• Parliament House in Canberra (Steve Hitchen)
    Parliament House in Canberra (Steve Hitchen)

CASA Director of Flight Safety John McCormick has been questioned by a Senate estimate committee over the cost of legal action taken over Polar Aviation and the way the affair was handled.

Port Hedland, WA, operator Polar Air and CASA have been at war since an audit in May 2006, after which CASA suspended Polar’s flying school AOC and canceled the approval of CFI Clark Butson. Butson has since maintained that CASA and its officials breached obligations under the Commonweath Authorities and Companies Act 1997. The matter has been in and out of appeal courts and tribunals ever since, with allegations CASA has intentionally drawn-out the case.

In the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee hearing on May 23, WA Senator Alan Eggleston called for Mr McCormick to declare the total cost of action taken.

Referring to an answer CASA provided previously, Senator Eggleston said: “You provided a written answer in response to those questions, and I have had a response from Clark Butson, who is the owner of Polar Aviation. In brief, he says that what CASA is suggesting—that it paid a total of $65,305 in legal fees since the audit that started this chain of events on 14 May 2006, now over eight years ago—is not a complete answer. He says that you correctly admitted there was a payment to Polar Aviation of $30,929 in your unsuccessful appeal in the Federal Court, which he says would bring the total up to $96,234 spent.

“Overall, I am very interested in pursuing this matter because this has gone on for a long time and there are quite serious issues about the way CASA has engaged with Polar Aviation.”

In reply, Mr McCormick stated: “The answer to question 25 on notice had the rolled up amounts for all our legal services in it. We will take those questions on notice.”

Senator Eggleston then addressed CASA’s methods when dealing with Polar.

“[Clark Butson] says that you have ignored Administrative Appeal Tribunal findings, ignored court findings and sought to prolong this case deliberately to exhaust his financial reserves. He says: 'CASA has in the past treated this matter with total contempt,' and, 'It is about time this nonsense stopped and that CASA was made properly accountable for their outrageous behaviour'. He has a different point of view to you, as I said at the last estimates hearings. I will pursue this matter on Mr Butson's behalf until we get some satisfactory answers.”

Mr McCormick: “Certainly. But I do reject most of what Mr Butson has said. In actual fact, CASA applied to have a strike-out application in the Federal Court on January 2011. On 30 September 2011 the court struck out the FASC in its entirety. In summary, the court found the action as pleaded by Polar and Mr Butson either did not properly identify a known cause of action or is otherwise unsustainable.”

Senator Eggleston continued:As I said, there is a huge difference of opinion about the way you have treated Polar and Polar's view of this matter. We will continue to raise these matters in this forum until there is some satisfactory resolution.”

The matter is far from over, with further legal action to be heard shortly, accompanied by a legal bill to Butson estimated at another $50,000. No doubt Senator Eggleston will be back on the trail next time the estimates committee meets.

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