Hon Judi Moylan

Air Services (Aircraft Noise) Amendment Bill 2011 - Second Reading

Mrs MOYLAN (Pearce) (11:08): I rise to speak on the amendments to the Air Services (Aircraft Noise) Amendment Bill 2011. These amendments result from wide-ranging consultations with people involved in the aircraft industry. Following the second reading speech on this bill in October last year, I made a commitment to consult, and that process was undertaken. I will go through in a reasonably logical order, I hope, some of those changes that have taken place.

Section 10AA revolves around the need to consult and cooperate. The need for effective public consultation to become a legislative requirement is really partly the main reason for bring forward this bill. It is that requirement and the fact that Airservices Australia needs to improve its complaints reporting process that gave rise to this bill. The bill seeks to ensure that a detailed commentary on complaints is reflected in Airservices' annual reports, along with the efficiency and effectiveness of the complaints process. Following consultations, the word 'widely', though, has been deleted from section 10AA.

During the second reading the member for Makin and the member for La Trobe suggested that changes already implemented as a result of the white paper on these matters are addressing the issues this bill seeks to enact; however, not all communities are satisfied with the current consultation process. I would contend that, if the government has already made these changes, this legislation now seeks to enshrine those changes in an act of parliament so that in future they are not matters left to the whim of a particular minister or, indeed, to the Chief Executive Officer of Airservices Australia, whoever that might be, and therefore there can be no rational argument for opposition to this bill.

In relation to section 10A, 'consulting with communities', the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has a provision requiring Airservices Australia to obtain the environment minister's advice where changes to flight paths are likely to have any environmental impact. It was originally intended for the bill to include the words 'likely to significantly affect individuals' enjoyment of their place of residence'. In my view there is a need to do something about the trigger for referral under the EPBC Act, but clearly at this time the bill would not have the wide support it needs without deleting these words. It is a matter that should, though, be revisited in the future, as Airservices currently self-assess whether a change to air flight paths should trigger a referral, and history shows that it rarely, if ever, happens.

In terms of the trigger for public consultation, there was widespread concern that the definition 'any' with regard to changes to flight paths in the original bill was too wide and that it may capture minor track changes necessary for day-to-day operations due to weather or other conditions. This was never the intent of the original bill. However, in an endeavour to allay any concerns, we have proposed to narrow the scope of changes which must be referred for a public consultation process. This necessitates using the word 'significant' to define the changes which can trigger the requirement for public consultation.

Decisions about the future of air flight paths must be reached in an open and publicly accountable manner. The public has a right to expect a consistent and fair approach to decision making. They have a right to be informed of proposals and actual significant changes. That is why this bill also requires Airservices Australia to conduct a new public consultation process following the changes made in Perth in 2008. On their own admission, Airservices agree that the public consultations for the Western Australian Route Review Project—or WARRP, as it is called—was poorly managed, and the newly appointed ombudsman has had something to say about that process as well.

Section 6, dealing with board appointments, has been deleted as it was not generally supported, although it was a recommendation in the Senate report. It has been argued that since the WARRP failures, the government has appointed an ombudsman and established new community aviation consultation groups—and this is a fact; the government has—but I have to say that there are still some public reservations about the operation of the new consultative groups and the independence of the ombudsman. The previous consultative group in Perth, which was called PANMAC—Perth Airport Noise Management Committee—failed, not due to the people who were on it, but due to a lack of quality information, the lack of quality of interpretation of information and the withholding of information. These consultation groups are only as good as the information they receive and their ability to interpret and translate it, and that is a strong reason for the appointment of an adviser—an issue which I will get to shortly.

On section 74A, dealing with complaints reporting, the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport report recommended an independent ombudsman for aircraft noise matters. The Aircraft Noise Ombudsman's policy is to encourage the development of a quick and effective complaint handling practice. The bill requires Airservices Australia to advise parties during consultations that they are subject to the ombudsman's jurisdiction. We welcome the appointment of the ombudsman as it is assisting to deal with some of those complaints. The complaint system previously was appallingly managed. The new Ombudsman, Mr Ron Brent, has had quite a bit to say about the problems with that complaint process. Airservices Australia maintains that it has worked to improve its complaint-handling processes since the events of 2008 and that these measures are unnecessary. This being the case—if it has been fixed and the new approach is working—I cannot see any reason why we should not enshrine these principles in this legislation so that there will not be a repeat of the failures clearly evident in the WARRP in 2008.

On another matter—this is aside from the amendments but goes to the heart of them—an article by Andrew Cleary in the Australian Financial Review on 24 May 2012 reported Mr Alan Joyce, Chief Executive of Qantas, as warning that growth of Perth Airport was being hampered and that there was the potential that a federal bill introducing restrictions on curfews and flight paths at the facility would be a real threat to the development of WA and Perth. He said this bill should be stopped. This bill makes no mention of curfews and it does nothing to restrict flight paths, so that reporting is clearly inaccurate.

Section 160A includes provisions for the appointment of an independent adviser when a significant change to air flight paths is proposed, to ensure that the situation that arose during WARRP does not arise again. During the consultation period it is reasonable for groups such as community aviation consultative groups to have access to expert independent advice on what the proposed changes mean. As I said before, poor information-sharing and the use of technical language not understood by non-air movement specialists led to the very unsatisfactory public consultations in Perth during WARRP.

An advocate was used in Sydney and, although Airservices Australia maintains that it did not work well, discussions with the former Sydney aircraft noise advocate and other people strongly suggest that it did work. I thank the member for Bennelong for facilitating a meeting in Sydney to discuss this matter. Under the Constitution and standing orders, private members bills are not permitted to increase any appropriation for government expenditure. But the adviser can be paid for from a department's general appropriation, so such a provision would be constitutionally valid.

Once again I would like to thank my colleagues and the many other people who have continued to work with us to improve this bill—in particular, the shadow minister the Hon. Warren Truss, the member for Bennelong and the co-sponsor of this bill the member for Swan, Mr Steve Irons.


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