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Thursday, 10th April 2008

Speech To The Tourism And Transport Forum

A Brief History …

Next year will mark the 90th anniversary of the first flight between England and Australia.

The historic flight occurred after Prime Minister Billy Hughes offered a prize of 10 thousand pounds for the first Australian to fly between the two countries. The only catch: the flight had to be completed within 30 days.

South Australian brothers Ross and Keith Smith decided to take up the challenge, setting off for Australia in a Vickers Vimy bomber.

28 days later, the Smith brothers successfully completed their journey and secured their place in aviation folklore.

The Smith brothers made approximately 14 stops along the way. These included Rome, Cairo, Damascus, Delhi and Rangoon, where they landed on the racecourse.

In Surabaya, the plane got bogged and had to use a temporary airstrip made from bamboo mats to take off.

The brothers each received a knighthood, and the Australian Government duly awarded them their ten thousand pound prize, which I should point out, they insisted on sharing with their two mechanics.

We’ve come a long way since those early days of flight, with around 2.4 million passengers travelling between England and Australia each year. And what once took 28 days, now takes less than 28 hours.

Ross and Keith Smith are certainly not the only aviators to leave an indelible mark on our country. You need only to look at the names of several federal electorates to appreciate the contribution of our early aviators to Australia’s development.

These include Reverend John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service; Bert Hinkler, the first man to fly solo from England to Australia; and Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith – without doubt our most famous aviator.

And let us not forget our great aviation technology innovators…people like David Warren who pioneered the ‘black box’ recorder.

The achievements of these early pioneers transformed aviation forever and gave Australians a taste of what would eventually become an essential form of transport – one that would shrink the globe and unleash new economic opportunities.

The Growth of a Modern Aviation Industry …

Modern communications have made the world a smaller place, but it is still a long way to travel from Sydney to London, or from Melbourne to Beijing.

Australia’s geographic isolation means we will always be a long way from much of the world. This is the card that we’ve been dealt, but one we’ve played well.

We may only have the world’s 55th largest population, but we have the 15th largest economy. We have a proud history of punching above our weight, and our strong and prosperous aviation industry has played a key role in getting us to where we are today.

Whether moving tourists, families, freight or business people, the aviation industry has been critical to the economic development of Australia.

The industry’s important role sustaining our economic development is a fact Labor has long recognised.

The Hawke Government took the historic and farsighted decision to deregulate the industry in the late 1980s and early 90’s. We led the way in opening up our domestic and international aviation policy settings.

Encouraged by ad campaigns such as Paul Hogan’s “throw a shrimp on the barbie”, deregulation allowed international and domestic tourists to see more of Australia than just the Reef, the Rock and the Bridge.

Over the last twenty years, the number of passengers using Australia’s airports grew by an average of 5.8 per cent.

By contrast, Australia’s annual economic growth averaged just 3.4 per cent. A competitive, safe aviation industry is critical to our economy and our communities.

Not only have passenger numbers dramatically increased, but new services such as air freight and ‘low cost’ carriers have emerged to drive further industry growth.

Economically, our modern aviation industry supports nearly 50,000 jobs – many of them in highly skilled specialities – as well as contributing $6.8 billion to Australia's GDP.

More than ever, the aviation industry underpins domestic economic growth and provides the nation’s gateways to the global economy.

More than ever, there is a need for national leadership and a national strategy for aviation – one which looks to the long-term, and closely links the development of aviation to the economic development of the nation.

The Path to a White Paper …

As we stand here today, the Australian aviation industry is facing many challenges.

There is greater competition, and more people than ever before are flying to a greater number of destinations on planes that are bigger, faster and more luxurious.

These challenges will not be met without a determined effort based upon sound strategic advice.

These challenges won’t be met unless Commonwealth Government aviation policy is taken out of auto-pilot and steered in the right direction.

For this reason I am pleased to announce the Rudd Labor Government will work with industry and the community to develop a National Aviation Policy Statement, or White Paper, which will guide and facilitate the industry’s growth through this first period of the 21st century.

The aim of the White Paper will be simple:

  • To give industry the certainty and incentive to plan and invest for the long term; and

  • To give clear commitments to travellers and airport users, and the communities affected by aviation activity.

As a first step on the road to the White Paper, today I am releasing an Issues Paper to stimulate public debate and encourage input to this process.

The Issues Paper identifies a broad range of challenges. These include:

  • Achieving an international air services policy which serves our national interest and balances the needs of an Australian based industry with international competitiveness.

  •  Ensuring that aviation security is maintained as the highest priority in an era where planes and airports are still potential terrorist targets.

  • Making the safety of all planes and airports the highest priority for operators, and ensuring safety regulation is both robust and efficient.

  • Addressing the shortage of pilots, aircraft engineers and air-traffic controllers. In recent months both Qantaslink and Rex have closed down some regional routes because of the shortage of pilots.

Aviation activity is predicted to double by 2020, but our airlines are cancelling services because they can’t get pilots.

  • Planning for the issues arising from the growth of low cost carriers, such as the increased passenger numbers at secondary airports.

  • Dealing with planning issues around Airports in an integrated, considered way –rather than in an ad-hoc fashion.

It is clear to me that the provisions of the Airports Act do not have the confidence of many State and Local authorities and are in need of reform.

  •  Promoting a proper dialogue between airports and the communities around them on issues such as the impact of aircraft noise. This dialogue must be more mature than it has been in the past.

The relationship between airports and local communities must be built on transparency and a recognition that both the economic contribution of aviation infrastructure and the social interests of local communities are legitimate and worthy of respect.

  • Giving proper consideration to the importance of air freight to regional businesses, our export industries and our economic performance.

  •  Ensuring access to regular air services in regional and remote areas, where regular flights are essential for communities, regional development and social services.

  • Using satellite technology to better plan flight routes – potentially saving flight time, reducing emissions and improving safety.

  •  Improving the governance arrangements for CASA and Airservices Australia to improve their relationships with industry and the community.

  • Ensuring that a vibrant general aviation industry is able to prosper as the nurturing ground for future commercial pilots and aviation workers.

  • And, of course, an aviation strategy for the 21st Century must also address climate change, a focal point of transport policy for this and future generations.

Despite these emerging challenges, there unfortunately hasn’t been a national aviation policy for at least a decade.

Indeed, throughout our history, it is extraordinary that no Australian Government has produced an aviation White Paper.

The Rudd Labor Government will change that.

Long-term strategic planning for the sustainable growth of our aviation industry must be part of securing our future prosperity.

The previous short term, ad-hoc, problem by problem approach is no longer tenable if Australia is to remain internationally competitive.

Without a coherent aviation policy framework to help us navigate the rapidly changing domestic and global circumstances we will be flying blind.

The time has come to ask whether Australia has the right regulation, people and infrastructure not only to overcome the challenges that lay ahead, but also to take advantage of emerging opportunities that will arise from the expansion of aviation.

A Plan for Aviation’s Future …

Importantly, while the Government will drive this process with energy and commitment, we are keen for industry, other levels of government and the broader community to be involved every step of the way.

We want a shared response to our collective challenges.

The Government is asking all those with an interest in the future of the Australian aviation industry to consider the Issues Paper and the questions it poses – and then to come back to us with their input and ideas before the end of June.

This includes most, if not all of you here today.

Based on the feedback generated by the Issues Paper, the Government will compile and release a Green Paper in September outlining possible policy directions, settings and reforms – providing yet another opportunity for public input.

Following this second round of consultation, I will take the policy positions to Cabinet and the Government will finalise the White Paper, addressing each of the key short, medium and long term challenges identified.

This entire process will be completed by the middle of next year and it will guide long term reform.

In the meantime, of course, the Government will not stand idle, but will continue to address immediate issues during this process.

Getting on with the Job …

Today’s announcement is but the latest in a series of important aviation decisions we’ve taken since coming to office.

In our first four months, we have:

  • Negotiated an “Open Skies” agreement with the United States and expanded capacity on routes to and from Malaysia – both good news for the local tourism industry;

  • Signed an MOU with the Indonesian Government to improve aviation and maritime safety in our region;

  •  Worked with industry to improve screening of air-freight and ensure our security measures keep pace with emerging threats;

  •  Introduced new legislation to implement the Montreal Convention, which will mean Australians travelling overseas have access to fairer compensation in the event of an airline accident;

  •  Opened a new Tower Visual Simulator for Airservices Australia at Melbourne

  • Airport, providing the modern training we need to attract air-traffic controllers;

  •  Ensured the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will monitor car-parking charges at all the major airports;

  •  Insisted Sydney Airport follow due process and minimise disruption while they undertake necessary runway safety works;

  •  Commenced a review of the nation’s aviation security arrangements as part of the much broader Homeland Security Review.

  • And finally, we have released for public comment the report written by Russell Miller following his review into the relationship between the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). I am determined to ensure Miller’s recommendations are addressed in a way that improves aviation safety, an outcome that ultimately requires Australia’s transport safety agencies to work together effectively.

In addition to these actions, the Government has delivered on one of its most significant pre-election pledges – certainly the most important in my portfolio, namely the establishment of Infrastructure Australia to drive policies to modernise the nation’s infrastructure, including its aviation assets.

I’ve also announced that Sir Rod Eddington will be the body’s inaugural chair – a man with a deep understanding of the aviation industry both here and globally.

The work of Infrastructure Australia, in identifying the nation’s infrastructure priorities and promoting better planning and regulatory regimes, will encourage better coordination of infrastructure development.

No longer will aviation be viewed in isolation from national infrastructure planning.

There should be, for example, better coordination between major airport freight developments and the planning of supporting key land transport links.

Infrastructure Australia will do just that.

Conclusion …

Taking a long term view to aviation is in keeping with the Rudd Labor Government’s efforts to move policy development beyond the three year electoral cycle, replacing political opportunism and complacency with a determination to shape our nation’s future.

In practice, this means identifying our nation’s needs over the next ten years and beyond, not just the few years between elections.

Next week’s 2020 Summit epitomises this new approach and will focus on the issues likely to impact on Australia’s future security and prosperity, such as climate change, skill shortages and infrastructure development.

As I said at the outset, our approach is to focus on the long term and to put Australia in the best position possible to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities and overcome unavoidable challenges.

What we need to do now is ensure that we make informed decisions, so that in twenty years time both industry and government can look back on this period as one which established the right framework for aviation’s continued growth and innovation.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ross and Keith Smith’s flight nearly 90 years ago helped to lay the foundations for an industry that grew at an amazing rate over the 20th century, transforming the global marketplace and our daily lives.

In a similar vein, I look forward to working with you in the months ahead to lay the foundations for an even stronger aviation industry that will take Australia well into the 21st century.

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Phone: (02) 9564 3588
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Fax: (02) 6277 8562

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
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