House debates

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Aviation

2:09 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development. Will the Deputy Prime Minister inform the House how the McCormack-Morrison government is supporting jobs in the aviation industry through the COVID-19 pandemic?

2:10 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I do thank the member for New England for his question and acknowledge his representation of regional Australia. At the outset of COVID-19 the aviation sector was hit first and hit hardest. At one stage domestic passenger numbers fell from more than a million per week to around 30,000, and domestic flights from 13,000 weekly flights to just 400. As a result of COVID-19 the aviation sector has experienced a 98 per cent downturn. On Easter Sunday last year Brisbane Airport handled 39½ thousand passengers, but just 31 passengers on the same holiday this year. These figures are stark. They are real.

Job losses have been significant. We know that any job loss is tough. Every Australian who has lost their job through COVID-19 is at the front of our minds as we put in place the measures to address the health pandemic, and, certainly, to address the issues around the economy and workers. We acted quickly. Our continued assistance measures are designed to maintain employment and crucial services around the sector. I'm in daily communication with members of the aviation sector. Planes in the air equals jobs on ground.

Recently, there was a ludicrous situation at the Queensland and New South Wales border, prohibiting critical staff from travelling to Ballina airport. One Gold Coast aviation firefighter employed at the airport was told by Queensland border officials that he would need to isolate for 14 days after every shift—every shift! The pathway forward for aviation begins with a targeted and pragmatic approach to the opening of borders—not after election day on 31 October but right now. Border closures hurt aviation and they especially hurt the tourism industry.

To date, we've invested more than $1.3 billion in sector-wide assistance for aviation through various measures, like the $715 million airline assistance package to provide immediate and significant relief from fees and waivers. There are two regional aviation support packages: Regional Airline Network Support and the Regional Airlines Funding Assistance package, which totals $298 million to assist 16 regional airlines. Many of those are taking PPE, respiratory devices and other equipment—face masks and, perhaps most importantly, frontline medical personnel—to regional and remote centres which would otherwise not see a regular flight, or any flight at all. From this package, for the member of New England's electorate we've secured eight weekly flights from Tamworth and six weekly flights from Armidale. The Regional Airline Network Support program is currently supporting up to 269 returned services to 110 regional or remote locations across Australia. This is important support. We appreciate the fact that aviation has been hit very, very hard. We will continue to discuss these issues with members of the sector and continue to provide the measures that we need to.