Thursday, 10 December 2020
Aviation Legislation Amendment (Liability and Insurance) Bill 2020; Second Reading
Firstly, I'll frame the context for the Aviation Legislation Amendment (Liability and Insurance) Bill 2020. The Australian government is examining options to further support and strengthen the aviation industry to manage the current impacts of the COVID-19 downturn, support the recovery and look at pathways for longer-term recovery. The Australian government has clear long-term objectives for aviation—namely, a competitive and efficient aviation sector; a safe, secure and environmentally sustainable aviation sector, ensuring minimum access to essential aviation services. Delivering against these objectives during this period of upheaval and uncertainty requires leadership and planning. Informed by the submission on the issues paper and ongoing consultation with industry, the Australian government will release its five-year plan for aviation in 2021. The plan will set out a program of longer term reforms to help deliver against these objectives and assist the sector to return to strength and stability. The government's support helps not only Australia's airlines but the broader aviation industry, regional Australia and other industries, such as tourism and time-sensitive trade, which depend heavily on aviation.
The Liberal-National government has introduced legislation to provide greater protection for the rights and entitlements of the Australian flying public, as well as greater certainty for air carriers. The aviation legislation amendment bill is to amend the Civil Aviation (Carriers' Liability) Act 1959 to increase the cap on carriers' liability for the death or bodily injury of passengers on domestic flights from $725,000 to $995,000, as well as the corresponding level of insurance required to reflect the rate of inflation, and to increase liability for the destruction or loss of registered baggage from $900 to $3,000 and non-registered baggage from $90 to $300. The bill will enable the quantum of mandatory insurance to be increased by regulation. The bill will create a mechanism to broaden the capture of risks that carriers are required to insure so as to potentially include war risks. Currently, similar to international air carriage, a domestic carrier is liable for damages sustained by reason of the death of a passenger, or bodily injury suffered by a passenger, resulting from an accident. Finally, this bill will make technical amendments clarifying that carriers, servants and agents of the carrier share the same scope of liability.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development , Michael McCormack, said: 'The cap in compensation and minimum insurance coverage has not increased since 2013, so these liability limits and associated insurance requirements need to be increased to ensure they keep up with inflation and continue to meet community expectations.' Thanks to this legislation, the Australian government will in future more easily be able to increase both the liability caps and minimum insurance amounts through regulation. The proposed amendments include the ability to ensure liability caps and required insurance amounts can be increased more efficiently when it is appropriate to do so. This could potentially be achieved through automatic indexation, meaning we can respond more dynamically to the needs of both the community and industry.
While air accidents rarely happen, it's important to ensure that Australians are covered in the event of an emergency. Overall, the amendments in this bill will further protect the rights and entitlements of the Australian public and the carriers involved in or affected by air accidents. The government intends to consult further on additional changes to the Civil Aviation (Carriers' Liability) Act 1959 in some of the aforementioned areas and other issues in the next financial year. The Australian government is committed to maintaining both the integrity and the great reputation of Australia's airlines. This is another example of the Australian government continuing to work closely with the aviation industry as it faces so many ongoing challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. With those comments, I commend the bill to the House.
The Aviation Legislation Amendment (Liability and Insurance) Bill 2020 will update Australia's civil aviation carriers' liability and insurance framework by increasing the minimum insurance requirement to support associated increases to carriers' liability caps. It also provides regulation-making powers to implement an improved mechanism for updating liability caps and insurance requirements and provides increased clarity on potentially ambiguous provisions in the founding law.
Labor supports this bill, as it takes a sensible approach to increasing the liability limits for Australia's domestic airlines. This framework recognises the unique risks associated with civil aviation. Of course, damages claims in the aviation environment are complex. For this reason, successive Australian governments have implemented a strict liability system for domestic travel that imposes liability on the carrier regardless of fault, negligence or intention while setting a maximum cap that the carrier can be liable for. But with Australia's aviation sector so dramatically disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis we need to do everything we can to maintain and grow consumer confidence in our airlines. I represent the community that has Australia's largest airport in Kingsford Smith airport. Since COVID-19 has hit, the airport community and the employees at the airport, close to 30,000 of them, have been devastated by the downturn in business. When you go to Sydney airport, it's a ghost town. It's been a ghost town. We need to do all we can to ensure that that industry gets back on its feet as quickly as it possibly can.
While procedural in nature, this bill will strengthen the liability and insurance systems applying to our civil aviation sector. Where possible, we take a bipartisan approach to aviation matters and recognise the important role that aviation plays in the lives of Australians, particularly those in our regions. It's an essential industry in Australia as we continue to recover from the crisis, and we will rely upon workers getting into the air as the economy gets off the ground. But we're deeply concerned about the impacts that the response to COVID-19 has had on the aviation sector and its loyal workers. The necessary travel restrictions imposed by governments to limit the spread of COVID-19 have brought our aviation industry to its knees. Around 45,000 people work directly for airlines in Australia, and hundreds of thousands more jobs rely on a strong aviation sector.
But, instead of developing a plan for aviation, the Morrison government has denied support for airports. It denied JobKeeper to dnata workers and failed to act as Qantas sacked thousands of workers. What are those opposite doing to protect workers' jobs in the aviation sector? The answer to that is not much. The Morrison government's not done much to stop Qantas getting rid of its workforce and replacing them with a foreign corporation with workers on lower wages and conditions. This government has stood by and allowed Qantas to sack 2,500 of its loyal ground staff, many of whom had worked for the airline for decades. Qantas has been able to pocket close to $800 million in JobKeeper payments and yet it is allowed to sack its workers during this period while still receiving JobKeeper and to bring in a foreign corporation on lower wages and conditions.
How is that supporting the aviation sector in Australia? How is that supporting aviation workers in this country during this difficult period? Qantas was once a national carrier that we could all be proud of, but now, given what it's done to Australian workers, many are starting to question that loyalty to Qantas. As I said, it's taken around $800 million in taxpayer funds during this COVID crisis. JobKeeper was put in place through Labor's urging as a wage subsidy. It's meant to be there to protect jobs. It's not there for a corporation to exploit for its own means. In Qantas doing what it's done to those workers it has sold out those Australian workers' jobs. On the 100th anniversary of the airline, it's almost impossible to believe that this airline that once was government owned would pocket $800 million worth of subsidies from the government and yet be allowed to get away with sacking its workers. That is not in the interests of the aviation sector. That is not in the interests of Australian workers. Yet this government, the Morrison government, allows them to get away with it.
The worst thing is that the Prime Minister is the member of parliament in this place that has the most Qantas workers living in his electorate and area. He won't even meet with them. He won't even meet with those workers who've lost their jobs and are now really doing it tough during a pandemic and struggling with the prospect of not being able to find work in the short term. It's a once-in-a-century pandemic. Why won't this government do more to support our aviation workers when they need it most?
The government did provide support for Rex, despite that being a majority foreign owned airline, while refusing to do the same for Virgin. Virgin entered voluntary administration, with 16,000 employees and contractors in our tourism and regional economies being affected. So Labor is calling on the government to consider making an equity injection into Virgin. We're also calling on the government to make sure that they develop a plan for aviation, not just for the short term but for the longer term in Australia, and to do more to protect those aviation workers' jobs.
I thank honourable members for their contribution to the discussion of the Aviation Legislation Amendment (Liability and Insurance) Bill 2020. This bill forms part of the government's commitment to protect the rights and entitlements of the Australian flying public and provide greater certainty for air carriers. The amendments in this bill will assist to further protect the rights and entitlements of the Australian public and the carriers involved in or affected by air accidents. I commend the bill to the House.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Ballarat has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Question agreed to.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.