Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Airservices Australia; Consideration

4:01 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the Airservices Australia annual report. There are several important issues that are canvassed in this annual report, and one is the extremely concerning cultural issues in relation to Airservices Australia. The Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport has been considering this issue—in fact, a private briefing on it is about to begin right now—but that's definitely not the end of the story.

In talking tonight I want to recognise the important work on this issue that's been done by the unions, in advocating for the workers and for safe workplaces. We've heard so much this week about unsafe workplaces here in parliament. Everyone deserves a safe workplace, no matter where they work. We've heard accounts from the management of Airservices Australia of the steps they're taking, but the crucial thing is the implementation—the environment they create and whether people actually feel safe after these processes have been implemented. It's a central issue for every worker in Airservices Australia, because they deserve a safe workplace and they deserve to be supported in their work. In turn, of course, it matters for every one of us who catches a plane. So much of what Airservices Australia does is behind the scenes, but getting it right is crucial for the safety of planes and passengers.

I turn to another matter raised in the annual report, which is the important issue of aircraft noise. For many years I've been hearing the accounts of concerned groups around the country about the impact of noise from aircraft. It's precisely for that reason that I introduced the Air Services Amendment Bill in 2018. As I said when I introduced that bill:

… community members and groups have raised with me their frustration at the lack of clarity when it comes to which authority (or authorities) is responsible for response and action.

The rules that govern flight paths and community consultation are written for businesses and operators, not for the communities that live with aircraft noise every day.

Sadly, based on what we hear from those who are still impacted by the noise of flights around airports, it's still the case.

We urge government to take practical action. The bill that I introduced is there, it's ready, and it could be debated and implemented by the end of the year if the government wanted to do it. I want to thank the many community groups around the country who have organised and are working to make their voices heard. The work they do is so important. It's only through communities standing up and pressuring their politicians that we're going to see some action.

In this report, the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman notes that over the past 18 months Airservices have improved their community engagement capacity but they are 'facing serious challenges posed by the major airport infrastructure developments planned for the next decade'. The report acknowledges:

Airservices will need to ensure its evolving approach to community engagement allows flight paths and other airspace changes to be designed with a more internally integrated approach that involves community engagement from the beginning, and a more collaborative approach …

So we've got a recognition of the problem—that's a good start—but I'm yet to be convinced. The proof of the pudding is going to be in the eating as to whether this more collaborative and consultative approach actually gives communities power to influence the level of noise around their homes, which has such an impact on their quality of life.

Another issue raised in this report that is of relevance is the scandal of the land purchase at the Leppington Triangle. We now know that the department ignored the impact of noise controls when requesting the valuation. So we think some of the work that's been done on aircraft noise for Western Sydney Airport definitely deserves further scrutiny, and we're going to be seeking further information on where corners may have been cut.

This annual report captures the preceding year for Airservices Australia and highlights real issues of concern. Culture is an important and ongoing central issue that needs future work, and we want to hear more from Airservices about how they are protecting the rights of people who live near airports and how they are making sure those people's voices are heard and really listened to.

I want to conclude by noting that I've written to the Deputy Prime Minister about plane safety and adequate support for aviation firefighters where planes have been grounded in the pandemic. It's another important issue and is reflective of the range of issues that are covered by the operation of aircraft across Australia. This parliament needs to be paying more attention to making sure things are being done appropriately. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.