The Senate yesterday voted against strong objections to the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 2019 raised by the Australian Greens.
The bill seeks to amend the Civil Aviation Act 1988 to ensure that CASA takes into account the impact of cost when making regulations, amendments which have support from both the Coalition government and the ALP opposition.
Speaking against the bill, Greens Senator Janet Rice from Victoria said her party considered the bill was risky.
"The Greens believe this is a dangerous bill," she told the Sentors. "This is a bill that would put at risk our aviation safety regime and, consequently, be putting at risk the lives of Australians.
"Taking account of the economic and the social costs of safety standards is, in fact, something that does need to be done. But it should not be done by CASA. CASA's remit is to be making recommendations on the basis of safety.
"It is up to us in the parliament, if we feel that there are other economic or social considerations that need to be taken into account, to make the judgement as to how those regulations should change and how CASA's recommendations maybe should change because of those economic or social considerations. It should not be the remit of CASA to be making those political judgements."
Senator Rice moved an amendment that would require the bill to be referred to a Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport committee inquiry, saying the Senate should know how the bill would effect the function of CASA and other impacts on aviation in Australia. The amendment was defeated 48-9.
"I am deeply disappointed," Senator Rice commented after the vote."There's probably nothing more that you will be able to tell me that will set my heart at rest that we are not undermining the safety standards of our civil aviation safety agency."
With both the government and the opposition in favour of the bill, it looks certain to pass through the Senate.
Speaking in favour of the bill, Labor's Senator Murray Watt said the bill was raised in response to industry concerns about over-regulation.
"Labor understands the importance of the aviation industry, especially in regional Australia," Watt said. "This bill takes a balanced approach between the need to protect the travelling public and, of course, ensuring the viability of the sector. This bill is in response to concerns from some in the general aviation sector who have been concerned that CASA's strong focus on safety has resulted in overregulation, which can be costly for small operators.
"This bill is about general aviation and balancing the critically important need for safety with making sure that the regulatory burden is not too great for small operators to bear."
Tasmanian Senator Jackie Lambie spoke in favour of the bill, stating that "When it comes to aviation safety, the safest passenger is the one that never gets in a plane in the first place. The easiest way to prevent aviation accidents is to shut down aviation altogether – if every plane is grounded, every plane is safe. Excessive regulation is doing just that – keeping planes safe by keeping planes grounded.
"This is all made possible by the rules around the regulator, CASA, which currently has to consider safety as the highest priority above all else. It is required to ignore other considerations like cost, as if it is unrelated."
In what seemed to be a concession to The Greens' concerns, Lambie proposed new wording, which was labeled as ambiguous by two other senators and ultimately defeated in a vote.
The strongest proponent of the bill was Centre Alliance's Senator Rex Patrick, with support from the Liberal Party's Senator David Fawcett.
"Unfortunately, we've now reached the situation where—Senator Rice is talking about aircraft not flying to rural areas," Senator Patrick said. "They're not flying to rural areas because there are no pilots anymore. There are no planes because everyone has been priced out of the market ...
"It's not because they're unsafe; it is simply because of the overburden of regulation that CASA imposes upon general aviation. I'm sure if you put all of the documentation that you require to be able to fly into the back of your Cessna it simply wouldn't take off it would be so heavy.
"To be very clear: the United States and other countries have much slimmer sets of regulations, but they also have much more traffic flying in their airspace and in much harsher conditions. Australia is blessed in many senses because it always has relatively good weather. We don't have to worry about significant storms or de-icing aircraft before we take off. We've got a relatively safe environment compared to other nations that have regard to the fostering of the industry.
"That has not been happening here, and it hasn't been happening here because of the legislation."
"Back when David Forsyth ran the inquiry into Australia's safety regulation for aviation, I worked with former Minister Truss, travelling much of Australia, speaking at many of the same forums and getting feedback from people," Senator Fawcett said.
"One of the issues that was raised consistently was that there were multiple occurrences where the requirements of CASA were bureaucratically correct but didn't actually have a safety outcome. In some cases, advice was given by CASA to industry which they didn't follow through because they basically didn't care about the economic impact.
"The desire is not to provide an avenue for someone to say, 'We think that's going to lose us some profits, so we're not going to do it,' but for them to actually say 'Can we achieve the same safety standard and take account of the economics for a small business?' That was the intent that came out of the Forsyth review and the associated discussions, and has bounced around now for a number of years.
"I'm very pleased to see that the opposition has been able to work with the government to come up with a form of words that makes sure that we keep companies viable, because I've got to say: a safe company is a viable company."
The bill has now been sent for a Third Reading without being amended.