The Bill to amend the Civil Aviation Act came before the Australian Senate on Monday 22nd July 2019, with a range of responses from Senators in attendance, successfully navigating its way through t0 the third reading where if voted by majority will become law.
The change to the Civil Aviation Act comes as a direct result of AOPA Australia’s General Aviation Summit 2018 in Wagga Wagga NSW, the Deputy Prime Minister’s federal seat of Riverina, calling on the government to make the Civil Aviation Safety Authority responsible for acknowledging cost and sustainability.
AOPA Australia and industry are seeking the changes in an effort to drive long-term regulatory cost reductions for general aviation, which is currently suffering from decades long decline as a result of over regulation.
First up was Australian Labor Party Senator Murray Watt, declaring the ALP’s strong bipartisan support for the Bill. During his speech, Senator Watt went on to highlight how well the ALP understood the aviation industry, especially in regional Australia, reflecting on the Aviation White Paper delivered under Anthony Albanese MP’s time as Transport Minister.
Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice came out strong against the Bill, asserting that seeking to make CASA accountable for cost impact on the sustainability of industry would lead to the wholesale abuse of the aviation regulator’s powers, resulting in the lowering of overall aviation safety.
South Australian Liberal Senator David Fawcett, took the opportunity to respond to Senator Rice’s opposition, highlighting that the Bill has followed many years of industry consultation and feedback which has highlighted the impacts of CASA’s all too often bureaucratic responses to industry.
Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick also put forward his strong support for the Bill, making clear that the sustainability of industry is just as important as safety. The Senator made clear that Australian general aviation is in a perilous state with the industry facing extinction. Senator Patrick highlighted how the decline in general aviation is driving Australia’s airline pilot shortage, which is placing pressures on regional airfares and services, making clear the need to reconfigure CASA. Senator Patrick made clear that CASA has been regulating general aviation out of existence. Senator Patrick also went on to make clear that in fifteen days he will put a motion before the Senate to disallow CASA’s recent Community Service Flight regulations that have negatively impact on the industry, an example of their over-regulation and burden on the industry.
Liberal Party Senator Zed Seselja then spoke on behalf of the government to reiterate the commitment to aviation safety, stressing that the Bill is not intended to impede CASA’s ability to make operational safety decisions, stating that CASA must be able to make aviation safe and reliable. The Senator went on to say that the Bill relates to the way in which CASA develops and regulates aviation safety standards, taking into account the differing risks posed by the various sectors of aviation, but not to individual decisions or directions by the regulator.
Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice’s motion to have the Bill referred to the Senate RRAT Committee for Inquiry, with the findings to be reported by 10th September, was eventually defeated in the Senate, with 9 voting in favour and 48 voting against.
The Senator took the opportunity to rebuke the defeat, pushing back against the government, Senator Patrick and Fawcett, claiming that the Bill would negatively impact on aviation safety and required the full consideration of a Senate Committee Inquiry.
Speaking for the government, Senator Seselja reaffirmed that safety remains the primary consideration and that the Bill would not impede CASA, making clear there would be no watering down of CASA’s primary objective to keep Australians safe in the air.
Senator Rice again responded, deeply disappointed and refusing to accept the government’s position, stating that whilst she understood that there was the best of intentions, the Bill would undermine CASA.
The Senator did concede that Senator Patrick’s concerns for Community Service Flights were a good example of why the Senate should be seeking to disallow, rather than the safety regulator being given unfettered power.
Tasmanian Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie put forward an Amendment to the Bill, seeking to introduce stronger wording to recognise the need for costs to be considered by CASA and for the industry to be sustainable
The Senator stressed that excessive regulation by CASA was keeping the industry safe by keeping aircraft grounded, stating that costs must be considered when developing regulations for industry.
Before Senator Lambie could finish, the Senate was called to break for an hour.
On resuming, Senator Lambie argued that if regulation can save industry just one dollar, whilst not compromising aviation safety, then it should be supported. Arguing a need for all regulations to be assessed for costs and benefits.
Senator Lambie highlighted that safety decisions by government ultimately are all paid for by the end users of aviation, with business being squeezed out through ever increasing costs, with each new regulation adding further to the costs of doing business.
The government’s response to Senator Lambie’s proposed amendment to the Bill was blunt objection, with Senator Duniam arguing that it would create ambiguity within the act, by obscuring safety as the sole most important consideration for CASA.
Australian Labor Party Senator Murray Watt also spoke against Senator Lambie’s proposed amendment to the Bill, reiterating the government’s position, and also spoke against Senator Rice’s motion to have the Senate RRAT Committee undertake an Inquiry into the Bill to amend the Civil Aviation Act.
Senator Watt stressed that the Bill was a result of strong bipartisan work.
Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice spoke in support of Senator Lambie’s proposed amendments, again highlighting the need to protect CASA’s focus on safety as it primacy.
It was then communicated that the Committee had considered the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 2019 and agreed to it without amendments. Senator Duniam, on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister, moved that the report of the Committee be adopted – which was carried by the Senate. Senator Duniam then moved that the Bill be read the third time, which was also carried.
The motion was passed 38 for and 9 against.