Dec 2, 2015

Statements – Aviation Safety Regulation Review Report

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:33): I thank the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure for his update to the House on the government’s response to the Aviation safety regulatory review report. The last ministerial statement on aviation safety was, of course, a year ago tomorrow. At that stage, the Deputy Prime Minister outlined the government’s response to the regulatory review, led by David Forsythe, and the 37 recommendations that they made. At the time of the initial announcement of the review in November 2013, the release of the review report in June 2014 and the last parliamentary statement in December last year, I acknowledged that aviation safety should be subject to continuous review.

Aviation safety is not an issue of partisan debate in this parliament and nor should it be. I have taken the same constructive relationship to these issues that the now minister took when he was the shadow minister as well. We all have an interest in aviation safety—from an economic point of view because of the importance of aviation to our national economy and, primarily, because we are concerned about the safety of all those who fly, work and travel in aviation. It is a source of great national pride that Australia’s aviation safety record is second to none anywhere in the world, and we need to make sure that that continues to be the case in the future.

Last December, Labor welcomed new CASA board appointments and, in particular, the appointment of former Air Vice Marshal Mark Skidmore as the Director of Aviation Safety. I took the opportunity then to express my view that CASA, as regulator, should be firm but fair, that tension was better than harmony for its own sake. This was in response to a focus in the Forsythe report that sought to foster closer relations between the regulator and the regulated. I said then, and reconfirm now, that we should never sacrifice rigour for harmony. I also referred to my concern that the quest for $12 million in savings to the aviation industry from the removal of so-called red tape should not sacrifice the core mission of our aviation regulators. These issues remain of concern to me.

The opposition welcomes the government’s update to the parliament. I note that there is a full new board for CASA, although three of the four appointments were announced in last year’s statement. The new chairman, Jeff Boyd, took over from Dr Alan Hawke in May, having served as vice-chairman. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Dr Hawke for the work that he did, not just in this position; I think his record of public service is quite extraordinary and almost without peer if you look at the decades in which he has served governments and his nation. I pay tribute to him.

I also note the appointment of Chris Manning as an additional ATSB commissioner in March. In September CASA’s new leadership outlined the 10 points of its regulatory philosophy. I acknowledge Mark Skidmore’s organisational leadership in setting clear expectations around its regulatory approach and how it will interact with the aviation community. I think being so clear about the philosophy moving forward allows people in the industry to have an element of certainty as to how CASA will respond to certain situations, and that can only be a good thing. The aviation sector, particularly the smaller sector of general aviation, is under real pressure. Improving outcomes for them, with the success of what can be, in many cases, very small business operations, is critical, and it is obviously harder for smaller operators to deal with regulation than it is for larger companies such as Qantas and Virgin Australia. Inviting the industry to point out existing issues in regulation that could be addressed should not supplant the fundamental responsibility of CASA to drive continuous improvement in aviation safety.

There is one matter on which the opposition has had to take a view in the past year, although not at our instigation. A disallowance motion in the Senate relating to responsibility for maintenance operations on aircraft was moved. Though the opposition favoured the precautionary approach then, I do want to indicate that I respect the assistance that Mr Skidmore and his team provided to the parliament at that time. It is difficult for non-expert politicians to weigh highly technical aviation regulatory matters—they are the subject of some disagreement from time to time—although we must.

While there are no specific announcements in this statement, the update is indeed welcome. Events overseas in the past year remind us that safety can never be taken for granted and that, in our dynamic world, the quest for aviation safety is never accomplished.

Debate adjourned.