It’s rare for Question Time to open in a blaze of acrimony over airline services, but that’s how it happened in Federal Parliament this afternoon.
The leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, lit the match by claiming that the carbon tax had been the last straw for Brindabella Airlines and had caused it to stop the daily Brisbane to Armidale and Canberra to Albury services.
Shortly afterwards the Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, quoted the actual press release which said:
Following a significant rise in charter enquiries resulting from growth in the resources sector Aeropelican and Brindabella Airlines will increase the availability of their aircraft in New South Wales and Queensland to take advantage of ad-hoc and contract FIFO opportunities.
…we shall stop the daily Brisbane to Armidale and Canberra to Albury services and make these aircraft available for charter said Group Chief Operating Officer Ian Vanderbeek.
However he stopped his quote where shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, then tried to begin his quotation, where the Brindabella Airlines statement continued to say:
Vanderbeek said that the introduction of the federal government’s carbon tax and the removal of the en-route rebate scheme, both from the 1st July, were major factors in the company’s decision. Both of these routes are marginal and cannot be sustained with the additional cost impost that these changes will bring said Vanderbeek.
Albanese then assisted the house to understand that what Brindabella had done was ditch Armidale and Albury for richer pickings, rather than being brought to the brink of financial ruin by the the typical $1.50 one way carbon tax fare rise much more expensive airlines like Virgin Australia had been quoting, and also referred to an email from Brindabella confirming this.
He then threw in a reference to REX, the much larger regional turbo-prop operator, as saying that it was expanding into new regional routes, and was highly optimistic as to the future of rural aviation. (Sic em Rex?)
Those who closely watch the industry would probably wince at the thought that when aviation finally made it to the top of Question Time, it was over something as trivial as a carbon tax and not the 2nd Sydney Airport issue.
Or, the recent and before scheduled departure of the CEO of AirServices Australia, Greg Russell, from the air traffic control provider which is now the subject of a thorough safety review by CASA and an inquiry by the ATSB into breakdown of separation incidents in Australian air space for which it is responsible by duty officers it did not appear to have trained to the required recurrent standards or appropriately rostered.
There are some really serious matters at stake in air safety administration in this country. They appear to be quarantined to Senate inquiries, and struggle to get media oxygen.
In aviation terms, today’s Question Time circus was briefly entertaining, but also very disappointing.