Wednesday, 6 December 2017
I rise tonight to talk about the importance of regional airports to communities across Western Australia and Australia. Regional airports are the vital link of many communities to health services, to loved ones, to education, to jobs, to business opportunities and to leading the sorts of lives and accessing the sorts of services that many in urban areas take for granted. There are some 2,000 landing strips in rural and regional Australia, 360,000 flights per year and around 25 per cent of the total number of flights are to regional Australia. Fifteen million passengers access these services every year. There are huge challenges to be faced by regional airports, particularly the smaller airports. Costs of maintenance are high and increasing. Passenger and flight numbers do not always increase at the same rate. Costs for airports are estimated to increase by over 40 per cent over the next 10 years. Many airports have ageing infrastructure. Some infrastructure dates from World War II. These are the unique challenges of regional areas.
Regular air services into smaller regional communities bring huge benefits. They bring enhanced access to health services. There are more than 6,000 patient transfers and 6,000 emergency evacuations every year. They bring access to educational services, to business and to recreational opportunities. They bring economic development and they bring tourism. They enable older Australians to remain in their local community yet be part of the wider community. They obviously provide critical access and support in times of natural disaster.
The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee recently commenced an inquiry into the operation, regulation and funding of air route service delivery to rural, regional and remote communities, with particular reference to the social and economic impacts of air route supply and airfare pricing; different legal, regulatory, policy and pricing frameworks and practices across the Commonwealth, states and territories; how airlines determine fair pricing; the determination of airport charges for landing and security fees, aircraft type, customer demand; as well as a range of other matters.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be at the Norseman airstrip with the member for O'Connor, Rick Wilson. The Shire of Dundas intended to upgrade Norseman airstrip to allow the RFDS to land in all weather—not possible at present. If there was too much rain, the airstrip had to be closed down. The plan was to raise the airstrip, I believe, around a metre and, by doing so, enable the RFDS to land there throughout the year. This is an airstrip that is basically used by people travelling the Nullarbor. Obviously, it also helps the locals, but this is an emergency airstrip, largely used in the situation of traffic accidents. Two hundred and fifty thousand tonnes of rock was donated by a nearby mine to enable the construction and lift the airstrip by a metre.
The state Labor McGowan government wanted to charge the shire $182,500 in royalties on this rock—rock that was donated to the Shire of Dundas. The minister, Bill Johnston, said in a letter, 'I do not believe there are special circumstances that would warrant a royalty rebate in this situation.' So, no royalty rebate—$182,500 for a small regional shire to upgrade an airstrip that is used primarily for emergency services. The local member, the member for O'Connor, Rick Wilson, demonstrating what an outstanding local member he is, worked with government to help secure local residents and travellers access to those essential air services by gaining access to money to pay that royalty. I congratulate Rick Wilson for doing so.
There have also been a number of other regional air services funded by the government: the Walpole airport has had upgrades to its runways of $75,000; Ravensthorpe has had resealing of its runways, aprons and taxiways of just under $270,000; and Derby has had around $5 million under the National Stronger Regions Fund. We also heard recently of a private sector voluntary concession from Qantas for residents around seven airports in northern Western Australia—and that's thanks to the wonderful work of the member for Durack, Melissa Price. I encourage all those across regional Western Australia who have a clear interest in ensuring vital air links into their communities to submit to the Senate inquiry.
Senate adjourned at 19:54