Jun 16, 2010

Question without notice – Aviation

Mr MELHAM (2:21 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. What is the government’s priority when it comes to aviation policy? How is the government seeking to achieve its objectives and what impediments are there to these outcomes?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Banks for his question and his ongoing diligence in raising aviation issues, which he and the member for Blaxland continually do. The fact is that the government have embarked on a process of having a comprehensive strategy for aviation policy for the long term. We have said that safety and security must be our No. 1 priority. Last year the House would recall that regulations restricting access to cockpits on aircraft were disallowed in the Senate, in my view much to the shame of the Senate. Those regulations have been resubmitted and I understand that there is a disallowance motion again which will be debated in the Senate, and I ask all responsible members of the Senate to think very carefully before they again return cockpits to an unregulated situation.

There is also very important legislation being debated before this House today. It goes to the heart of safety in aviation. The aviation sector is changing dramatically. General aviation is growing. Private ownership of aircraft is growing. The use of helicopters is growing. And with this growth the aviation safety regime must move with the times.

We have introduced legislation to increase the excise on aviation fuel from 2.854c to3.556c per litre. That will result in an estimated $89.9 million of increased revenue over the next four years, and every single cent of that money will be going to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. It will be going to fund important safety surveillance, safety analysis and safety inspections. They will be able to employ 97 additional safety inspectors.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE —‘Bureaucrats’, they say opposite. They expose their attitude towards aviation safety and towards anyone who works for the public sector with that outrageous slur on the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. We saw during the debate earlier today the member for Farrer be critical of CASA and the safety inspectors going about their job and question whether we should have random drug and alcohol testing of pilots.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order! The minister is responding to the question. He will be heard in silence.

Mr ALBANESE —Frankly, it is extraordinary that this is an issue of partisanship in this House. This should not be an issue of partisanship. There should be a consensus position. We have spent two years developing this position. In December 2008 the government released an aviation green paper and on page 56 of that paper it put forward a process of industry stakeholder comment outlining a process of where we needed to go to put CASA on a sustainable financial footing. We then had a process of one year of discussions with the aviation sector. In December 2009 we produced an aviation white paper which on page 103 outlined the importance of putting CASA on a sustainable financial footing. This legislation does just that.

It is important to note that the previous government raised the fuel excise some 11 times. In 2004-05 fuel excise was $65 million and $49 million was appropriated for CASA. In the following year $65.9 million was received from aviation fuel excise and the appropriation amount was some $40 million, a cut of $9 million to aviation safety inspectors, to CASA, the agency. Who was the minister at the time? It was the current shadow minister for aviation, the Leader of the National Party.

We know that those opposite are intent on opposing for opposition’s sake. But this is not a matter of high principle; this is pure obstructionism. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: get control of the Leader of the National Party. This is the man who wants to be the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, the Leader of the National Party who is opposing legislation to increase the number of aviation safety inspectors at a time when we have a considerable increase in the aviation sector. They represent a huge risk. We know they represent a risk to the economy. We know they represent a risk to national security. But they also represent a risk to aviation security and safety.

Mr Tuckey —Make it an election issue.

The SPEAKER —Order, the member for O’Connor!

Mr ALBANESE —They have a couple of hours to think again. If they think that aviation safety is an issue which is partisan, then they are wrong. They are wrong and they will be held to account by this government.