Posted on Wednesday, 24 October, 2018
Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (10:42): It does give me great pleasure to rise to speak on the Aviation Transport Security Amendment Bill 2018, because it addresses some issues that I had raised with the minister and in the party room about the impact of the security rearrangements—the toughening of security—at regional airports across Australia, which, I thought, stood to impact very significantly on two of my airports in particular, and on one in a very dramatic way. Australians, of course, need to be assured that they are safe. We need, as a government, to do everything we can to ensure their safety. And it is right for us to act. Of course the accompanying legislation, if you like, with the proposal to stipulate full scanning for commercial flights in Australia that have seating capacity for over 50, is a change from the previous legislation, introduced in 2012, where the qualifying flights went from a 30-tonne to a 20-tonne take-off weight. We've operated under that system for the last six years. And now, of course, it's going to a 50-seat configuration.
As to the reason I have raised concerns about this, I'll go first to the least affected airport, Port Lincoln. It's quite a busy airport, Port Lincoln—in fact, the second-busiest in South Australia. There are two airlines operating out of Port Lincoln, and last year there were 89,000 outbound passengers. The trade is split roughly 50-50 between two airlines, Qantas and Rex. Under the new assessment, instead of the 20-tonne take-off weight, the 50-seat configuration will mean that Rex will not have to comply, as they've not had to do under the 20 tonnes. Qantas have been flying Q300s out of Port Lincoln, and they have a take-off weight of under 20 tonnes but they have over 50 seats, and so they will be swept up in this new configuration. If there are 89,000 outbound passengers a year and half of them fly on Qantas, that's 44½ thousand.
It costs around $800,000 a year to run the scanning services. We know this because previously we had scanners in the Port Lincoln airport. One of the reasons it costs $800,000 is that, under the relevant union awards, there is a minimum work space of four hours. Should an airport have one flight in the morning and one flight in the afternoon, that will entail two shifts of workers. While they might be required only for an hour or an hour and a half, they actually have to be paid for four hours. Consequently, running these scanners costs around $800,000 a year. It's also worth noting that they cost $800 to $1,000 to install but the government, quite rightly—and I congratulate the minister and the government—have offered to pay for those installations.
So the airports are faced with the ongoing costs of regulation—in this particular case, as I said, around $18 a seat. That is very significant, and whether or not the service continues I guess will be up to Qantas themselves. It is a severe impost on the people of Port Lincoln, a place that, interestingly enough, is 6½ hours from Adelaide by road but only about 45 minutes by aeroplane, because the flight cuts off so much distance. It is such a viable way to travel to Adelaide and very important for medical services, for people getting professional services of all sorts, and for connecting to the rest of the world.
Now I come to Whyalla. Whyalla is a city of around 22,000 or 23,000 people. It's the biggest regional centre in my electorate and it is only four hours drive from Adelaide. Once you get into that three- to four-hour driving time from a destination, the biggest competition for airlines is the car. You've got to spend time travelling to the airport, you've got to wait a while before you get on, you get on the plane, you travel down there, and then you need a car to get into the city or wherever you're going. So the numbers of passengers out of Whyalla are significantly lower than out of Port Lincoln. There were 31,000 outbound passengers last year. The same two airlines, Qantas and Rex, are operating there. Qantas—and these are just rough figures but around the mark—shifts about a third of those passengers, and Rex shifts two-thirds. So Qantas is shifting 10,000 passengers a year out of Whyalla. It's using the Q300, which under the current regulations does not qualify for full scanning. But the Q300 will come in for attention through the 50-seat configuration, as I mentioned before.
Ten thousand passengers a year equate to around $80 a seat. Clearly, while we can't be sure what any airline might do in the future about the economy of a particular run, should Qantas be forced to pay that and Rex not be forced to pay it—and that will be an airport decision—the chances of that service continuing are greatly diminished. In fact, even if the cost were put across the full 31,000 and the airport were to stipulate that Rex pay that fee as well, that service might be threatened as well. So it's a very serious place we're going to.
This legislation, of course, allows for variation. In spirit it says that not all airports are created equal, that there are differences—and the member for Forrest, who spoke before me, went through some of those differences. Certainly that is the case now. There is a difference in traffic throughput and a difference in the prominence of the airport, therefore increasing the attraction for people who might want to disrupt flights. Exactly how this legislation is interpreted by the regulators will be something I will be watching, but at least there will be the flexibility in the system to deal with the issue at hand. I'm very hopeful that a combination will be found and that the severe impost—these incredible increases in ticket prices—will not be inflicted upon these communities, allowing airlines to get on with the job of shifting people safely and quickly to where they need to go.
But I thought I might recap a little bit of history while I'm here speaking to the chamber. I haven't checked my records, but I feel as though I have given a speech very, very, very similar to this one once before, back in 2012, when, in fact, the regulations were changed at that time which brought the trigger point for scanning down from a 30 tonne maximum take-off weight to 20 tonnes. At that time, the only airport in my electorate that had two competing airlines—Qantas and Rex—was Port Lincoln. Qantas was using Q400s to fly in and out of Port Lincoln and they were over the 20 tonne maximum take-off weight. That triggered the requirement that we should have scanning at the airport. So the scanners were installed, at a cost of around $800,000, and they were operated for almost two years, using 12 staff, at an annual cost of a bit over $700,000. The outcome was that Qantas changed aeroplanes. They went to a Q300, which was under the 20 tonne take-off weight. Consequently the 12 workers lost their jobs, the scanners were taken out of the airport and stored out the back, and Qantas were able to compete on an even footing with Rex and the flights have continued.
So what was that all about? We were chasing down a threat to air safety. The airline configuration changed, the same number of passengers were being shifted, but all of a sudden the scanners were not required; they were required for one flight but they are not required for the other flight. It is a really difficult area, and I don't envy the minister in trying to step his way through what is a legislative minefield that has completely varying implications for communities all over Australia. The great recognition here in this legislation is that they are varied, that one size does not fit all and that regulators need the flexibility to act within the legislation to bring about the right kind of outcome for each particular community.
So I recognise the work that the minister has done here in allowing for this legislation addressing those concerns that I have. I hope it is going to fit the bill because, as I've said, it will remain up to the regulator how they interpret the legislation. But they can be assured, as can the people of Grey—the people of Port Lincoln and the people of Whyalla—that I will be watching that space very closely to make sure that this legislation is used in a way that does not unduly impact on these airports, does not selectively impact on these airports, to the point of bringing in large cost increases in flights and in seatings and, in the end, threatening the very services that we so desperately need in the country.