Doorstop at the General Aviation Summit

Very pleased today that we've got so many representatives from right throughout Australia meeting and convening in Wagga Wagga for a General Aviation Summit.

And they have been delighted to hear that we've made the change as far as the medical certificate is concerned. Delighted, in fact, a rousing applause: the fact that the indemnity insurance has also been altered to make it easier for the regulatory burden to be lowered on the GA sector.

I'm very, very keen and willing to listen to what the delegates are going to be saying over the next two days and then to see how we can fit it into overall aviation going forward.

The industry is very important for regional areas. None more so important than in Wagga Wagga and indeed the Riverina region, where we're blessed to have Regional Express, where we're blessed to have QantasLink flying in and out of Wagga.

I appreciate the fact that we do have a worldwide pilot shortage. That was certainly spoken about this morning.

Delighted that Qantas has earmarked Wagga Wagga as one of very few locations, in fact, that they'll be now conducting a feasibility study to establishing a regional pilot training academy. Wagga Wagga is one of those places earmarked for final consideration in that very short list, and they'll be making an announcement later this year as to where that pilot academy will be going.

Delighted of course that Rex has its own Australian Airline Pilot Academy, and now even training Vietnamese pilots to teach them how to fly. And so this is important.

GA, general aviation, has an important role to play in the Riverina, indeed in the regional areas, but I'll be certainly looking forward to the communique from the summit over the next two days, and certainly looking forward to receiving a list of items of importance that general aviators will give me, present me, as the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, to see how we can even further work together to bring about less regulatory burden on the aviation sector.

Journalist: Many have raised concerns here today. What are you encouraging them to do as a result of the summit here?

Michael McCormack: Well, reach a consensus and then present it to me as the Minister as to how we can lower the regulatory burden on general aviation.

Of course, safety is paramount. It has to be. The general flying public knows that when they board a plane, they want to be assured that that plane is going to be safe and that all safety aspects have been taken care of.

Australia has the very best safety record in the world as far as flying safety is concerned and we want to make sure that that continues. We have to make sure that that is a minimum, that that is an absolute standard that we always meet. People would expect nothing less. Our flying public deserves as much, and certainly safety is something that we are all—anybody who in this room, in this RSL Club over the next two days—of course safety is important for them too.

So we'll see how we can take on board as the Government, and CASA will as well, to see where we can fit their concerns and their issues that they will present to me as the Minister, and see how we can do this going forward.

Journalist: Timing couldn't be better, with this, with obviously JetGo going into liquidation. It’s so important to keep these regional aviation bodies alive and can keep them flying.

Michael McCormack: Well, of course, JetGo’s demise is indeed sad, and of course, the margins are very tight for aviation companies.

Of course, Rex have a proud history of being able to not only fly; to not only win international awards, as a regional airline of choice—indeed they’ve been marked up as the regional international aviator of the year on a couple of occasions.

But we need to make sure that commercial flying is viable and profitable. Rex has done that. QantasLink has done that. It's not that many years ago that Qantas was looking very much in its losses that it was experiencing, very much, you know, dicey. The fact is it traded through those difficult times. It's not easy for aviation companies to at all times make profits. You know, it is a very volatile industry. But the fact is we need we need our aviators to be, our airlines to be profitable, but we also need them to be safe and I am very glad to say that as the Minister concerned that they are safe, that they put safety as their number one priority. It has to be, but we also obviously need them to be profitable as well.

And that's why the federal government is working to change indemnity insurance. That's why the federal government has announced changes in medical certificates to make it easier for the general aviation sector to cut down, reduce some of that red tape burden that they're experiencing.

Journalist: Do you think the sector’s, the proposal to change the aviation act—the Civil Aviation Act—is realistic?

Michael McCormack: Well, we'll have to see what they come up with. Of course, I've got to work with CASA, I've got to work with all stakeholders in the industry, and I've also got to work with the Shadow Minister Anthony Albanese.

We've had a number of meetings in good faith and we've talked about what we can do in a bipartisan fashion to make sure that the regulatory burden is looked at; to make sure that what we can do to get through what is a one seat majority Government, as far as the House of Representatives is concerned. It's not easy to get things through Parliament when all are in agreement because you've still got to get through the Senate, but Anthony Albanese and I have met on a number of occasions in good faith to see what we can do and we'll continue those discussions.

Journalist: Minister, when some people say that, you know, the general aviation sector could just be wiped out based on the current situation is that helpful to the debate?

Michael McCormack: Well, look, I think it's probably a bit rash to say that general aviation is going to be wiped out. And we've seen that, you know, a number of flying schools operate and operate very well for a number of years.

We've seen pilots and small airline companies being able to operate, whether it's in surveying or mustering or aerial spraying. The general aviation sector is very important to Australia. We as the Government want to make sure that it's profitable. We want to make sure that it's safe. I'm looking forward to the discussions and deliberations over the next two days to see what this summit can provide to me as a means of helping their sector, helping their industry going forward. And I'm more than happy to work with them collaboratively and cooperatively in the future to see that that’s done.

Journalist: And do you get the sense that the issues that people are talking about here have been sort of raised many times over many years?

Michael McCormack: Well, I’ve been the Minister for four months and I've already had a number of meetings with key stakeholders right around the nation. I've had a number of meetings already with AOPA, with Ben Morgan, with Dick Smith, and with other people to see what we can do.

I also met with the Shadow Minister Anthony Albanese to see what we can do in a bipartisan fashion.

So I'm there, I'm ready, I’m willing, I’m able to be able to have those discussions to see what we can do to help the general aviation sector moving forward.

Journalist: You mentioned earlier discussions. Do you think that you can bring about change under your leadership as Minister?

Michael McCormack: Well, look, as I say I've been the Minister for four months, and yes, in a bipartisan fashion. We will see what we can do to change things for the benefit of the general aviation sector.

But again I stress that, you know, we have a one seat majority Government. It's not always easy to effect change when you are in a Government that only has a one seat majority.

But let me tell you, we've been able to do a number of things—not just in transport and infrastructure—but the amount of delivery that we have done as a Government, bearing in mind that we have only a one seat majority, Australia is in far better shape now than it certainly was in 2013 when we took over as Government.

Business is going very well. The jobless figures last year, we helped small and medium family enterprises—and indeed many in the GA sector—hire more people. We've helped bring about the lowest tax rate in 78 years.

So we're building the infrastructure, whether it's roads, whether it's rail, indeed we've invested heavily in better airports right around Australia. And we will continue to do that. Even though we are in a one seat majority Government, we are getting things done and the Australian public knows it. The mood in the economy is very, very good.

And people know that with the Liberals and Nationals they will get delivery, they will get outcome, and certainly for regional areas that's writ large in some of the funding announcements that we've made just today as far as the Building Better Regions Fund is concerned.

Thank you.