Feb 5, 2018

Private Members’ Business – Aviation Rescue and Firefighting Services

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:13): I move:

That this House:

(1) declares:

(a) its support for the vital work performed each and every day by the highly trained professionals providing aviation rescue and fire fighting (ARFF) services to ensure the safety of the flying public;

(b) that the ARFF service is particularly important to the safe operation of airports in regional Australia where it also responds to non-aviation emergencies within its local communities; and

   (c) that the presence of the ARFF service is key to safeguarding the safety and security at major metropolitan and regional airports around the country, which is critical for international and domestic tourism; and

(2) calls on the Government to reject any proposal to increase the threshold for the provision of ARFF services at airports from the existing 350,000 passenger movements annually, noting that this would preclude the establishment of these services at Proserpine Whitsunday Coast Airport and lead to the removal of these services from the following regional communities: Ballina; Coffs Harbour; Ayres Rock; Gladstone; Hamilton Island; Broome; Karratha; Newman; and Port Hedland.

Firefighting services at our nation’s airports are critical to the safety of travellers. Our nation has an excellent record when it comes to aviation safety. We also have a strong commitment to investment in the emergency services that would be necessary in the event of an accident. Indeed, in 2009, as transport minister in the Labor government, I was proud to deliver a $70 million program to upgrade fire trucks at our nation’s busiest airports. It included 33 new trucks, new fire stations at Perth and Maroochydore, new vehicles to meet the needs of the A380 and fire alarm monitoring at 20 locations nationwide.

Safety is also critical at our smaller regional airports. In 2014, the aviation rescue and firefighting services responded to some 6,700 calls relating to airport emergency assistance. That’s why I today, through this motion, am calling upon the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to reject the absurd proposal for a reduction in firefighting capacity at regional airports. Current Civil Aviation Safety Authority regulations require an aviation fire and rescue service at every Australian airport that has at least 350,000 passengers travelling through it each year. However, CASA has recently accepted recommendations from an infrastructure department aviation rescue and firefighting services regulatory policy review which would weaken this standard. Going forward, the threshold would rise to 500,000 passenger movements a year. This idea makes no sense. The minister for transport should reject it today in the interests of safety and regional economic development. Under the international standards and regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization, aviation firefighters are specifically trained. They must be stationed to be able to respond within three minutes to an aircraft crash or fire for the best chance of rescue. Our existing standards and thresholds on provision of aerodrome rescue and firefighting services reflect Australia’s commitment to ICAO standards and recommended practices, including article 9.2.1, which provides that rescue and firefighting equipment and services shall be provided at an aerodrome.

Let’s look in practical terms at what the acceptance of this proposal would mean for regional communities that rely upon jobs in tourism and regional aviation to get access to capital cities. Here are some airports that have aviation rescue and firefighting services and are below the 500,000 passenger threshold: Ballina, Coffs Harbour, Ayers Rock, Gladstone, Hamilton Island, Broome, Karratha, Newman and Port Hedland. I understand that, under pressure from local communities and Labor, the government’s considering maintaining firefighting services at these airports and then imposing a new threshold from here on in. That, of course, would be good for those airports and communities that have fought to maintain these services, including, of course, the union that represents them. However, it would lead to a two-tiered system. In the future, airports with passenger movements between 350,000 and 500,000 per year would not be provided with firefighting facilities. Other airports are on the cusp of meeting this criterion, including Proserpine. It should have an aviation firefighting service established because 353,000 passengers passed through that airport last year. The government must today state clearly that the Proserpine airport will be provided with rescue and firefighting services. Just make a decision and support this community.

The change being contemplated should be rejected. Anyone who has had the privilege of being a minister in a government knows that, from time to time, bad ideas come forward from the bureaucracy. Some of them, once rejected, keep coming back again and again. This is one of those ideas. It first came to my attention when I was a minister and I banished it. It was a bad idea then and it’s a bad idea now. These are issues upon which the minister for transport, who’s new to the portfolio, needs to deliver. The fact is that, across the board, issues of aviation safety—the safety of the travelling public—have been bipartisan issues. That needs to continue to be the case. The minister should rule out these proposals today and do it urgently in the interests of those communities, in the interests of firefighting in Australia and in the interests of regional economic development in those communities.