Jul 10, 2018

Speech to General Aviation Summit -‘Securing Australia’s General Aviation Future: Together’ – Wagga Commercial Club, Wagga Wagga

Aviation matters.

That’s even more so for a country like Australia, which inhabits a vast island continent located in a remote part of the globe.  It not only connects us with each other, but also with all of the economic opportunity and cultural experiences the globalised world of the 21st century has to offer.

This year alone, the world’s airlines will carry more than three billion passengers – equivalent to about half of the Earth’s population.

And by value, a third of the goods traded internationally will be transported by air.

However, without General Aviation, this mass movement of people and commerce would not be possible.  The fact is, you, along with the organisations and businesses you represent here today, school the pilots and train the engineers that makes all this possible.

But the role of General Aviation doesn’t stop there.

Your industry is as diverse as it is important.

From balloons to microlights, helicopters to business jets, hobbyist to professional pilots, you have a rich history in this country, directly employing over 3500 Australians, and performing essential services such as charter flights, search and rescue, fire-fighting, surveying and aerial photography, lifesaving aeromedical care, and aircraft maintenance.

That’s why the former Federal Labor Government, in which I had the privilege of serving as Aviation Minister, developed this nation’s first ever Aviation White Paper, which had as one of its stated objectives the “maintenance of a safe, efficient and innovative General Aviation sector”.

This document provided a comprehensive and balanced framework, bringing together all aspects of aviation policy into a single, coherent and forward-looking statement.

Importantly, it included initiatives designed to give your industry the certainty and incentive to plan and invest for the long term.

In particular, we:

  • Introduced more generous accelerated depreciation rates for aircraft as an incentive for owners to upgrade their aircraft;
  • Reduced the number of 24-hour restricted airspace areas from 81 to 15;
  • Committed to the continued operation and growth of secondary capital city airports;
  • Ensured the master plans of secondary airports maintained a strong focus on aviation development, not non-aeronautical uses that could compromise future aviation activities;
  • Lessened the financial burden of regulation on the sector by restricting increases in CASA regulatory service charges to rises in the Consumer Price Index.

However, I appreciate that the transition to more commercial charging arrangements, which began in the 1980s, has been challenging.

Nonetheless, I remain very optimistic about your industry’s future.

In fact, I come here today with a clear message: Labor wants your ranks to grow.

We want more people taking to the skies, either as a career or simply for the sheer joy of flying.

Plus, if we get the policy settings right, your industry has the potential to become a major new source of export dollars for Australia.

Indeed, Australia’s favourable weather, relatively uncongested skies and proximity to the booming economies of Asia are competitive advantages which put us in a strong position to become a training ground for the region’s future pilots.

We need to build a stronger General Aviation industry so that we can grasp such opportunities.

It comes down to a simple idea: partnership.

A partnership between policy makers, regulators and the industry; one built on mutual respect and shared goals.

We all agree that safety must come first in an industry where there is no margin for error.

However, the message I am getting loud and clear from sections of your industry is that as things stand, a pure focus on safety has in some cases led to over-regulation and added unreasonably to your costs.

It is only through working together that we can properly assess whether we are getting it right on the balance between safety and cost.

My concern at present is that while there are plenty of claims being made about such matters in the media and elsewhere, people are talking over each other.

What we need is a mature, positive conversation.

The starting point to a fair assessment of the existing regime is a clear understanding and acceptance of the different pressures faced by the regulators and the regulated.

CASA and the Transport Minister have very clear pressures on them.

Their business is safety.

If there is a tragic accident, it is the regulators who must account for what went wrong.

It is they who have to meet the public’s expectation for adequate safety regulation.

Because of this, regulators will always naturally tend toward a conservative view on safety standards.

However, there’s always a risk that in creating an aviation system that is conservative on safety, we fail to understand the impact that we are having on operators.

I can understand why operators trying to make their businesses work might want to suggest changes that they feel will reduce unnecessary regulation without putting lives at risk.

I understand such sentiments, particularly when they come from operators with excellent safety records.

There are always going to be tensions between regulators and the industry.

If that tension is based on a partnership that puts the public interest first, it’s positive tension that should deliver the best outcome.

That’s why I emphasise the need for a positive partnership.

I am here today to listen to the concerns of the General Aviation sector.

I’ve got an open mind on these issues as long as safety is not compromised.

And I’m sure you would agree with that.

This is not about left versus right or old versus new.

I want to make clear to everyone in this room that I take a bipartisan view to aviation safety.

The job of Transport Minister is a difficult one.

I’ve done it before and would like to do it again.

But in Government or Opposition, I will work closely with Michael McCormack.

Many of Michael’s political views might not be the same as mine, but I respect the great responsibility he bears and I accept that he is completely sincere in the way he is approaching his role.

I have indicated to Michael, as I did to his predecessor, that I am willing to support legislative reform that would explicitly recognise the regulatory arrangements, whilst prioritising safety, must also ensure that CASA have regard for:

  • The maintenance of a strong, efficient and sustainable aviation industry (including a viable general aviation training sector) and;
  • The need to enable more people to benefit from civil aviation.

These should be the next most important considerations.

I think the new Minister wants to get the balance right as much as you and I do.

I support his decision to establish an industry-led General Aviation Advisory Group, which is currently chaired by the CEO of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Martin Laverty.

This was a positive step towards giving the industry a voice in government.

I’ll keep working in a bipartisan way on these issues.

Simply put, the future of General Aviation in this country should be above politics.

Lastly, I am particularly keen to engage with the people in this room on any ideas you may have on how, collectively, we take General Aviation forward.

After all, it is you that have been fighting passionately for the future of your industry; tirelessly promoting General Aviation in all the forms represented here today – and doing so without great fanfare and often little recognition.

Together, we can secure Australia’s General Aviation future.

Again, thank you for inviting me here today.