Ministerial Statement: The Australian Government's Response to the Aviation Safety Regulation Review Report

Speech

WTS031/2014

03 December 2014

House of Representatives
Parliament House, Canberra

Madam Speaker, in November last year the Government established an independent review of Australia's aviation safety regulatory system to ensure that it is well positioned to meet Australia's future aviation demands.

The review was conducted by an independent panel headed by Mr David Forsyth AM, a respected figure in Australian aviation through his previous senior managerial roles in Qantas and as Chair of Airservices Australia.

Mr Forsyth was joined on the panel by two eminent overseas aviation safety experts—Mr Don Spruston from Canada and Mr Roger Whitefield from the United Kingdom.

On 3 June 2014, I tabled the panel's Aviation Safety Regulation Review Report in Parliament.

Since tabling the report the Government has given careful consideration to the 37 recommendations and other matters raised in the Report.

This consideration has been informed by close consultation with our aviation agencies and by 69 industry and public comments on the Report.

I am pleased today to be able to table the Government's response to the Report.

The Report confirms that Australia has an advanced aviation regulatory system in place and one of the safest regular public transport systems in the world.

Australia also has sound safety governance arrangements which ensure that the regulatory, investigative and service provision roles of our key aviation agencies are properly separated.

However given the speed with which the global and domestic aviation industry is changing, we need to look for continuous improvement in our aviation safety regulatory system.

We need to update our system to reflect the growing diversity of our aviation industry.

The Report has identified areas where our present arrangements, structures and relationships can be improved to ensure Australia remains a leading aviation State.

The Report made 37 recommendations, many relating to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), but others have implications for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), Airservices Australia (Airservices), my Department and the Department of Defence.

The Government has fully agreed to, or agreed to undertake a more detailed examination of, 36 of the 37 recommendations.

Key Aviation Safety Principles

In responding to the Report the Government has endorsed a number of key principles that should continue to underpin our future aviation safety system:

  • safety should be the primary consideration of CASA, Airservices, the ATSB and the industry in the performance of their functions;
  • the highest safety priority should be afforded to passenger transport operations;
  • Australia's regulatory approach and responses should be based on a sound assessment of the level of risk associated with particular aviation operations;
  • aviation agencies and industry should work closely together to identify aviation safety risks and ensure that the most appropriate methods, practices and technologies are adopted to address and reduce these risks;
  • a strong “just culture” approach must underpin better information sharing between industry and safety agencies as information sharing assists in preventing future safety events and reflects international best practice;
  • recognition that Australia's safety regulatory system plays an important role in ensuring that Australia has a safe, efficient and competitive aviation industry;
  • Australia's aviation regulatory procedures, processes and approach to regulation should be fair, transparent and promote nationally consistent operations; and
  • active and ongoing engagement by industry and CASA will help inform future regulatory priorities and the development of simpler regulations, standards and orders.

These principles and the actions which flow from them will be contained in an enhanced State Safety Program (SSP). The SSP will outline short, medium and long term objectives for our aviation system including planned major regulatory, infrastructure and service changes.

In addition, the respective policy, regulatory, investigative and service provision roles and coordination between Government aviation agencies will continue to be clearly set out in the SSP and how they should work cooperatively on major initiatives.

The Government recognises that our agencies and industry are already operating to some extent in accordance with these principles but believes it is important that they be set out to help guide the future direction of our aviation safety system.

The Role of the Aviation Safety Regulator

CASA is a critical element in our aviation safety system.

CASA is first and foremost the regulator for civil aviation with the increasingly challenging task of implementing and oversighting a range of aviation regulatory arrangements.

Additionally CASA plays a key role in developing new regulations and amending existing regulations to take account of industry changes, emerging safety issues and meeting international standards and practices.

In establishing this review the Government was conscious of complaints it had received from industry about CASA's regulatory approach and the perceived insufficient regard to the impacts of regulatory actions or proposed new or amended regulations on industry operations. Problems with the implementation of new regulatory standards have also been raised by industry as an issue. The review panel has clearly received submissions that have raised similar concerns.

The role of the regulator is a difficult one. CASA serves not only the industry but the public more broadly.

CASA is part of a system which is charged with protecting all passengers, their crew and the community. Members of the travelling public are not usually able to make their own individual assessments of safety issues and rely on the regulatory system for assurance.

Aviation services can be complex and expensive operations. The business environment in which aviation operates is a challenging and often highly competitive one with fluctuating market conditions. Even well-established and well intentioned aviation operators can encounter problems.

In such a complex environment the Government expects the regulator to be firm but fair in how it conducts its role.

The regulator also needs to be well-informed about the industry context, conscious of the impacts that its actions have on operators and open to approaches which achieve safety outcomes without unnecessary impacts on industry.

This approach calls for effective and ongoing engagement and communication with the industry, both at a strategic and working level. As the Aviation Safety Regulation Review recommends, we need to create an “effective collaborative relationship [between CASA and the industry based] on a foundation of mutual understanding and respect.”

CASA Governance

As a key part of our aviation safety system, the Government expects the CASA Board to take an active role in setting directions for CASA and overseeing its functions.

Critically the Government also expects the Board to maintain an effective dialogue with industry at a strategic level.

The Government has already moved to enhance the aviation skills and experience on the Board, with amendments passed earlier this year to the Civil Aviation Act 1988 to expand the Board to seven members.

The Government has appointed Mr Jeff Boyd as Deputy Chairman of the Board, who brings valuable experience in working with different parts of the diverse Australian aviation industry. 

Today I am pleased to announce the appointment of three more members to the CASA Board to fill the current vacancies.

The new members are; Anita Taylor, a Chartered Accountant, experienced company director and long term member of the Sport Aviation industry who has been gliding since she was 16; Captain Murray Warfield, formerly Qantas General Manager of Regulatory and Industry Affairs; and finally Ian Smith, who has had a long and distinguished career in the aviation insurance industry earlier this year he was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for the promotion and development of aviation.

The Government also welcomes the appointment of Air Vice Marshal (Retired) Mark Skidmore AM to the position of the Director of Aviation Safety. This appointment will bring a further wealth of aviation experience to the Board.

The Government will also be issuing a new Statement of Expectations (SOE) to the revamped CASA Board to give effect to the recommendations in the Report.

The Board will appropriately have the opportunity to set out in an implementation plan their response to the new SOE.

The Government looks forward to working with the new Board and Director in the delivery of all of these recommendations.

Consistent with the Government's broader agenda in deregulation, the Government also expects CASA to continue to look for ways to reduce regulatory costs on the industry without compromising safety.

ATSB Governance

The Government fully supports the vital role of the ATSB.

Independent investigation of accidents or incidents remains a critical element of the safety system, helping us understand the causes and hence the sources of risks to safety. This helps to avoid future accidents.

If the system is to work well, industry must cooperate in providing information during accident and incident investigations and in reporting incidents generally.

The Government will take a number of actions to give effect to this commitment including:

  • the appointment of an additional ATSB Commissioner with aviation experience; and
  • issuing a new Statement of Expectations to the ATSB once the Commission and the Government has had the opportunity to review the findings of the Canadian Transportation Safety Board review of the ATSB publicly released earlier this week.

Madam Speaker, yesterday the Canadian Transport Safety Bureau (TSB) released its independent report into the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

The ATSB tasked the Canadian TSB to undertake an independent review of their investigation methodologies and processes, how they were applied in specific cases and how this compared to international best-practice standards.

The TSB review looked in detail at three separate investigations, one of which was the Pel-Air inquiry which as Members may recall was the subject of a Report by the Senate Rural, Regional Affairs and Transport Committee.

While the Canadian TSB found that ATSB investigation methodology and analysis tools represent best practice and have been shown to produce very good results, they found that in the case of the Pel-Air investigation, there were errors made.

I am concerned that the TSB report raises some concerns about the application of ATSB methodologies in the investigation into the ditching of a Pel-Air off Norfolk Island in 2009.

As a consequence, I have asked the ATSB Commission to give serious consideration to reopening the investigation.

On a related point, as I have just announced I will shortly be appointing a new Commissioner to the ATSB with a specific background in aviation. This will fulfil an undertaking made by the Coalition prior to the election.

I have asked that the fresh review of the Pel-Air accident should take into account the findings of the TSB's report.

Policy and Coordination Role of the Department

The Government has carefully considered the policy and coordination role of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, in the future aviation safety system.

The Government expects the Department as the Chair of the Aviation Policy Group (APG) to lead work between agencies to ensure coordinated planning and action on the development of the aviation safety system.

While each agency has its own legislative charter and priorities, planning needs to be coordinated across agencies.

The Department and the other members of APG, CASA, Airservices and the Department of Defence, should use that forum to coordinate and steer improvements in our aviation safety system.

APG should also take the lead in guiding the development, monitoring and maintenance of the SSP.

The Government has also identified a number of important aviation safety policy issues which it believes the Department is well placed, in close consultation with other aviation agencies, to progress final policy advice for the Government's consideration.

These policy issues cover aviation rescue and firefighting services and airspace protection.

Other Agencies and Departments

Airservices Australia and the Department of Defence play significant roles in our aviation safety system.

The current OneSKY Australia programme is aimed at establishing a nationally harmonised air traffic management system. The programme represents an exciting opportunity for both civil and military aviation to receive a better, seamless national air traffic service in the future.

It should also be acknowledged that increased civil aviation demand at several locations around Australia continues to place pressures on military aviation facilities and services.

While not specifically highlighted in the Report, the Government also recognises the key role the Bureau of Meteorology plays in our aviation safety system and this role will be reinforced in our State Safety Program.

Aviation Industry Role

The Government expects all of our civil and military aviation agencies to work together, and in close consultation with industry, to implement the Government's response to the Report.

But it is just as important that industry works collaboratively with aviation safety agencies to produce the best safety outcomes. Successful implementation of these recommendations will need the active and constructive participation of our aviation industry, working openly and positively with our agencies.

We are aware that relationships have not been as good as they need to be and there are diverse views even within the industry on some issues.

We also understand that industry commitment to work constructively with Government agencies on aviation safety issues requires industry members to dedicate scarce time and resources.

The Government strongly urges industry representatives and aviation agencies to work together across the broad range of issues, including the development of future regulatory priorities.

It is time to reset the relationship between industry and agencies and move onwards, recognising our strong aviation safety record and the potential improvements that can be made in line with the Report's recommendations.

On the basis of the strong response to the Review and the release of the Review's Report, the Government is confident that industry and our regulatory agencies will positively take up these opportunities.

I look forward to holding the first Aviation Industry Consultative Council meeting before the end of the year. This will provide a great opportunity to discuss matters of broader concern to the aviation industry and ensure that industry has a forum for putting forward their views.

Conclusion

Australia has worked hard to become one of the most respected aviation safety systems in the world.

But like any system it should be subject to continuous improvement and works best when all of those engaged in the system are working closely together.

The Report has offered us recommendations which will help with Australia's continuous commitment to improve our safety system.

The Government's response has clearly set out our aviation safety policies, principles and priorities to our agencies, industry and the community to help with this process.

The Government looks forward to working with our aviation agencies and industry in the implementation of the recommendations of the Report.

Madam Speaker, I commend the Government's response to the Aviation Safety Regulation Review Report to the Parliament.