ANTHONY ALBANESE – As the House would be aware the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) announced the suspension of Tiger Airlines domestic operations in Australia effective from Saturday 2 July 2011.
CASA has not taken this action lightly but formed the view that there was a serious and imminent risk to passengers if the airline’s operations continued.
CASA released a statement on 2 July 2011 outlining the circumstances leading up to this decision following the initial issuing of a show cause notice in March 2011.
Taking Tiger’s response to the show cause notice into account, CASA subsequently imposed a number of conditions on the airlines air operator’s certificate (AOC).
Since Tiger was served the show cause notice, CASA has determined further events raise concerns about the airline’s ability to conduct operations safely. This includes several incidents being further investigated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and CASA.
The suspension of the airline’s AOC lasts for a period of five business days during which time CASA must apply to the Federal Court for an extension of the suspension if required.
If the Federal Court supports a CASA application, the Court can continue the suspension for a period of time which will allow CASA to finalise its investigations into its concerns.
It is regrettable that this decision has impacted on the travel plans of many passengers, including those travelling during school holidays.
However, the safety of the travelling public must come first.
Recognising the disruption to the travel plans of thousands of holiday makers, the Government asked the other Australian airlines to step up to assist those affected and to make every effort to help get people home, to continue their travel or to go on their school holidays.
I am very pleased to advise the House that there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the Government’s request from the industry.
Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin are all assisting passengers affected by the suspension of Tiger services through the use of extra capacity and the provision of special fares.
I spoke personally to both Alan Joyce and John Borghetti on Saturday and I want to thank them, as the respective CEOs of their organisations, for the assistance that they have given to their fellow Australians in the past days.
Following a request from the Government, I also welcome the Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association decision not to proceed with industrial action this week while Tiger’s operations are suspended.
Given the importance of a bipartisan approach to aviation safety, I rang the Shadow Minister, the Hon Warren Truss on Saturday to update him on the CASA decision and have had CASA brief him in person this morning.
AVIATION SAFETY INITIATIVES
In our first term, the Government undertook the most exhaustive review of aviation policy settings in Australia’s history.
This review, which involved an extensive consultation process with industry, other Government agencies and the community, culminated in the release of Australia’s first ever Aviation White Paper, Flight Path to the Future, in December 2009.
In the Aviation White Paper the Government made it clear that aviation safety would always be our first and overriding priority.
We supported this approach with the announcement in the May 2010 Budget of an additional $89.9 million in funding for CASA over four years.
This additional funding is being used to fund almost 100 new and ongoing staff in key surveillance roles, and to invest in the development and maintenance of safety standards and regulatory development.
The additional funding is also providing for expanded and ongoing training for CASA staff and will ensure that there are sufficient resources to properly regulate and administer Australia’s airspace which covers an area of almost eleven per cent of the earth’s surface.
This funding represented an unprecedented 30 per cent increase in CASA funding and provided for long term stability in the Authority’s funding base.
We also improved governance arrangements for CASA with the establishment of an independent Board to provide strategic oversight for CASA.
The CASA Board has recently confirmed that with the additional funding provided by the Government, that CASA is now adequately funded to meet the challenges and performance expected of a world class aviation safety regulator.
We also strengthened the independence of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau including the creation of independent Commissioners.
Regulatory reform has been a challenging issue for Australian aviation safety for over a decade.
In March 2010 the Government established a dedicated regulatory drafting task force involving specialists from CASA and the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publication.
The Taskforce is targeting the completion of the long outstanding maintenance, operations and flight crew licensing regulations.
The Taskforce has already made substantial progress in completing the maintenance regulations and is currently drafting several of the flight crew regulations specifically referred to in the recent Senate Inquiry into pilot training.
The Government will give careful consideration to the Inquiry’s recommendations noting that the Government has already acted on the safety funding issues outlined in the Committee’s report.
We will do so after consulting with our independent aviation safety advisers.
The Government has consistently highlighted the importance of investment in safety critical equipment and services by Airservices Australia, Australia’s major civil air traffic service provider, in its Statement of Expectations to the Airservices Board.
In response, Airservices has already commenced an almost $1 billion capital expenditure program over the next five years. This investment includes the wider adoption of advanced satellite and ground based surveillance technology, new and upgraded air traffic control towers as well as new rescue and fire fighting stations and equipment.
Consistent with the Government’s Australian Airspace Policy Statement issued in 2010, one of our key policy objectives is to enhance regional air traffic services.
Airservices’ investment has accordingly included new and enhanced air traffic facilities in growing regional centres like Broome, Karratha and Rockhampton.
Maintaining Australia’s internationally regarded high aviation safety standards and performance is about constant vigilance, continuous improvement and investment in safety regulatory oversight, safety infrastructure and safety personnel.
Recent events only serve to demonstrate and reaffirm this Government’s, and our independent safety agencies, joint commitment to providing a safe aviation industry.
Australia’s aviation safety system is based on sound governance and a resource and regulatory framework which will continue to ensure that safety will always be the first priority.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.