The good fortune of Queensland Coroner, Michael Barnes, in having Sydney barrister Ian Harvey as assisting counsel should be on display today on Day 2 of the inquest into the deaths of 15 people in the Lockhart River air crash of 7 May 2005.

Harvey yesterday opened proceedings with an invocation of what might have happened if only the latest ground proximity warning system had been fitted to the doomed Transair turbo prop.

Perhaps Harvey is saving for later his assistance as to what happened in the real world, in terms of what the Civil Aviation Safety Authority succeeded or failed in  diligent oversight of Transair’s operations.

And he should be eminently qualified to understand CASA’s processes, having been paid $475,436 before GST by the regulator since 1 July, 2002, to represent CASA in a wide range of court cases.

During last year’s Senate estimates committee CASA disagreed with Senator Jan McLucas that Harvey is its preferred barrister.

Not at all. Apart from defending or representing CASA in the Federal Court, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, five other coronial inquests and conducting ‘training’ for the regulator’s executives, Harvey was described by CASA as just one of a ‘panel of suppliers who we roll around with.’

The figures make him a big roller. In its annual report to 30 June last year Harvey is listed as the second biggest earner of CASA legal fees on $123,595 after being pipped by Malleson Stephen Jacques (Canberra.)

Harvey earned from CASA $129,120 in 04-05, $104,428 in 03-04 and $118,293 in 02-03.

Such an insightful background into CASA will clearly be welcome as the coroner grapples with the complexity of GPS approaches, whether CASA effectively regulated Transair, or its tolerance of safety standards for remote community air services which put Australia in breach of those specified by ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

These breaches, and severe and detailed criticism of CASA’s role are set out in plain english in the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s final report into the crash released in April.

The relatives of those killed have come to the inquest to obtain justice.

Something that will only be achieved after counsel assisting the coroner moves on from what might have been done if the plane had been better equipped, to what actually happened, and what CASA did or did not do to prevent the crash.