The announcement that John McCormick is departing CASA in August will have several identities within aviation punching the air. McCormick has–rightly or wrongly–come to symbolise all the problems the industry has with its regulator. Therefore, his departure is also seen as being crucial to the solution.
For sure, McCormick continuing in the job would have been awkward after the Senate referred him to the Australian Federal Police over the Pel-Air investigation, so his leaving CASA is the best resolution for everyone involved: himself, CASA, the Senate and the aviation industry.
Also, the industry was watching nervously to see if McCormick's contract would be renewed. The outcome was held up as an indicator of whether or not the Aviation Safety Regulation Review was a serious attempt to get to the bottom of the way CASA is run, or just another coat of political paint from the same brush that gave us the White Paper. And so, with his departure, the aviation industry will get what it wanted.
Or will it?
It is far too simplistic to say everything will be sweet with a change in Director, because to do so is to infer that the total collapse of CASA's relationship with industry was his doing and his doing alone. Where that contention falls down is when we consider the tenure of his predecessor, Bruce Byron. The dysfunction was evident back then, and many in the industry cheered with gusto when he was replaced with John McCormick. Clearly, serious issues preceded the McCormick years.
Five years later and we're not only off the McCormick bandwagon, but also cheering just as heartily for a new top dog at CASA ... again. And if this change is the only one that happens, in five years time we will be opening our lungs to get rid of the next Director as well.
The problem the aviation industry has with CASA goes deeper than just the person at the top of the hierarchy chart; it penetrates deep in to the middle management level, and replacing the Director will work only if the embedded culture of those below is rooted out as well.
You can cut the top off the blackberry bush as often as you like, but unless you dig the roots out of the ground the dreaded prickles will come back again and again and again.
We're talking about a culture of punishment rather than encouragement, a determination to be proven right regardless of the cost to tax payers, regulatory reform that has dragged on for an unacceptable time, micro-management, bum-covering and–to some extent–incompetence or a lack of expertise.
Trust, respect and integrity have been eroded, and will erode further should the new person at the head of CASA be unable to change the culture for the better. But given that good men have failed before, what will the incoming director be able to do that others have not? How do we squeeze the CASA bureaucracy so much it changes shape?
History has a parallel from the early days of the colony of New South Wales. The rampant, powerful New South Wales Corps controlled the fledgling society for their own benefit, and for all their authority from London, Governors Hunter, King and Bligh had all failed to drag the Corps into line.
After the soldiers rebelled against Governor Bligh's attempts to restrict the Corp's influence, they arrested him and seized power themselves. The incident has become known as the Rum Rebellion because of the Corp's control over the liquor trade.
Given that replacing Governors had not worked in the past, London sought a permanent solution. In analogy, they decided to uproot the blackberry.
They sent a new Governor, army officer Major Lachlan Macquarie to oust the rebels and restore power to the crown. But, most importantly, they also sent the troops he commanded, the 73rd Regiment of Foot. The regiment replaced the NSW Corps, and because they were loyal to their commander, order was restored, the power of the NSW Corps collapsed and vested interest had to yield to proper leadership and benevolent autocracy.
With the NSW Corps broken and its leaders–including John Macarthur and Major George Johnston–in Britain defending themselves to the crown, Macquarie set about advancing the colony. He laid out the streets of Sydney again, established a bank and currency and set about a building program that included roads, bridges, a lighthouse and barracks.
He also authorised Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth to cross the Blue Mountains and is credited with being the first person to use the term "Australia" in an official capacity.
Macquarie grew the colony into what it should always have been, and he did it because he had a mandate from his superiors to deal with the NSW Corps and they gave him the tool to do it: his own regiment.
That's what the aviation industry needs the new Director of Aviation Safety to have: a clear direction to clean-up the culture at CASA and the tools to do it with. At recent industry meetings several people stressed to Senator David Fawcett the impact of the middle-management culture on the industry and the ramifications if the new Director came from the ranks of the current CASA cadre.
After the arrest of Bligh, Johnston made himself Lieutenant-Governor of NSW and the problem only deepened until Macquarie and the 73rd arrived. Likewise, if the new Director is already part of the current culture, the rift between CASA and the aviation industry will also deepen and the industry will be stifled rather than given a chance to flourish.
The new person needs to come with intelligence, passion, heart and integrity; with no qualms about what needs to be done and a clear mandate to get on with it.
It's just a pity Lachlan Macquarie died in 1824 ... he would have made a great CASA Director.