Transcript: 2UE Drive with Justin Smith



30 March 2015

Topics: Cockpit security changes, NSW election result and Coal seam gas

Justin Smith: As mentioned before, there will be a change. From now on, in commercial passenger flights in Australia, whether they're domestic or international, there'll need to be two people in the cockpit. Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss is in charge of all of this and he's on the line. Minister, thank you for your time.

Warren Truss: You're welcome.

Justin Smith: How does the change work, what happens?

Warren Truss: Well the airlines have agreed to alter their standard operating procedures to ensure that there are always two people on the flight deck when there are passengers on board. This will help to ensure, we hope, that an incident such happened with Germanwings could not be repeated in Australia. When the pilot actually leaves the flight deck for whatever reason, another member of the crew, presumably a flight attendant, will enter the cockpit and the door will be locked behind them. So there is always two people there and I guess they'll be observing one another to make sure no irregular behaviour occurs.

Justin Smith: So is this a law, or is it an industry guideline?

Warren Truss: Well, I guess it's both. The airlines have agreed to alter their standard operating procedures, so in other words, that's a decision of the airlines. But these operating procedures are supervised and approved by CASA, which is the authority…

Justin Smith: Oh yep, yep.

Warren Truss: So in practice, it will be something they'll be obliged to do as the result of a CASA requirement. But we've had very productive discussions with the airlines over the weekend and they are supportive of this measure.

Justin Smith: Minister, not suggesting you'll need this, but what penalties apply if they don't follow through?

Warren Truss: Well this is an alteration to their operating procedures and so the airlines will deal with discipline primarily. However, if they breach their operating procedures, well the ultimate penalty is that CASA can ground an airline.

Justin Smith: Yeah, okay.

Warren Truss: Clearly they wouldn't do that at first offence and there'd be counselling and every effort to make sure that things work. But this is not an adversarial situation. The airlines believe that this is an appropriate response and we agree with them.

Justin Smith: How do you feel about the last week? You've been involved in aviation for quite a few years. How does it make you feel when you look at this wreckage and the detail that's starting to come through about this man?

Warren Truss: Well, it's certainly a tragedy and you can't help but feel for the families, innocent families, who've been caught up in this, what is apparently an act of suicide. It's been surprising that the French regulator have been so forthcoming so quickly on the basis of just listening to the aircraft voice recorder, that they've come to these conclusions so quickly. That's very unusual, but it does mean that the world airlines have to listen and to examine just how we respond to this. Clearly, if somebody is of suicidal intention, it is very, very difficult…

Justin Smith: Yeah.

Warren Truss: …they don't place any value on their own life, to intervene in every circumstance and I can't guarantee that these new measures will be perfect in every incident. They're just another step that we're taking and it's a secondary step. Primarily, we want to make sure that the people flying the aircraft are of good mental health as well as physical health. All pilots have to go through this testing every year, including mental health testing, to make sure that they are suitable to be in command of an aircraft and entrusted with the lives of hundreds of people.

Justin Smith: Is our system in Australia better than their system? I hope, please tell me, the answer's yes.

Warren Truss: Well, I think every system is different and we think ours is one of the best in the world, if not the best in the world. And of course, we've delivered about the best results in the world. And so that's the ultimate test. We have very safe aviation in Australia. This incident is horrible and there've been a handful of other cases over the last 20, 30 years where pilot suicide has been at blame for the causes of crashes. But in between that, there have been millions, tens of millions of flights that have passed by perfectly safely and we've come to regard aviation as a very safe way of travelling and we've come to that conclusion because frankly, it is.

Justin Smith: Yeah.

Warren Truss: It's the safest way to travel around the world.

Justin Smith: But it's a confidence game, isn't it Mr Truss? We had MH370, we've had this. And we would like Australians to be peripatetic. We'd like to get around the world and do a few things, we'd like to see Australians do that. It's good for the economy, it's good all round if we do it. Scaring the hell out of people is not great and it's happened, sadly.

Warren Truss: You're absolutely right and we have had two or three really shocking incidents over recent times; to be shot down by a missile is just something that you don't expect in civil aviation.

Justin Smith: Yep.

Warren Truss: To have a pilot suiciding maybe not once, but maybe both—maybe two recent cases. Now that is frightening and it's very difficult for any airline to take measures to get around it. But we do have rigid safety requirements, a lot of it written down, a lot of it in the culture of the companies that run the airlines and we want them to be absolutely perfect. It won't always be, but our record in Australia is proudly one of very good, safe flying and we want to keep it that way.

Justin Smith: What were the airlines like with you over this? Did you get any resistance, or was it—are they just as shocked as you are over the whole thing?

Warren Truss: No, the airlines have been very constructive. One or two of the smaller airlines have had this rule in place already for some time and therefore that demonstrated that it was probably practical to do this. We are allowing a bit of discretion. There may be a circumstance where it's not the most sensible thing to do for there to be a second crew member in the flight deck.

Justin Smith: Yep.

Warren Truss: For instance if there's a disturbance down the back and that is the highest priority, then every hand is going to have to be on deck to deal with that. But certainly we want to ensure that the best and safest practices occur all times.

Justin Smith: We may see in the not-too-distant future where we don't have pilots at all, where everything is able to be controlled from the ground.

Warren Truss: Well there are certainly a lot of unmanned aerial vehicles around now being used for military purposes, but also people have them in their backyards as toys and for business purposes. We're certainly going to have a lot of unmanned aircraft around. But I think it will be quite a while before passengers in large numbers have got enough confidence to fly in an aircraft without pilots up the front.

Justin Smith: Alright thank you, I appreciate your time. You would have spent a fair bit of Sunday I would think crunching some numbers, Minister. What did you make of the election?

Warren Truss: Well I think it's been a good result for the Baird-Grant Government. Naturally, everyone's always disappointed when seats are lost, when good members are no longer going to be a part of the parliament, but to be returned with such a substantial majority is an important mandate, and it enables New South Wales to get on with the job of building infrastructure. Both Victoria and Queensland have had [indistinct] setbacks there where big infrastructure plans have been rejected. So there'll be a lot of concentration I guess, keen tendering, and a lot of real interest in what can be done in New South Wales, particularly if the states around it are going [indistinct] time.

Justin Smith: Yeah you mention good members going. I guess the other argument to that is if they were good members they wouldn't be going. Where did they go wrong?

Warren Truss: Well sometimes it's a local issue that's been difficult to deal with. From the perspective of The Nationals, I guess our biggest disappointment was to lose a couple of seats in northern New South Wales …

Justin Smith: Yeah.

Warren Truss: … to the Greens, and over the coal seam gas issue where the party has been quite strident [indistinct].

Justin Smith: [Interrupts] But Minister, four years ago that would have been unthinkable, that they would lose Ballina and Lismore—that you would lose Ballina and Lismore. Unthinkable.

Warren Truss: Yeah, well certainly we're very disappointed about it, and we worked very hard to get it back, particularly since the four seats that the Greens won largely on the coal seam gas issue, none of them have got any coal seam gas production underway, and in most cases never likely to.

Justin Smith: Well it might, with respect, it might make the loss even more embarrassing then.

Warren Truss: Well, it's disappointing that this kind of an issue has developed that degree of momentum. In Queensland, where the industry has been underway now for a couple of decades and has a good safety record, the Newman Government, for all of its losses at the last election, did well in the coal seam gas seats. So, in other words, those who've got the industry can see it from all sides. Those who haven't are I guess a bit more attracted to the fear and concern.

Justin Smith: I guess in the end people make up their own mind what to care about.

Warren Truss: Indeed they do.

Justin Smith: Would you suggest any policy change on coal seam gas?

Warren Truss: Well I think it's absolutely essential that when coal seam gas proceeds that it is with appropriate environmental safeguards, that the local community is supportive and particularly the land holders are given a fair go and appropriate compensation or revenue streams from the gas produced on their property. I think that it is important that those kinds of safeguards are in place. That's largely happened now in the big fields in …

Justin Smith: Yeah.

Warren Truss: … Queensland, and that's I think why the public perception in the local areas has turned around. It doesn't mean that in areas on the coast, including electorates like my own, there's a lot of anxiety and negativity towards the industry, but it's an industry we don't have, and therefore haven't experienced it.

Justin Smith: So just back to the question, will you support a … will you continue to support coal seam gas the way you have, or will there be a change in policy?

Warren Truss: Well the Nationals way back in 2011 declared that there were a range of conditions that we felt had to be met before you could have coal seam gas and those include such things as protection of the environment, guarantees that there'll be no damage to the aquifers, these sort of developments need to be well away from …

Justin Smith: Yeah.

Warren Truss: … urban areas etcetera and good agricultural land. Those were all key criteria. But the coal seam gas industry is now producing billions of dollars worth of revenue for our country, it's an important part of supplying gas… 80 per cent of Queensland's gas comes from coal seam and has for the last 10 or 20 years. So, it's going to be important as an alternative energy source, and for that reason we need to make the industry work and work in our nation's interest.

Justin Smith: Alright. I know you've got a flight, but I have to try one more time.

Warren Truss: [Laughs].

Justin Smith: Will there be a change in policy on it?
Warren Truss: Well it will be up to New South Wales party to make their decisions in that regard. I think we've addressed the issues and that we need to just to do better …

Justin Smith: Didn't work.

Warren Truss: … to explain to people why we've made the decisions we have, and what sort of work needs to be done in the future. Bear in mind, the Liberals and the Nationals in New South Wales have never issued a single permit, and in Queensland as well virtually all the permits were issued by Labor. So in fact we're dealing with an industry that's already there and needs to be properly regulated.

Justin Smith: Yeah, but it's not Labor's problem now, is it?

Warren Truss: Well, it is in Queensland, because they're back in government.

Justin Smith: Well [laughs] …

Warren Truss: But they're also supportive of the industry. So …

Justin Smith: Yeah.

Warren Truss: … the reality is that it needs to be dealt with on its merits, without undue emotionalism. We need to be conscious of how important and precious our environment is and always make sure that we don't take any risks in that regard. But there's plenty of examples now in this country of the industry successfully coexisting in delicate environments, but also with the communities that support it.

Justin Smith: Thanks for the chat, I appreciate it.

Warren Truss: You're very welcome.

Justin Smith: Warren Truss, the Deputy Prime Minister.