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Air safety standards compromised by Iraq deployment.

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Senator Chris Evans Labor Senator for Western Australia Shadow Minister for Defence

21 May 2003


Labor is concerned by reports that the Howard Government’s decision to deploy air traffic controllers to Iraq may have compromised air safety standards within Australia.

It has been reported today that there have been a number of mid-air incidents in North Queensland due to the secondment of air traffic controllers from the Townsville RAAF base to Iraq.

These incidents raise fears that pilots and passengers in Australia may have been left vulnerable because of the Howard Government’s hasty and ill-considered decision to send air traffic control personnel to Iraq.

Labor expressed its concern when the Government announced the deployment because for some time there have been significant shortages of air traffic controllers at RAAF bases in Australia.

Defence admitted in November 2002 that there was an 18% shortage of air traffic controllers in the RAAF.

As at November 2002, 274 air traffic controllers were needed to fully staff Australian RAAF bases, but only 225 were actually employed at the time

A recent Audit Office report on military personnel highlighted that Defence operational effectiveness was impaired due to the ongoing significant shortage of air traffic controllers at Australian bases.

Despite clear evidence that a problem existed, the Howard Government chose to commit 60 of these personnel to post-war Iraq.

The deployment means that there is now a 40% shortage of air traffic controllers at RAAF bases within Australia.

It is now apparent that the Howard Government’s decision to commit this vital capability to Iraq has seriously compromised air traffic control standards at Australian bases.

For comment: Chris Evans 0419 983 593 Tim Friedrich 0408 577 617