AOPA Australia will open a campaign office in Wagga Wagga to take the fight for general aviation reform to the general public.
Wagga Wagga is in the electorate of Riverina, currently held by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack.
According to AOPA CEO Ben Morgan, the idea behind the field office is to recruit the people of Riverina to help lobby McCormack to make positive decisions to reform general aviation.
"This is now the battle for general aviation," Morgan told Australian Flying. "This is now the moment in time that we've been working for over the past 30 years. The industry has got to the point where its making a decision that we're making no ground, no progress towards meaningful reform and we have one option. If you can't get the minister to make a decision, if you can't get the minister's attention, the only other choice is to prosecute the argument to the people and let them decide the types of decisions that need to be made.
"The entire general aviation industry is at near-peak frustration. Decades have passed, associations have spent years lobbying government, lobbying CASA, lobbying ministers, and unfortunately we're having the same discussion we were having 20 years ago.
"AOPA's decision to come out and announce that we would set up a campaign office and take the fight to the electorate of Riverina is a direct reflection of the fact that we need to see action. We need to see political leadership, decision-making and support for the thousands of ordinary Australians who are working hard and are relying on general aviation to put food on the table, put their kids in school, to put rooves over their heads and have a superannuation fund available when they retire."
Morgan said he expected to be in Wagga Wagga this afternoon to meet with media and call for real estate agents to come forward with proposals for an AOPA office, which Morgan wanted to be large enough for the association to engage with the local membership and run events in the area.
Morgan said funding for the new office was to come from sponsors within the general aviation industry and a financial plan was currently being developed.
The Wagga Wagga office is part of a plan to always have an AOPA office in the electorate of the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, and AOPA is seeking terms that would give them the flexibility to relocate the office to other electorates should the minister be changed.
"It will be a challenge," Morgan said, "and given the number of ministers we've had over the past couple of years and the instability there's a high likelihood we could end up with another minister in another electorate. The purpose is to demonstrate to the government that AOPA believe it is vital that we have field office location that is always in the transport minister's electorate.
"Although it's a frustrating decision, it's a very sensible and measured decision."
Morgan was very quick to quash suggestions that the concept of having a presence in the minister's electorate was an aggressive move designed to hamper the minister in his efforts to get re-elected in next year's federal election and said that the idea was to maintain direct lines of communication to the minister.
"The whole idea is not to go there to create upset, it's not to go there and trash the minister, it's to go there and have the conversation with the people in the electorate of Riverina and have those people start to encourage their representative, who is in charge of aviation, to make the responsible decision," he said.
Morgan also said that it would actually be beneficial to the general aviation industry to see McCormack stay in the portfolio for an extended period.
"AOPA would like nothing more than to have some stability in the Minister for Transport that will give us the opportunity to get on with the task of getting these problems fixed. We need to support that, and AOPA is absolutely ready to work with the Deputy Prime Minister.
"We are fully committed to providing every resource we can to assist the Deputy Prime Minister to achieve the reforms and outcomes that are necessary to get this industry going."