Senator GALLACHER: They were built because of ICAO and CASA objectives of a two-minute response time?

Mr Harfield : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: We're now going to close those and go to one station; is that correct?

Mr Harfield : No. We are keeping the main fire station where it currently is and refurbishing it, and, with the new parallel runway being built, the second satellite station will be rebuilt.

Senator GALLACHER: Okay. So we'll still have two stations?

Mr Harfield : We'll have two stations still.

Senator GALLACHER: Is the maximum time for an ARFF vehicle to arrive four minutes?

Mr Harfield : Three minutes.

Senator GALLACHER: The maximum time?

Mr Harfield : The maximum is three minutes.

Senator GALLACHER: The maximum is three minutes? With this refurbishment and the satellite station are we going to be able to achieve those objectives?

Mr Harfield : Yes. That's one of the reasons we take a long time making sure that the siting of those stations meets those response times.

Senator GALLACHER: Okay. Is it true that the existing stations are meeting a standard of two minutes?

Mr Harfield : I'd have to take that on notice, unless Ms Bennetts is aware.

Ms Bennetts : No. Well, the time frames would vary for the different thresholds of the runways. The current requirement, as you stated, is that we meet all runway thresholds in a time frame of no greater than three minutes.

Senator GALLACHER: That's the maximum. But the objective is to get there in two minutes; is that correct?

Ms Bennetts : Yes. The objective is two minutes and no greater than three minutes.

Senator GALLACHER: Have you done a human factors study on the ability of the ARFFS watch room attendant to effectively manage or watch all landings and take-offs; operate and monitor a manual video camera at the new parallel runway, kilometres away and behind large buildings; and monitor up to five frequencies, respond to the ARFFS crews to emergencies, and record and act on all the emergency calls? Is it true there's one person monitoring all of that activity?

Ms Bennetts : In relation to the new station and the new runway when that is operational, which are the circumstances you're talking about there, the safety work is still being done right now to understand how that will operate in the new model.

Senator GALLACHER: So it's not correct to say that one person's been allocated all of that work?

Ms Bennetts : No.

Senator GALLACHER: And there is a study being done, or an examination?

Ms Bennetts : Yes, we're actually assessing all of those things that you just outlined in terms of how we can most effectively provide our service when the new runway opens.

Senator GALLACHER: Currently Brisbane consists of an international and CASA standards category 10 airport and has a predicated number of staff. How many is that? Is that five officers and 13 firefighters?

Ms Bennetts : That's correct.

Senator GALLACHER: Is there any attempt to diminish those numbers?

Ms Bennetts : Just to clarify a couple of points: Brisbane is currently a category 9 service that ramps up to a category 10 service to cover category 10 aircraft when they land, so when the A380s come in, in the morning and the afternoon, we ensure that we have the category 10 level of staffing for those aircraft movements. There's no intention to change that.

Senator GALLACHER: In the absence of A380s, staffing levels change or not?

Ms Bennetts : Absolutely, Senator. We have an obligation to understand what aircraft are moving in an aerodrome and provide a service that's in accordance with those requirements. If the A380s, hypothetically speaking, stopped going into Brisbane Airport, then at that point I would take a review of our staffing, including consulting with all of those affected by any potential changes before a decision was made.

Senator GALLACHER: Just for those lucky passengers on an A380, what does that mean if there is a problem? Does it mean that there are two or three fire vehicles attending the plane?

Ms Bennetts : On an A380?

Senator GALLACHER: Is there a set requirement?

Ms Bennetts : The staffing model wouldn't be reviewed or a decision made to change it unless the A380s weren't flying into the aerodrome any longer.

Senator GALLACHER: No, that's not my question. My question is: if an A380 has a problem and you're on that plane, how many vehicles would attend that emergency? One? Two?

Ms Bennetts : If it was a full cat 10 turnout, then all available staff would attend that emergency.

Senator GALLACHER: And what's the minimum you require?

Ms Bennetts : The category 10 staffing. We staff to category, which is the size of the aircraft, and as the aircraft—

Senator GALLACHER: Okay, I must be obtuse. Do you get one vehicle for a 737, two vehicles for a 747 and three vehicles for an A380?

Ms Bennetts : Category actually depends on the amount of agent that you can get to the incident site within a period of time. So, where you're running a two-station model—for example, in Brisbane—it gets very complicated very quickly. It's probably best if I get you that detail on notice.

Senator GALLACHER: All right. Thank you for that. Is it true that you're proposing to cross-crew firefighters to urban response vehicles to back up specialist aviation? That means that, in an incident, someone could be doing CPR or assisting other people with an incident somewhere else in the airport, and there's a response required to an aircraft. Is it true you're cross-crewing people?

Ms Bennetts : We provide staffing to our approved staffing levels by CASA to ensure that we can respond at the category that we're required to for a particular incident. Separate to that, we run—which I think you're referring to—a domestic response service, which is a smaller vehicle that is designed to attend other emergencies that are going on around the aerodrome.

Senator GALLACHER: So you are cross-crewing? Is that yes?

Ms Bennetts : No, we don't plan to cross-crew. In Brisbane, if that's what you're referring to, we run both of those staffing models.

Senator GALLACHER: So there's a dedicated fire crew, and there's a dedicated urban response vehicle to back up the specialist aviation vehicle?

Ms Bennetts : The most important thing is that we meet our regulatory obligations, so we certainly staff to category, as I just said.

Senator GALLACHER: I think the most important thing is that you're actually there if there's an incident, so that's what I'm trying to get to the bottom of. Have you cross-utilised people and exposed yourself to a risk in the event that there's a fire crew needed?

Ms Bennetts : The staff that run the domestic response service are over and above the safe staffing levels that are required to respond to an incident, as per our obligations under the CASA regulations.

Senator GALLACHER: So there's no risk here that there won't be a full complement of fire crew?

Ms Bennetts : Correct.

Senator GALLACHER: Excellent. In Perth, Airservices has already reduced the crew; is that true?

Ms Bennetts : That's incorrect, Senator. We still run the appropriate amount of staffing that's required under our obligations per category for the size of the aircraft.

Senator GALLACHER: That's also a category 10 operation?

Ms Bennetts : It's a category 9 operation that we staff up to ensure that category 10 aircraft are covered at the category 10 level.

Senator GALLACHER: Okay, my mistake. So it is a category 10 operation when A380s land?

Ms Bennetts : Correct.

Senator GALLACHER: And it's a category 10 because A380s have got a lot more people on them than other aircraft?

Ms Bennetts : That's part of it. The safety work that was done at the time the A380s came into service was also around the second level on the aircraft and ensuring that, from a tactics and operational procedures perspective, there were enough staff to manage that uncertainty at that point in time. And we still run that model today.

Senator GALLACHER: That's an international model; it's not that we're unique in that respect?

Ms Bennetts : No, the staffing level is set domestically and approved by CASA.

Senator GALLACHER: Yes, but A380s weren't invented in Australia, and they land at airports all over the world—

Ms Bennetts : That's correct.

Senator GALLACHER: so the crewing of firefighting operators, which is paid by these operators, is consistent with what we do internationally?

Ms Bennetts : They're not exactly the same. There are differences in terms of the way that various states would choose to staff various category levels. In Australia, they're set and approved by CASA, as I said.

Senator GALLACHER: We'll probably go round in circles here, so, in the best interests of time, I'll put a very direct question to you. Would two officers and nine firefighters on duty be consistent with the obligations with respect to an A380?

Ms Bennetts : We provide staffing in accordance with our obligations for A380 movements.

Senator GALLACHER: So would two officers and nine firefighters meet that obligation?

Ms Bennetts : I'd have to take on notice where you're going with that question.

Senator GALLACHER: No, just say yes. Are two officers and nine firefighters meeting your obligation to protect 550 passengers on an A380 flight, which makes it a category 10 airport?

Ms Bennetts : That is not our cat 10 staffing model, so I'm not certain where those numbers are coming from.

Senator GALLACHER: So two officers and nine firefighters doesn't meet your obligations?

Ms Bennetts : That's not what I said, Senator. I said that is not our cat 10 staffing model.

Senator GALLACHER: I will get this in a minute. In a category 10 situation, would a complement of two officers and nine firefighters be sufficient to meet our obligations—that is, the taxpayer, through your organisation, Airservices Australia?

Ms Bennetts : That is not our category 10 staffing. We have more staff available than that for A380 movements. So I'm not certain of the nature of your question.

Senator GALLACHER: I'm just saying: is two and nine going to be meeting your obligations? And I heard a no, I thought. Well, I'll ask it again. What is the category 10 obligation to have with respect to staff?

Ms Bennetts : I actually haven't got the detail—

Senator GALLACHER: Is that five and 13, five officers and 13 firefighters?

Ms Bennetts : I haven't got the detail of our category staffing numbers with me, Senator, so I'll have to take that—

Senator GALLACHER: You just refuted my proposition of two and nine, and now you're saying you don't have the correct answer to the question.

Ms Bennetts : Senator, your earlier question was, 'Does the domestic response vehicle cross-crew with the category 10 staffing?' and my answer to that was no. Where we have category 10 movements, our available staff on the aerodrome are there to provide a category 10 service.

Senator GALLACHER: That was in respect of Brisbane. I have now moved over to Perth.

Ms Bennetts : Correct. That was the answer for Perth.

Senator GALLACHER: No, the cross-crewing was a question with respect to Brisbane. I'm now in Perth, and I'm simply asking: has it been made very clear to CASA that, if this model is implemented, it potentially leaves two officers and nine firefighters on duty to protect an A380? Does that meet our obligations?

Ms Bennetts : Senator, the premise of your question is incorrect. When the staffing model was changed in Perth, it was made very clear to everyone that our obligations remain to service the aircraft that land on the runway. At the time it occurred, it was reviewed by Fair Work; it was reviewed by Comcare; it was reviewed by CASA; and there were no concerns raised in relation to the change in the nature of the roster.

Senator GALLACHER: Okay, we'll put it on the record. Perth now responds to well over a thousand emergency incidents every year using three of the aviation crewing and leaving only two officers and nine firefighters to cover whatever is flying at the time. Is that an incorrect statement?

Ms Bennetts : Yes, Senator.

Senator GALLACHER: In what way is it factually incorrect?

Ms Bennetts : The premise of that statement is that the staff who are on station, who may go to some other event that occurs on station, aren't available to meet our regulatory obligations in relation to a category 10 aircraft, and that premise is incorrect.

Senator GALLACHER: What I hear there—and please correct me if I'm wrong—is that you can count to the right number of people in the complement, but you can't always guarantee they're going to be available, because some of them could be doing other work.

Ms Bennetts : That applies at 26 aerodromes around the country.

Senator GALLACHER: So, whilst we can have enough people in the complement for bookkeeping purposes, they could be, in the event of an emergency, not all available?

Ms Bennetts : Our fire commanders are trained to make decisions in relation to what we do and don't attend on an aerodrome. We're there to attend to aerodrome emergencies, essentially, in a medical sense or fire or threat of fire, as you know, Senator. Our obligations in relation to the operation of the airport and those who are landing on the runway come first, and our fire commanders are trained to make calls in relation to potential impacts on our service if we do need to go to some other emergency that's occurring on the airport.

Senator GALLACHER: In the specific example that's been raised, someone is assisting or giving CPR, waiting for an ambulance to come, and there's an emergency on the other side of the airport. What do they do? Do they stop giving CPR and go to the fire engine, or do they stay there and the fire engine goes out?

Ms Bennetts : As I said, that occurs at 26 aerodromes all around the country today in relation to our need to prioritise our attendance at emergencies on the airport and ensure that our obligations are met in relation to aircraft movements.

Senator GALLACHER: We're spending $1.2 billion on a new system. We're borrowing a reasonable amount of money to put that system in place. At the same time, we're reducing the people on the airport to—I will say; you may not accept it—a contested position that there may not be enough people to actually man the equipment, or person the equipment, to get to an aircraft emergency.

Mr Harfield : That's not correct, Senator. As Ms Bennetts has been saying, yes, we're investing in a new air traffic management system and, yes, we're investing in infrastructure, but we continually invest in our people to ensure that we have the right number of people and operational vehicle capability to meet our category requirements under the civil aviation regulations, which means that we are there first and foremost to deal with aircraft incidents and accidents on the aerodrome.

Senator GALLACHER: Can you, around your various categories of airports, just give us the staffing levels, current and projected, and a snapshot of how you've reduced the workforce under this—what was the program called?

Mr Harfield : The Accelerate program, and, as I've mentioned a number of times, operational firefighters and air traffic controllers were completely quarantined from any changes under the Accelerate program. Firefighting numbers have relatively stayed the same as well as controllers. They have actually improved over time. There were no cuts in that area, but we can provide, for all 26 stations, our current staffing, our projected staffing, the categories and what's required.

Senator GALLACHER: Are you reassuring the committee that you are managing all the safety obligations of Airservices at your airports in both an airside and non-airside manner with assistance, for example, for heart attacks and those sorts of issues? Are you maintaining enough staff to maintain an airside emergency situation?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely.

Senator GALLACHER: Some of the information we've got puts that into contest, but I'll leave it there.

Senator RICE: I have a few questions on a range of topics starting with the Hobart Airport new flight path. I'm told that the purpose of the new flight path into Hobart Airport is to achieve safety outcomes.

Mr Harfield : Yes. I've just answered a set of questions along similar lines.

CHAIR: This has been well canvassed.

Senator RICE: I might leave it there and look at the Hansard.

Mr Harfield : We've covered off the safety aspects as well as community consultation and what we are doing about it—

Senator RICE: Have you covered the incidences that appear to have increased since the new flight path came in place?

Mr Harfield : Yes, that was a question from Senator McCarthy.

CHAIR: That's been well canvassed.

Senator RICE: In the interests of time, I will look at the Hansard for that. In fact, I had some questions about the Brisbane firefighters, but, having sat here listening to Senator Gallacher's questions, I won't repeat those. The question I do want to ask is about air noise and monitoring at secondary airports. I think I've previously asked questions about the level of monitoring at secondary airports. Can you restate for me what monitoring around secondary airports is currently in place?

Mr Harfield : This was a question on notice from the last estimates, which you will have. The majority of our main—what I'll call permanent—monitoring is based around the major aerodrome at a particular capital city. At the secondary aerodrome, on occasion, depending on assessments, we will use some of our temporary monitoring there for a period of time.

Senator RICE: What certainty do you have that noise isn't unacceptable at the secondary airports?

Mr Harfield : The reason I hesitate is that there are actually no standards to determine whether the noise is acceptable or unacceptable. We use the noise monitoring to provide information as well as assess reference airport master planning and the noise contours to ensure that their accuracy is maintained.

Senator RICE: Can you tell me about the N65 rule?

Mr Harfield : I can't. I don't know if somebody else can, but I can't.

Ms Spence : I think we'll have to take that on notice.

Senator Scullion: Do you have any questions around that?

Senator RICE: Yes. What I'm told is that there's a rule called the N65 rule that means there can be no more than 50 flights per day of 65 decibels or more in any area.

Ms Spence : If it's all right with you, Senator Rice, we can take that question on notice and explain what the N65 rule is. I don't have the relevant officials with me who can answer that question.

Senator RICE: The constituent who's been in touch with me basically says that there is this rule, and they're asking whether you have any evidence that people living around secondary airports aren't, in fact, suffering more than that level of noise.

Ms Spence : I'm not aware of that rule, but I'm certainly happy to take it on notice and get back to you with some information on that.

Senator RICE: There's this elusive N65 rule. What I've been told is that there were submissions presented to the planning commission in the state for the latest master plan for the secondary airports that refer to the N65 rule and claim that it had been met. It sounds like you'll probably need to take that on notice as well.

Ms Spence : Sorry, I'll have to take that on notice, Senator.

Senator RICE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Whilst she's consulting with her colleague, I need to do a couple of things. I have a question. With OneSKY you've put out a release indicating:

Airlines will have more flexibility to fly the most efficient routes for their aircraft, spending less time in the air, saving fuel and reducing carbon emissions.

Can you just particularise that a little bit? Does this mean they'll have straighter routes because of the new capacity?

Mr Harfield : Ostensibly, yes. We touched on it a bit earlier, Chair, when you weren't in here. Because they operate in three dimensions it's also the climb profile and the descent profile. There are things like what we would call a constant descent approach, where you don't get them to level off, so they can go engine off and come in. What it will do as a decision-making tool is, instead of fixing everything like roads, allow us to pick the most optimum path with weather conditions and traffic conditions to minimise the interruptions to the flight from take-off to touchdown.

CHAIR: What impact might that have? In a perfect scenario versus a perfect scenario today, what impact might that have on a flight time, say, from Perth to Melbourne? It really is only at either end, isn't it?

Mr Harfield : To give you an example, if you go back to the early 1990s, your block time or flight time from Sydney to Melbourne would have been about an hour, but now it's an hour and a half—with congestion and everything, it stretched out. What we'll be doing with the new system allows that to be reduced—

CHAIR: To be compressed again. But these advantages will be at the front end and the back end, won't they?

Mr Harfield : For the entire flight, from take-off to touchdown.

CHAIR: So it can impact along the way.

Senator GALLACHER: So we won't get a message at Sydney that says, 'We're waiting for a slot'?

Mr Harfield : The whole idea is to smooth that all out.

Senator BROCKMAN: Just to follow up on the Chair's question, what about the longer routes like the east-west routes—Perth to Canberra, Perth to Sydney or Perth to Melbourne? Are you going to see most of your benefits in the Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane triangle, or will those longer routes actually benefit?

Mr Harfield : The longer routes will benefit in a much greater proportion because of the length of flight. To give you an example, a Dubai to Sydney flight. With the jet stream that comes, you would think the flight would come from Dubai directly over north-western Australia and land at Sydney. With the winds, the way we can do it is it'll actually drop down and come way south of Perth or even into the Southern Ocean and then come up through Tasmania. It'll go 1,700 nautical miles longer than if it went on the shortest route, but it will do it 45 minutes quicker and save over 800 kilos of fuel.

Senator BROCKMAN: As a Western Australian, I like to hear that.

Mr Harfield : For example, when you come from Western Australia to here it's actually quicker than going the other way because of the winds. We'll be able to do it. We'll be able to access all of that and offer it to all flights because we'll have the ability to manage all of those flights in those particular ways.

Senator DODSON: Is that true of regional locations like Broome?

Mr Harfield : Absolutely, Senator.

Senator DODSON: So why can't I get to Canberra? It takes me two days. What's happening to the airline system?

CHAIR: I tell you what, it took your grandfather a lot longer!

Senator DODSON: I know; he'd walk! It took me two days to get here.

Mr Harfield : I'm happy to get blamed for most things, but you'd have to talk to the airline about that, Senator.

Senator McCARTHY: I have a couple of questions on the ombudsman—Mr Harfield or Ms Spence? How many staff are employed in the office of the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman?

Mr Harfield : My understanding is, other than the noise ombudsman, there are three people. I'm not sure what they are in full-time equivalents, because I think a couple of them work part time.

Senator McCARTHY: Would you be able to provide that information—

Mr Harfield : Absolutely.

Senator McCARTHY: and their roles. What about the annual basis for the running of the office?

Mr Harfield : We can provide that on notice; I don't know the exact budget.

Senator McCARTHY: Can you confirm that the board has initiated a review of the office?

Mr Harfield : I can confirm that the board commissioned what I'll call an independent review—the only reason being that the ombudsman is separate to management; it's run through the board—to make sure that the ombudsman is set up appropriately with forward investment because of the number of parallel runways that are being implemented around the country, such as in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth, and the associated issues. It's to make sure they are actually set up and able to deal with that. And Western Sydney Airport is coming online as well. So it was from an administrative resourcing perspective.

Senator McCARTHY: Sorry, Mr Harfield, what sort of review was it?

Mr Harfield : It was called an independent review. The board commissioned somebody independent of management because the ombudsman is actually independent of Airservices and just reports into the board.

Senator McCARTHY: Why was it done?

Mr Harfield : Since the ombudsman had come into place, there hadn't been a review of what the resourcing requirements and budget levels are, and, with the forward program and all these new parallel runways and Western Sydney Airport coming online, it's to ensure it's set up appropriately.

Senator McCARTHY: Who's doing the review?

Mr Harfield : I'll have to take on notice who actually did the review.

Senator McCARTHY: Can you supply us with a copy of the terms of reference and the time lines for the review?

Mr Harfield : Yes, I can supply the terms of reference. The review has actually been completed.

Senator McCARTHY: It has been completed?

Mr Harfield : It has been completed.

Senator McCARTHY: When was it completed?

Mr Harfield : It was completed last month—January.

Senator McCARTHY: Is that review a public document or is it only internal?

Mr Harfield : It's not a published document at this stage. However, can I take it on notice and refer it, because it's not my document. It's actually the Airservices' board and I need to refer—

Senator McCARTHY: Are you able to provide details to the committee about which stakeholders were consulted?

Mr Harfield : Yes; it's part of the review. If I can't, I'll refer it through to the board to make sure that the person conducting the review—

Senator McCARTHY: So take them as questions on notice. Can you confirm—and this may go to the minister—that the government will require Airservices to fund the ANO's office at its current levels to ensure Airservices does not repeat the mistakes it made that led to the creation of the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman?

Mr Harfield : I can say that the Airservices board will fund the noise ombudsman to fulfil its charter.

Senator STERLE: To fulfil its what, sorry?

Mr Harfield : To fulfil its charter and its requirement. There is no expected change to that. We just need to make sure—and that was what the review was about—it's actually adequately resourced for what's ahead since there has been no review since the noise ombudsman was actually taken up in 2009-10.

Senator McCARTHY: So it's supported wholeheartedly and—

Mr Harfield : Absolutely. There is no attempt whatsoever to diminish the role of the noise ombudsman. As we talked about previously in relation to Hobart, changing flight paths and making sure that we are held to account for our processes and do it appropriately is a required check and balance that's there, so there's no ifs, buts or maybes of the requirements of the noise ombudsman.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you, Mr Harfield.

CHAIR: Thank you once again, Mr Harfield. We appreciate your attendance and that of your officers. We wish you all the best on your return to wherever it is you're going.

Mr Carmody, could you come up for one minute? I need to confirm something with you. But while you're coming up—Dr Kennedy?

Dr Kennedy : Yes.

CHAIR: I'm going on the record here: we have to do something about these schedulings at estimates. This is getting to a ridiculous point where we've got to let four and five agencies go that have been sitting here all day. It's not working, and I'll be taking that up with the Senate itself. We can release Aviation and Airports Division, Surface Transport Policy Division, Portfolio Coordination and Research Division, and Regional Development and Local Government Division.

Senator GALLACHER: You can't release all those people. That's not the way it works.

CHAIR: Then we'll have to have a private meeting, and the government numbers will release them. We're five hours behind, Alex.

Senator STERLE: We'll have a spillover day.

CHAIR: We're five hours behind. We're never going to get to them.

Senator GALLACHER: Surface Transport was next.

CHAIR: Don't make me call the team together and use our numbers on you.

Senator GALLACHER: He's threatened us with the numbers! Let's go and have a meeting.

CHAIR: I genuinely apologise to these officers as well. We try our best with scheduling, but even the best laid plans go. They go with our thanks and our wish that they arrive safely back at their home destination.

Mr Carmody, we want to confirm that Mr Campbell is with us.

Mr Carmody : Yes, he is.

CHAIR: Thank you. Excellent. I appreciate the effort there. We'll now break for lunch—dinner. It gets like that after a day of estimates!

Proceedings suspended from 18:16 to 19:19