November 24, 2015
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Assistant Minister for Defence) (19:52): It is my great pleasure to join the debate on the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Cargo) Bill 2015. I congratulate the member for Lyons on his contribution. I listened with great interest; I always listen with great interest when my southern colleagues from Tasmania have something to say. We are almost neighbours; only Bass Strait stands between us.
Mr Hutchinson: Indeed!
Mr CHESTER: You live in a particularly beautiful part of Australia, and I look forward to visiting in the near future.
The Australian government clearly has a key responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Australians and Australian interests. Also, most obviously, the federal government has a responsibility in relation to international trade and our nation’s economic links, and this government, to its great credit, has put jobs and economic security, along with national security, at the very core of its being. From time to time—and I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker Irons, you have experienced it yourself in your own beautiful electorate in Western Australia—there is some level of confusion amongst perhaps primary school or secondary school students or even some constituents who are not entirely sure what level of government is responsible for each particular area of public interest in Australia. But there is no confusion whatsoever when it comes to state and federal responsibilities for international trade or national security or defence more generally. So it is with great pleasure that I participate in tonight’s debate, because it deals directly with issues relating to safety and security as well as our trade interests in a global sense.
Safety and security through our airports, whether through the safety of passengers on board aircraft, which the member for Lyons referred to previously, or cargo and freight screening more generally, has been an area that has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support in this place. Understandably, no government, whether of the Labor Party persuasion or from the Liberal-Nationals coalition, would seek to score political points on issues of aviation security. So I am pleased that this is a non-controversial piece of legislation that has the support of those opposite and obviously has the support of the Liberal and Nationals parties.
I do note and commend the previous government’s work in the area of aviation security screening procedures, where it did make some changes as they became necessary. No government necessarily knows in advance what is going to be expected of it in a changing security environment or in response to requests made by some of our trading partners. While responding to the circumstances and conditions in which we live and maintaining the safety of the passengers and crews on commercial flights is one of those critical issues, we must also provide the same level of security to our cargo operations.
I commend the Minister for Transport and my colleague the Leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss, on bringing this legislation to the chamber, because it provides some certainty for Australian businesses operating in an international environment. A recent re-evaluation of Australia’s air cargo security arrangements to the United States determined that they do not meet the required standards. The United States—obviously one of our nation’s most important trading partners and one of our most strategic alliances in terms of the defence force, in which I am directly engaged, and with whom we have a highly valued relationship—requires, by law, that all airlines transporting cargo on passenger flights must examine 100 per cent of that air cargo at piece level.
Thus the coalition government, with the support of those opposite, introduced this bill, the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Cargo) Bill 2015). The bill will ensure that Australian air cargo meets the security requirements for air cargo exports to the United States in the future. This will mean, quite importantly, that each individual item of freight, whether a box, a carton or another item in a shipment, must be examined by technology or physically inspected before it is loaded onto a United States bound aircraft. And as the member for Lyons quite correctly indicated in his contribution here this evening, there are options for how you fulfil those legislative requirements.
The amendments proposed in the bill before the House this evening support our efforts to meet the US security requirements. Importantly, the government is not acting alone in this regard. We are partnering with industry to implement the new security requirements over the coming years. The strategy, as we have heard this evening, has two distinct elements which will allow exporters to choose the most effective method for their individual businesses. There will be the opportunity for an off-airport examination of cargo by approved freight forwarding businesses and also the establishment of what is called a known consignor scheme that export businesses can join.
The first part of the strategy is already being implemented, with a number of businesses examining cargo at piece level by X-ray before it gets to the airport cargo terminal, therefore removing the need for screening at the airport. The second part of the strategy is being supported by amendments in the bill which create the legal authority for the establishment of the known consignor scheme. As I said, the government has an ongoing commitment to ensuring the safety and security of Australians and Australian interests. We also remain committed to maintaining and growing Australia’s international trade interests. On that point, without any hesitation I indicate that the current government, the government for the past two years, under the prime ministership of Tony Abbott and now under the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull and the leadership shown by Andrew Robb, the trade minister, has been very successful in negotiating trade outcomes with China, Japan and Korea, which are of particular importance to my electorate and I am sure yours in Western Australia, Mr Deputy Speaker Irons. The three free trade agreements—but, more specifically, the Chinese free trade agreement—are of great benefit to the dairy sector in Gippsland.
It may not be well known, but the dairy industry in Gippsland produces in the order of 23 per cent of Australia’s total dairy product. There is an ongoing argument between myself and the member for Wannon over which electorate produces the most of Australia’s total dairy productions. It turns out they both produce 23 per cent, which is somewhat disappointing for myself and the member for Wannon as we are competitive in a whole range of pursuits, from marathon running through to our praise of our own electorates, and it turns out we have tie on this occasion.
The free trade agreement negotiated with China is going to be very significant for the Australian dairy industry. A few weeks ago I had the great opportunity of attending a suppliers meeting, held by Murray Goulburn, in my electorate on the banks of the Snowy River at Marlo. The chief executive officer of Murray Goulbourn, Gary Helou, was particularly enthusiastic in his praise of the government’s ability to negotiate a trade agreement with China which will provide enormous opportunities for Murray Goulburn into the future. I raise that point in relation to tonight’s debate regarding aviation cargo freight security for a very important reason: the dairy industry is changing. It has been very much a community based industry, with bulk product through the Port of Melbourne, but there are ambitions within the dairy sector to grow the ready-to-eat food products which will have a high yield, particularly into Asian markets and into markets where we have a growing middle class which values very highly the Australian product. I believe there will be more opportunities in the future to transport the dairy products through the aviation sector.
It is important that we get our security arrangements right, and that is why tonight’s bill is significant for the people of Gippsland, even though we do not have an airport of that capacity at the moment. That is something that we are aiming to address. I thank the minister for transport who was in Gippsland last week. He is a keen aviation enthusiast and he took the opportunity to come to Gippsland and inspect and officially open some improvements to the Latrobe Valley airport. It was a significant occasion. It means the Latrobe Valley is now well set up to become more of an aviation hub into the future. I congratulate the minister for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to visit Gippsland and gain a firsthand appreciation of the local community’s interest in growing its aviation infrastructure, but also in looking for opportunities to further boost my region’s economy.
The project we unveiled was a $4.24 million project. It involved $3 million worth of federal government funding, plus some assistance from the Victorian state government. It created more than 100 jobs during the construction phase. It is important because the Gippsland region is home to, I think, the only manufacturer of commercial aircraft in Australia, GippsAero, which has been producing the GA8 Airvan, known as the ‘Ute of the Sky’ for its capacity to carry a significant amount of cargo. It is manufactured right alongside the Latrobe Valley airport, which was upgraded with that federal and state government funding. The extent of the upgrade was very significant: it allowed for improved lighting, which is obviously significant in the aviation sector; it allowed for the development of additional aircraft hangars; and also allowed for infrastructure to support the manufacturing, as I referred to, and the emergency services which operate out of the airport.
We saw bushfires in the Gippsland region only last week. The capacity to base firefighting aircraft in the Latrobe Valley, in a central location, is critical. We rely very heavily on our aerial firefighting capacity and without the Latrobe Valley airport we would be in a very difficult circumstance. We have, quite possibly, the most important infrastructure in Victoria with the Latrobe Valley power stations, and we have the Australian Paper Mill, all located in close proximity of the Latrobe Valley airport. All those assets are exposed to the threat of bushfire and it is important to be able to rapidly deploy aerial firefighting aircraft, and that is one of the great advantages of having a centrally located airport like Latrobe Valley airport. I really appreciate the efforts made by the previous government in supporting some funding upgrades, the current government for actually delivering on those upgrades and the Victorian coalition government, which provided $1.24 million for the project as well.
I mentioned the Gippsland Airvan and it is appropriate to reflect a little bit further on that particular aircraft in the context of tonight’s debate because the aviation sector is a critical part of regional Australia. Obviously we have a vast country and the tyranny of distance often works against us, but the capacity to move freight in a rapid manner and to move it safely, as described in this bill, is extraordinarily important to us, whether it is in the cities or in regional areas like Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley. I am very proud to have an aircraft manufacturer operating out of my electorate. It is based in the Latrobe Valley and it started in the 1970s. It was founded by Peter Furlong and George Morgan, and has been going ever since. There have been some ups and downs—and that was not meant to be a pun about aircraft. There have been times when production has been strong and there have been times during the global financial crisis when demand for aircraft dropped dramatically and the company was struggling to maintain its strong presence in the Latrobe Valley. The Airvan 8 and the Airvan 10, which are produced in Gippsland, have been very important for the rural and regional communities because of their capacity to deliver a large payload into some of the smaller regional strips. The company has seen some great growth in the GA8 Airvan since December 2000 and it is now under the ownership of Mahindra Airspace, an Indian based company, but it still employs a significant number of people in Latrobe Valley. That capacity to operate on short airstrips, in pretty basic conditions, for freight and passenger transport is a selling point that the Airvan relies very heavily on. It also has had some success in terms of sales into many parts of the Pacific and throughout Europe and the United States. It is a terrific aircraft for surveillance and it is a terrific aircraft for skydiving and for general aviation. I am keen to see opportunities for the aviation sector to grow in Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley and the key to that will be GippsAero and the work we do in partnership with Latrobe City Council on Latrobe Valley airport.
As I said, it is with pleasure that I join tonight’s debate, and I take this opportunity to congratulate the government on acting in an appropriate manner in relation to two of the most critical issues that face our nation today. Safety and security—and national security more specifically—are things that we in this place all take very seriously, and that was brought home to us recently with the attacks in Paris and the attack on the Russian airliner.
Aviation security screening procedures, whether they be for the safety of passengers or that of the crews associated with cargo operations, are critical, and I think the measures in this bill will serve our nation well in the future. I congratulate the minister on the work he is doing in this regard and I commend the bill to the House.