Senate debates

Thursday, 27 February 2020



5:52 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

The federal coalition government have introduced regulations into the parliament that will require security screening at regional airports. They've offered to pay for the equipment but not for the much more significant cost of the ongoing employment of security guards and, indeed, maintenance. I'm quite happy for there to be security screening at regional airports. If that's what Home Affairs says is required then that is what is required, but it must be the government that pay the cost. National security is a national responsibility, not a local council responsibility. It is the local councils that own the airports and will be charged this cost, and they, of course, will have to pass it on to passengers.

The former Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development did a case study on Whyalla—I'll just point out that Whyalla is serviced by both Rex Regional Express and Qantas—and found that the new requirement will increase a per person flight by $53 or $69. If the screening is only carried out on the Qantas passengers, the cost will be an extra $69. Now, clearly, if it costs an extra $69 to fly Qantas, fewer people are going to accept that option and, in fact, Qantas will end up pulling out of that route. If it's carried out on both Rex and Qantas passengers, the cost will be $53. This will just reduce people's willingness to fly. They'll go back on the roads.

In this instance, it'll reduce loadings on the aircraft and it will reduce the viability of the routes and again will result in flights being cut. So the two best options are that flights are cut or routes are cut completely. The government have botched this up. They've failed to do proper due diligence from the beginning and they're only now discovering what devastating impacts this proposal will have on regional communities. Whyalla and Port Lincoln will be seriously affected by this bungle. However, it is the thin end of the wedge—Kangaroo Island and Mount Gambier will likely be next.

When bureaucrats in the Canberra bubble first dreamed up this policy, they thought the annual operating costs of the equipment would be somewhere between $530,000 and $760,000. They were wrong. We now know that the numbers are something around $1.2 to $2 million. How do we know that? Because the RRAT committee conducted an inquiry and caught on to the idea that this was going to happen and asked a lot of questions. Amazingly, again, the government had done no analysis on the effect. I can tell you that regional air travel is the lifeblood of these regional cities. It's how people get to education services. It's how they get to medical services. It's how medical locums get into a local community. It's how we support agriculture, business and tourism. And it just allows families to travel to see one another. It is their lifeblood. If you start taking away flights, it will have an impact on communities. In the analysis, the department actually claim that the increased costs might not be passed directly on to ticket pricing. That just shows how hopelessly out of touch the government is. I can assure you that the costs will get passed on.

I have moved to disallow this regulation. The Senate will get to vote on this on 12 May this year. It's not just Whyalla that will be affected, and it is not just Port Lincoln. The department conducted case studies into other airports—Rockhampton, Geraldton, Wagga, Longreach and, indeed, Kangaroo Island, which is not even on the list. They're looking at that, and I'm now trying to get some more information on that. When this disallowance motion is voted on, it will be a real test for coalition senators who often claim to represent regional Australia. So I'm going to give them the opportunity to buck the system and vote with me on the disallowance.