House debates

Monday, 19 October 2009

Private Members’ Business

Airservices Australia and Perth Airport

Debate resumed, on motion by Mrs Moylan:

That the House:

notes that:
substantial changes to air flight paths were made by Airservices Australia in November 2008 in relation to Perth Airport;.
Airservices Australia is a corporation which receives income from airlines and other corporate clients, and that it has control over the location of and changes to flight paths;
although the Perth Airport Noise Management Committee was advised that a Western Australian Air Route Review had commenced, the committee members were not advised of the commencement of the changes or the selection of the final flight paths;
Airservices Australia stated that the rationale for the changes to flight paths related to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) Safety Review and were required due to the need to ‘maintain safety, reduce complexity and cope with the rapid and predicted continued increase in air traffic.’;
Perth Airport has already exceeded traffic levels not expected until 2015;
prior to the changes, the CASA Safety Review and the noise impact statements were not made available to the committee;
there is no evidence of an open, accountable and effective public consultation process by Airservices Australia prior to the changes occurring; and
there has been:
a high level of public disquiet about the changes that have been made and the lack of public consultation; and
no revision of the Noise Abatement Procedures since 2004; and
calls on the Government to:
examine whether there is a conflict of interest in Airservices Australia’s roles that may impact on the public;
implement an inquiry into the legislative arrangements governing airports with particular reference to the establishment of an open and accountable public consultation process before changes are made to aircraft flight paths;
establish a nationally consistent approach to the management of increased air traffic and changes to air flight paths with reference to noise abatement issues; and
consider appointing an Airport Ombudsman to provide an independent agency to examine public grievances in the management of changes to airport operations and their effect on the public.

8:06 pm

Photo of Judi MoylanJudi Moylan (Pearce, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with great frustration and disappointment that I bring this private member’s motion before the House today. Constituents in the electorate of Pearce and in the wider Perth metropolitan area could be forgiven for thinking that they live in some autocratic polity devoid of representative democracy that upholds the right of the individual. In essence, this motion highlights a lack of process, which denies fundamental democratic rights to a fair and consultative approach by government via a Commonwealth agency.

Airservices Australia holds within its power the ability to determine and change air-traffic routes without open and accountable public consultation, thus affecting the lives of people. Quality of life, health and wellbeing and property values are all denied consideration by an organisation that now has, it seems, unfettered power to make decisions to change air-traffic routes without considering the fundamental rights of citizens. As it stands, there is no remedy available to an aggrieved member of the public about decision-making processes. As Airservices Australia is a corporate entity, gaining its operating funds from industry, it seems that there is no separation of power. The public is left without recourse to a just hearing and without remedy.

This is why, along with the member for Canning and the member for Swan—whom I thank for participating in this debate—I am calling on the government to establish an inquiry into the current legislation and to establish an open and accountable public process that is nationally consistent. There must be some separation between a government agency with the power to make changes that so drastically affect people’s lives and the airline industry from which it derives its considerable financial benefit. Airservices Australia have made significant changes to the flight paths in Western Australia without providing adequate information, even to the Perth Airport Noise Management Consultative Committee—and I spoke on that in this place at another time. They have not extensively consulted the public either, but they have extensively consulted the airline industry, on their own admission.

All efforts to obtain information to support the need for change, which we were told was based on safety, have been unsuccessful. It reminds me of the American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky’s comment:

The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party dictatorships, or modern corporations.

This certainly should not be the case in an Australian democracy, but it would seem that this statement fits perfectly this situation. It is incumbent on the government to re-examine the act governing Airservices Australia to ensure rigorous public accountability and to make provision for a more consistent approach to changes to air routes.

It is a pity that time is so restricted for this debate, because I have had a huge amount of correspondence and phone calls coming from the electorate of Pearce. People’s lives have been dramatically impacted. There are people who have bought houses who checked to see where those air routes were and thought that they were buying free of aircraft noise up in the peaceful areas of Perth Hills. This is about people not being able to sleep. This is about people having to take time off work because they are sick because they have not slept. This is about people who bought five-star retreats in the hills area to find that they are faced with the prospect of having to sell. None of the public comments I have heard speak louder than those of one of my constituents who recorded 18 flights between 6.10 am and 7.10 am. She feels selling her house is the only option available to her. This is a very unsatisfactory situation. I think the public has a right to expect an open and accountable process. I call on the government to give serious consideration to the items incorporated in this motion before this House today. I would like to thank my colleague the member for Canning for seconding this motion and my colleagues for participating in this very important debate. (Time expired)

8:11 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased that I can speak on this motion, as I represent a seat that has the entire airport smack bang in the middle of a built-up residential area. Airport and aircraft noise and pollution and airport developments that are taking place all around Australia in major cities are affecting people’s lives on a constant basis. The whole idea is to come up with a good balance that protects people’s wellbeing and allows them to get a decent night’s sleep whilst ensuring the management of viable airports in Australia’s major cities.

The seat of Hindmarsh has an airport right in the middle of the electorate that is surrounded by thousands of residential homes. We have estimated approximately 20,000 homes are affected by aircraft noise or aircraft landing and taking off. There is also the added burden of development that has sprung up all over the airport. Suburbs in my electorate, such as Brooklyn Park, Mile End, Richmond, Cowandilla, Lockleys and Genelg North, constantly hear the movement of aircraft. Every plane that lands at Adelaide Airport takes off and lands in my electorate.

I have lived under the flight path my entire life. In fact, you get quite used to it after a few years. I suppose when you grow up in that environment, you do not take too much notice of it. As years go by, more and more traffic movements are taking place. I recall that once upon a time many years ago we would get a couple of flights a day and we would all run out to the front yard at four o’clock to have a look at the flight that was coming over. This is now constant: every two minutes. I do understand what it is like and certainly feel for people who live around airports.

In Adelaide we had some very active community groups and residential groups. We had the Adelaide Airport Action Group, which I was very pleased to chair many years ago before I was actively involved in politics. This was a group that campaigned and lobbied governments—in fact, it was a Labor government at the time—and continued to lobby into the Howard years for insulation, noise abatement and a curfew. At first the Howard government was not interested at all. We were told to go away and not worry about it. Through the strong actions of those residents, through their persistence and through their many protests and letters to the many transport ministers, they achieved both a curfew and insulation for houses that were affected by the noise.

I am pleased with the government’s response at the moment. There are some good things happening. I am pleased to see the aviation white paper that has come out. It has many good things in it, particularly the proposed committee to deal with complaints and issues. The government is promoting and encouraging consultation between airports and local residents. I am very pleased that this consultation has been having good results in Adelaide, at least as far as I am aware.

We have the Adelaide airport consultative group which meets on a regular basis which includes all the players—airlines, residents groups and councils. We get together every couple of months to discuss the issues that are affecting residents. I regularly take issues up with the consultation committee on behalf of my residents. I must say that Phil Baker, the CEO, and his staff at Adelaide airport do undertake and try to solve every issue that I raise. The way to go is through consultation ensuring that people’s voices are heard, because people do suffer under flight paths. As long as there is consultation where people’s voices are heard and there is an avenue to resolve those complaints, then I think we are on the right track.

There is also the added burden of development occurring on airports, and another type of noise that is coming about. One of my local constituents recently contacted me regarding a warehouse that had been built close to their place with the constant noise coming from it. This warehouse obviously works 24/7—(Time expired)

8:16 pm

Photo of Don RandallDon Randall (Canning, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Energy and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

The changes to flight paths to and from the Perth Airport last year as a result of the Western Australian Air Route Review are wreaking havoc on thousands of my Canning constituents and residents of other surrounding electorates. Residents are frustrated and fed up with the noise disruption but are mainly annoyed with being shut out of the process. The bottom line is that Airservices Australia and other agencies involved went about these changes by stealth. It is the largest restructure of air traffic in Perth for 30 years, and no-one got to know about it.

Airservices Australia cannot seem to make up its mind about the consultation process involved in implementing the changes. In a farcical July meeting with ASA government relations manager David Moore, Perth Airport executives and my colleagues Steve Irons and Judi Moylan, we were assured there was consultation. But unsurprisingly ASA failed to verify dates and attendees. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the consultation was a figment of Airservices’ imagination. In fact, it is a law unto itself. Airservices’ own website claims it consulted the Perth Airport Noise Management Committee about the changes. It is true that committee members knew the review had commenced but they were taken aback when the route changes were made unbeknown to them.

Equally surprised were Canning residents in Roleystone, Bedfordale, Mt Nasura and Mt Richon and suburbs along the Darling Range when planes started bearing down on them. What were relatively peaceful neighbourhoods are now drowned out by northern arrival aircraft and runways 03 and 06 departures as planes fly so low my constituents tell me they can see people sitting in their seats through their kitchen windows. ‘Residents of the Hills areas paid premium prices for peace and tranquillity which it appears is about to be taken away without any discussion with the local community,’ one Roleystone resident emailed me recently. Almost certainly, a one-page press release in November 2008 boldly announcing the changes did not make it into the local Canning newspapers that affected constituents read. In another sidestep, a letter to the member for Pearce on 4 August said details of consultation could not be released without the minister’s approval and such information was so ‘highly technical in nature and not readily understood by non-aviation personnel’. These games are patronising and absurd. We are not looking for the launch codes; we just want a simple list of dates, times and attendees. It is perfectly clear that Airservices are trying to play affected residents and those representing them for fools.

If these changes genuinely are for air safety purposes as recommended by ASA, people would have likely understood when a proper and detailed case was presented to them. Perth air traffic has increased by 60 per cent in the last five years and has already exceeded 2015 projections, so some re-routing could have been expected. But rightly what has people hot under the collar is that they were not given an opportunity to be heard, and now it seems those decision makers have washed their hands of the issue essentially telling the affected residents to like it or lump it. Perhaps unaware of Airservices’ line, I noted with interest the local newspaper The Armadale Examiner reported on 8 October that a spokesman for the transport minister, Mr Albanese, said consultation had been undertaken. I am still waiting for answers to questions on notice from the minister about this mysterious consultation process.

My constituents want answers. They want the minister to show them the same respect and consideration he showed his constituents in Grayndler when they were not notified about runway changes in 2007. My colleague the member for Swan has called for a noise insulation program for Perth, similar to the one operated in Sydney and Adelaide. Minister Albanese led the charge on this scheme around Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport and it is only fair that Perth residents get the same treatment.

ASA maintains that there has been a marginal increase in flights over the local Canning area and, believe it or not, the member for Armadale, in a bizarre comment, labelled the degree of the problem only ‘small’ and that there were ‘limited alternatives’. Perhaps they need to actually take on board what residents are saying. They should listen to Mr McEachram from Bedfordale who has constant interruption from low-flying aircraft. He says:

They have done this without consulting anybody at all. This is simply outrageous. Our Commonwealth aviation regulations should not permit an airport operator to behave in such an arrogant and high-handed manner.

Or listen to a Roleystone resident who said:

No consultation, no advertisement—apparently there was something in the paper but I wouldn’t have thought to going hunting for that type of information. To hear that we were consulted is appalling—it did not happen!

People near the Perth Airport buy their homes in good faith. As the Roleystone constituents were not consulted, in my limited time I would just like to say that the people of Perth deserved better. They deserved a better consultation process and Airservices Australia needs to come clean and tell the truth about their consultation process. (Time expired)

8:21 pm

Photo of Sharryn JacksonSharryn Jackson (Hasluck, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I can agree in some large part with the sentiments expressed in the resolution that has been put forward by the member for Pearce. I understand that the changes to aircraft routes are having an impact on some Hills residents due to an increase in traffic along those routes during the past few months. For many, particularly those who had experienced no aircraft noise, this is having a significant and deleterious impact on them and on their lifestyles. I also agree with some of the concerns that have been raised about the consultation process with residents prior to the implementation of the route review. I believe it was inadequate—a matter that I have raised with the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government asking for improved consultation processes in the future. I have also written to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority concerning the details of how consultation should occur when there is any review of aircraft routes. In addition to that, a number of steps are being taken by the local Perth Airport Aircraft Noise Management Consultative Committee to address these concerns.

It is clear that the consultation process was lacking, however unlike perhaps the member for Canning, I do accept that route amendments were required to deal with both congestion and with air safety concerns at Perth Airport. In the past five years there has been a 60 per cent increase in air traffic at Perth Airport. I was also informed, as a member of the Perth Airport Aircraft Noise Management Consultative Committee, that a situation had developed whereby aircraft were sharing two-way approach and departure routes, at times heading towards each other but at different heights. These conditions were clearly unsustainable and were a safety threat. It was to address these concerns that Airservices Australia was required to conduct a Western Australia Route Review Project, WARRP, which took place between 2006 and 2008. This resulted in the implementation of the route changes in November 2008.

As a member of parliament elected in November 2007, I was invited to join the Perth Airport Aircraft Noise Management Consultative Committee early in 2008—a situation I suspect is similar to that of the member for Swan. This committee is made up of representatives from local, state and federal governments, along with representatives of Perth Airport, Airservices Australia and local community groups. This committee meets three to four times a year and it is the role of elected officials to represent the views of their constituents regarding aircraft noise in those meetings. I have raised concerns similar to those that have been aired tonight in previous meetings and I will continue to do so.

By the time I joined the committee in 2008 the WARRP project was well under way. Unfortunately, the committee, in my opinion, had not been fully briefed about the impact of the review and certainly not in the three meetings that I attended. For example, we were given maps of where the new aircraft routes were likely to be but they did not include information regarding suburbs or the likely impact on noise levels. This is clearly unsatisfactory.

I do want to point out, though, that the consultation process was established by the previous government. So it is a bit rich for members of the opposition to be so critical of both the current government and the bureaucracy. Indeed, I wonder where the member for Pearce and the member for Canning were when the previous Liberal government decided to establish brickworks in the middle of a residential area, on airport land, which to this day continues to upset my constituents who have to live with the pollution. I wonder where the Liberal Party was when those decisions were being made.

This motion also ignores the current steps that have been taken by the government—in particular, the issues paper that was published early in April 2008, the substantial consultation that has taken place since then, the publication in December 2008 of the green paper on the future of the aviation industry in Australia and even greater community engagement and greater transparency in decision-making. I would urge them to become involved in that process because I think they can add value to that. In the meantime, it is important for both them and me to work together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that our constituents and their concerns are appropriately regarded by the relevant agencies and authorities.

8:26 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Pearce and the member for Canning for the opportunity to speak on this motion, and I also acknowledge the contributions of the members for Hasluck and Hindmarsh. I acknowledge the nine points in the member’s motion and support the member’s call to implement an inquiry and also to establish a nationally consistent approach to air traffic and changes to air flight paths with reference to noise abatement issues.

From the feedback I have received from local residents, it is quite clear that there have been substantial changes to aircraft traffic and noise in my electorate of Swan since November 2008. The changes were introduced by Airservices Australia, a department that reports directly to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. There was little consultation with the local community on these flight path changes. The changes were made and signed off by the minister without my local community being aware of the extent of the changes. Given this, the flight path changes should have been stopped by the minister when they were on his desk. Section 10 of the Air Services Act clearly states that there is a requirement to consult. The changes could also have been stopped by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, under section 160 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. That section states that, before a Commonwealth agency authorises ‘the adoption or implementation of a plan for aviation airspace management involving aircraft operations that have, will have or are likely to have a significant impact on the environment’, the plan must generally be referred to the environment minister for advice. However, neither minister has intervened and the result has been more frequent noise above households in my electorate of Swan. Residents continue to document noise changes in my aircraft noise survey, and I have seen figures from Airservices Australia that show dramatic yearly changes for a one month sample. However, almost one year on, despite all of this evidence, the minister has not done anything. He continues to talk about a white paper.

Given that the government is sticking by these changes by the ASA, I have suggested that the Commonwealth compensate affected residents. As members will know, I have been advocating an airport noise insulation scheme for Perth, similar to the ones that operate in Adelaide and Sydney. Insulating affected residents’ properties would be a good start and it will not cost this government a cent. The Sydney and Adelaide schemes were funded by a landing charge on aircraft tickets. Yet Minister Albanese has seemingly ruled this out too, effectively saying that Perth does not qualify for assistance because the ANF noise contours do not reach the required levels. He also stated that I was playing politics in a report by Lara Hines in the Southern Gazette. This misses the point. The fact is that significant changes have been made to aircraft flight paths without any community consultation. People who bought houses in areas where the noise was tolerable or where there was no aircraft noise now suddenly have to cope with more aircraft noise.

This was before my time, but the previous member for Swan made the comment:

While noise still remains an issue, one of the reasons concerns about noise are not quite as acute as they were is that the Labor Party has made commitments that homes dramatically affected by noise, such as those in Queens Road, would be eligible for assistance under a noise amelioration program such as that which operates in Sydney.

What were these commitments, Mr Deputy Speaker, and why isn’t the government honouring them? Is it because they were made in opposition? Let us not forget that Minister Albanese is the same member of parliament who, when in opposition, was a tireless advocate on airport noise in the Sydney area. The passion he showed for his electorate is just what I am doing for my electorate.

Photo of Arch BevisArch Bevis (Brisbane, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.