Interview with Steve Martin, 774 ABC Melbourne

Interview

DCI005/2016

13 October 2016

Topic: Drone safety regulations, driverless cars, CFA legislation

STEVE MARTIN: The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport has got a few things on his agenda this morning, as I was saying earlier. There's a drone safety review that's been announced, and I also understand he's going for a drive later this morning in a driverless car. Darren Chester is the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and he's with me in the studio this morning. Darren Chester, good morning.

DARREN CHESTER: Great to be here.

STEVE MARTIN: First up, can we start with the drone safety review that's been announced? This is just this morning—what are you looking at? Why are doing a review on drones?

DARREN CHESTER: Well absolutely Steve. What we're seeing is a penetration of these remotely piloted aircraft systems, or drones as we all call them collectively. We're seeing increased penetration in the market of them; people are buying them for hobbies, for use in photography, for videos. They've got a large scale agricultural application to them. So basically we're seeing an increased usage of them, and we need to make sure that we've got our aviation safety regulations appropriately set to meet this emerging new technology. Now there are a range of regulations already in place in relation to you've got keep them within your visual line of sight, you're not allowed to operate them within 30 metres of people or vehicles or buildings. You're not allowed to use them in populous areas, you're not allowed to have them above about 120 metres, and not within five kilometres of airfields, for very obvious safety reasons, and there's some significant fines to go with that.

But as this technology is developing, it's reaching greater penetration into the marketplace, we want to see the benefits of these drones, we want to see them applied through industry and agriculture and other areas, but we need to make sure that they're operating in a safe manner.

STEVE MARTIN: Do you need to have different rules for recreation and different rules for business?

DARREN CHESTER: Well there are different sizes of drones, so we've worked towards the under two kilogram division at the moment, so they're the smaller drones, and that's what the existing regulation changes have dealt with. But I've had some conversations with my counterpart in the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, and he's keen to work with me in a very constructive way to make sure we get the regulations right for the future, to obviously—we need to ensure that CASA in its primary role relating to aviation safety—gets the opportunity to do its role and do its job well, but at the same time we need to make sure that the industry has a chance to develop and we get those economic benefits and social benefits that will flow from having the drone technology applied more generally.

STEVE MARTIN: Alright. Have there been incidents? Have there been near misses that you're aware of?

DARREN CHESTER: Oh yes, there have been, there have been. I've read reports where we've seen people using drones inappropriately. In one case it was a drone being flown too close to a surf rescue helicopter along the coast, and that became a reasonably close incident, so it was reported by the helicopter pilot, and the drone operator wasn't operating within the existing guidelines or existing regulations—that's a problem for us. There have been reports of people operating drones near airfields, and that's already against the law, so we need to make sure that it's enforced and that people understand their responsibilities. And I guess that's a key point as well, Steve—if you're going to buy one of these things, if you're going to use one of these things, you have some responsibilities as an individual yourself to do it safely.

Now I think they're a magnificent piece of equipment, they're incredibly—the images we've been able to see from them, it's …

STEVE MARTIN: [Interrupts] A lot are being used for photography, and it's a lot cheaper than putting a chopper up.

DARREN CHESTER: Well, it's a very efficient use of resources, but also in a safety sense. I mean, if you can put a drone up over, say for example if you had those landslides along the Great Ocean Road, as we had recently, to send a drone up and to take images which would allow to get a better picture of the engineering challenges we may be facing, rather than put men and women in harm's way, I think that's a very good example how you could use them effectively. In agriculture they're an opportunity to inspect crops to check for pestilence, to actually apply sprays in the future. These are all things that the drones are going to be used for, and they're going to be very efficient and improve productivity. It obviously has some real economic benefits.

STEVE MARTIN: Okay, so the review's announced, how long does it take, when are you expecting something …

DARREN CHESTER: Well, the question is working with the Labor Party on the terms of reference in the coming days, and then we'll give CASA the chance to do that over the next few months. So it's an opportunity over the next few months to work with the aviation safety regulator, make sure we get it right.

STEVE MARTIN: Mm. Just on 16 minutes past nine, Darren Chester is my guest, Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. Along with drones, there's some more technology you're going to be sampling today, driverless cars. Is that right?

DARREN CHESTER: Yes, that's right. We got the World Congress in Melbourne this week, and it's bringing together people involved in infrastructure technology, and my particular interest obviously as the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport is how we're going to use, deploy technology in a way that improves safety, reduces congestion, improves productivity. So we need to think about how we use our existing infrastructure as efficiently as we possibly can. This technology can use for that, but also they're looking at today—I'll be having a chance to check out some of the semi-automated vehicles, there's driverless vehicles obviously being tested around the world—how they may be a part of the transport mix probably over the next decade or so. So we'll be out at Albert Park today seeing how they operate in a semi real life environment.

I'm a little bit nervous about getting behind the wheel of a vehicle that doesn't have a wheel, but it's something that… I think the technology's moving very quickly in this space, and we need to make sure we got the regulatory environment around that. How we get to the stage at some stage in the future where there may be driverless vehicles interacting with vehicles that actually have a driver, that will be the challenging one. But look, these are things that are developing quite quickly, and having the World Congress here in Melbourne is a real opportunity to bring the best in the world together, exchange ideas and see how technology is being used to get the maximum value out of our existing infrastructure.

STEVE MARTIN: From what you're hearing, with the technology, is the growth in driverless vehicles likely to be in cars or perhaps heavier transport? Because I wonder your views on semi trailers that are driverless, taking goods from ports all around the place.

DARREN CHESTER: Well I think both. We've already seen the penetration in the mining sector of driverless vehicles, and …

STEVE MARTIN: [Interrupts] But they're in a closed system.

DARREN CHESTER: That's right.

STEVE MARTIN: They're not on a public road.

DARREN CHESTER: [Talks over] Right, so—yep, and so we're seeing I guess the first stage of that development. If you had have said to my dad 20 or 30 years ago, as a truck driver and plumber in Sale that one day he'd see trucks being driven on a mining site without anyone behind the wheel, he would have laughed at me. So the technology has a habit of moving a little bit quicker than we expected. So I think the opportunity for us to have that exchange of ideas is important here in Melbourne. It's great that Melbourne gets the chance to host that, and I'm looking forward to… I've never actually seen one up front- up close, so looking forward to getting that experience firsthand and just seeing how it may well be used in our transport mix into the future.

STEVE MARTIN: Mm. Who regulates this? Is it state or federal?

DARREN CHESTER: Well it's a mixture. And obviously I think there's an opportunity for the Federal Government to work very closely with the jurisdictions to get a consistent application across the nation. And it's been one of our challenges, as you've seen across driver licensing regulation, vehicle registration, we have a bit of a mish-mash of legislation across borders, so this is an opportunity for us to get together and make sure we're actually working together to get a consistent set of regulations into the future.

STEVE MARTIN: So as part of this, then, is there a prospect that we will get a uniform set of road rules, do you think, finally?

DARREN CHESTER: Yeah, my aspiration is, as a minister is to harmonise—as much as we possibly can—road rules, driver licensing regulations, that type of thing, and that's what I've been doing with my first seven or eight months in the role is working very closely with state ministers to see how we can utilise the best practice in any individual jurisdiction, how that can be played out across other jurisdictions. Now the one area where I've been very vocal in the last six months or so is in relation to road safety. We've seen in Australia over the past two years an increase in our deaths and serious injury on our roads.

Now after decades of success, that's very disturbing that we've actually seen that increase. We had 1,292 people die on Australia's roads in the 12 months up to the end of June this year—that's a ten per cent increase. So that's a real worry for us, and so what we've been trying to do is get the state ministers to work very closely with me on sharing ideas, sharing the best information and data, and then saying well what can we deploy across all of Australia that's actually going to have some downward pressure on the road trauma into the future? And I must say they've been very receptive and we've got a great working relationship, and I'm getting back together with them in the next three weeks for another forum on these issues. I think one of the real focuses is going to be on the regional road toll, which seems to be the most stubborn, most resistant to change at the moment.

STEVE MARTIN: Yeah. Alright. Darren Chester, I do want to ask about the CFA and the legislation in Parliament that's coming up this week as well, but just finally on these driverless cars issue, given that technology seems to be advancing more rapidly all the time, when do you think it is realistic that we will see driverless vehicles regularly on Australian roads? Are we talking two years, five years, ten years—what does instinct tell you?

DARREN CHESTER: My instinct would tell me within the decade we will see driverless vehicles on our roads. We need to make sure we're ready for it.

STEVE MARTIN: Okay. So within the decade. Interesting to see if it actually happens. Wouldn't surprise me, either. Just on 21 minutes past nine. Now just finally as well, the CFA legislation that's going before the Federal Parliament, bit of talk that it is likely to go through this week—is that your understanding?

DARREN CHESTER: Well the legislation will be put to the Senate again for the first time this week. Obviously in the House of Representatives we have the numbers in the Coalition, and this is an opportunity I think for Bill Shorten, for the Labor Party to stand up and support the 60,000 CFA volunteers here in Victoria who feel that they were very, very badly let down by the Andrews Government, and it became—although it was primarily a state issue—it became a very fundamental issue in the federal election campaign. It was one of those unusual circumstances where a specifically state issue blew out into a major federal issue, and the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made commitments to the CFA volunteers and he's following through on those commitments.

STEVE MARTIN: Labor and the Greens have basically said they're not going to support this, and they're saying in some instances it's just bad legislation. So you need the numbers in the Senate of the crossbenchers. Do you have those numbers yet?

DARREN CHESTER: Well those negotiations will be going on with the responsible Minister, Michaelia Cash. I've seen some reporting today which indicates that they're open to voting for it. I still think the door's open for the Labor Party to vote for it, though. I mean, really, Bill Shorten needs to decide if he's there to represent the unions in Parliament or he's there to represent everyday Australians. Now our CFA volunteers have made it very clear what they think about Daniel Andrews' legislation. We've had the board resign, the Chief Executive resigned, the Chief Fire Officer resigned. I mean, there's been a long list of people who basically said to Daniel Andrews you've got this wrong. Don't be so stubborn and pig headed—you've got to understand this. You've got this wrong, and that's why Malcolm Turnbull has taken the action he's taken. I think it's the right action to take, and I'd encourage the Labor Party to reconsider its views on this issue.