Bills Digest No. 8   1997-98 Transport Legislation Amendment (Search and Rescue Service) Bill 1997


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This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

CONTENTS

Passage History

Transport Legislation Amendment (Search and Rescue Service) Bill 1997

Date Introduced: 25 June 1997
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Transport and Regional Development
Commencement: The Act commences on the earlier of a day to be fixed by proclamation or six months after receiving Royal Assent.

Purpose

To:

  • facilitate the amalgamation of the Commonwealth's civil maritime and aviation search and rescue coordination functions into one national centre, and
  • increase the number of ordinary members on the Board of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority from three to four and allow for the appointment of a Department officer to the Board at the discretion of the Minister.

Background

Australia has accepted responsibility for search and rescue for an area of 47,000,000 square kilometres.This represents approximately 11 per cent (or one ninth) of the earth's surface.The search and rescue region extends from longitude 75 degrees east to 163 degrees east and from Antarctica (to 90 degrees south) to the boundaries with Sri Lanka, Indonesia, PNG, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.(1)

The areas of aviation and maritime search and rescue responsibility are congruent, except that in respect of aviation search and rescue, the land masses of Australia and part of Antarctica are included (whereas they are not included for maritime rescue for obvious reasons).The area of responsibility is shown below.

Map of Australia and Neighbouring SAR Regions
Source: AusSAR

On 15 January 1997, the Minister for Transport and Regional Development announced the establishment of a national centre for coordination of Australia's civil search and rescue activities.(2) The new centre, to be called 'AusSAR, The Australian Search and Rescue Organisation', will be managed by AMSA and located in Canberra.

The Minister's decision followed from the recommendations of a review by an independent consultant, Patrick Crone, into the effectiveness of the Government's search and rescue arrangements.That report is not publicly available.

Until 1 July 1997, the coordination of civil maritime search and rescue services was undertaken by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) as one of the functions of that authority set out in the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Act 1990.(3) AMSA was obliged to perform that function in a manner consistent with Australia's obligations under the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue 1979.(4) AMSA coordinated maritime rescues from Canberra.

The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue 1979 provides:

Parties shall ensure that necessary arrangements are made for the provision of adequate search and rescue services for persons in distress at sea round their coasts.

The Convention then goes on to detail preparatory measures and operating procedures in respect of emergency search and rescue.

Until 1 July 1997, the coordination of civil aviation search and rescue services was undertaken by Airservices Australia (AA) as one of the functions of that body set out in the Air Services Act 1995.(5) AA was obliged to perform that function in a manner consistent with Australia's obligations under the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, as amended.(6) AA operated aviation rescue coordination centres in Melbourne and Brisbane.

The Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation provides:(7)

Every contracting State undertakes to provide such measures of assistance to aircraft in distress in its territory as it may find practicable, and to permit, subject to control by its own authorities, the owners of the aircraft or authorities of the State in which the aircraft is registered to provide such measures of assistance as may be necessitated by the circumstances.Each contract State, when undertaking search for missing aircraft will collaborate in coordinated measures which may be recommended from time to time pursuant to the Convention.

It was AMSA which coordinated the search for and rescue of the yachtsmen Raphael Dinelli, Thierry Dubois and Tony Bullimore.

Concern has recently resurfaced over the handling of a search and rescue operation undertaken by AA and AMSA involving a yacht, called Red Baron.(8) That incident serves as an example of the impetus for the measures contained in this Bill, and it is worthwhile to outline the incident.

On 1 December 1995, Mark Whelan and Stephen Gill left Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania on the Red Baron.The Red Baron was a fishing vessel and Mr Whelan was the skipper.Mr Gill owned the vessel but whilst on the vessel acted in accordance with the directions of the skipper. Late that night the vessel began taking on water and the fishermen abandoned the ship at approximately 11.00pm.

Mr Gill was able to make it to shore.Mr Whelan died.The Tasmanian Coroner concluded that the time of Mr Whelan's death was between 4.00am and 5.00am on 2 December 1995.(9)

A reasonable search area was verified by satellites at 1.00am on 2 December 1995.A search plane took off from Cambridge, Tasmania at 2.20am and confirmed the position of the portable beacon at about 3.30am. The Coroner found:

whilst the Tas Air plane was capable of night flying and managed to pinpoint the general area in the dark, it could not land on water.Clearly the ideal aircraft for a search of this nature would be a helicopter but I was told there was neither a helicopter equipped, nor a helicopter pilot qualified, for night flying stationed in Tasmania...

Apparently there is an arrangement whereby, should Tasmania require the services of a night-flying helicopter in an emergency, a request can be made to Victoria Police for the use of one of their night-rated aircraft to be flown from either Melbourne or the Latrobe Valley...However, again because of the distance involved, it was

unlikely one could have been on station around Strahan until first light by which stage our local helicopter had been expected to be in the air.

It seem clear that AMSA were told by AA that a night rescue helicopter was not available in Tasmania.It appears that at no stage did anyone in AMSA ask AA whether there was a night rescue helicopter available in Victoria. It has been asserted that there were in fact three night rescue helicopters available in Victoria on the night of the incident.It is not clear how long it would have taken such a helicopter to fly to the search area.

AMSA did not assume formal responsibility for coordinating the rescue until 4.00am.This is because AA was responsible for locating the beacon and it was not until that time when it was confirmed to be a maritime incident that formal coordination for the search and rescue response rested with AMSA.(10)

Mr McGrath, the executive officer of AMSA said:

I think it is quite obvious, in looking at the overall handling of this particular incident that it was not the best of our responses.We acknowledge that, and we acknowledged that from the start.That is one of the reasons why we took the internal review.We have also been quite open in our dealings with the coroner and others about that.(11)

The reality is the coordination arrangements were inadequate at the time.There was no appropriate mechanism for determining which authority had responsibility. There were problems in the coordination.

Main Provisions

The amendments are set out in four schedules.

Schedule 1 - Amendment of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Act 1990

Items 1 to 4 of Schedule 1 amend the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Act 1990 to insert an additional object; namely, to provide for a national search and rescue service.The provision of that service must be in a manner consistent with the international conventions referred to in the background above.

At present AMSA consists of a Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson, Chief Executive Officer, an officer of the Department of Transport and Regional Development specified by the Minister and 3 other members.Item 5 provides the Minister with a discretion to appoint a departmental officer to the authority.Item 6 increases the number of 'other members' from 3 to 4.The increase in membership is said to reflect the increased responsibilities of AMSA and to enable it to appoint a member with aviation experience.(12)

Schedule 2 - Amendment of the Air Services Act 1995

These amendments remove the obligation cast on AA, in the Air Services Act 1995, to provide search and rescue services.Correspondingly the Governor General's power to make regulations under that Act in relation to search and rescue is repealed.

Schedule 3 - Amendment of the Civil Aviation Act 1988

As a result of these amendments the Civil Aviation Safety Authority may make civil aviation safety standards and the Governor General may make regulations relating to the planning, construction, establishment, maintenance, operation and use of search and rescue services to the extent that those services use aircraft.

Schedule 4 - Transitional

This schedule provides for the transfer of assets from AA to AMSA.The assets which are transferred are those identified in a written determination by the Minister or authorised officer of the Department.Any capital gains tax consequences of the transfer are excluded and provision is made for a determination of the value of the transferred assets and a corresponding adjustment to the capital accounts of AA and AMSA.

Concluding Comments

The motivation for the transfer of civil aviation rescue to AMSA and into a national centre lies in the desire for better coordination of aviation and maritime search and rescue.The government has said that it does not expect significant immediate financial benefits because of initial establishment costs.

To put matters in perspective, there is no doubt that the number of successful rescues effected by the maritime safety division of AMSA (now AusSAR) dwarf the 'less than best' responses such as Red Baron.The effect of this legislation is to attempt to remove an impediment to allow the service to operate even more effectively.

As from 1 July 1997, total responsibility for both civil aviation and maritime search and rescue lies with AMSA through AusSAR.To again quote from Mr McGrath in Senate Estimates:(13)

All I can say is that, as of 1 July when we take the total responsibility, if we do it again [referring to the Red Baron incident], you can kick us harder.

Senator Collins in response:

I will.

Endnotes

  1. Minister for Defence (Robert Ray), Senate Hansard, p. 721, 30 August 1995.
  2. Minister for Transport and Regional Development (John Sharp), 'New national search and rescue centre announced', Press release, 15 January 1997.
  3. Australian Maritime Safety Authority Act 1990, section 6(1)(b).
  4. ibid., section 7.
  5. Air Services Act 1995, section 8(1)(b)(iv).
  6. ibid., section 9(3).
  7. Article 25.
  8. Senate Estimates Committee on Transport and Regional Development, 10 June 1997, pp166, 195-207
  9. Inquest into the Death of Mark Nicholas Whelan, 8 November 1996. Coroner: Magistrate I R Matterson.
  10. Senate Estimates Committee on Transport and Regional Development, 10 June 1997, p201
  11. Senate Estimates Committee on Transport and Regional Development, 12 June 1997, p329
  12. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Development (Michael Ronaldson), House of Representatives, Hansard, p. 5955, 25 June 1997.
  13. Senate Estimates Committee on Transport and Regional Development, 12 June 1997, p329

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Lee Jones
8 August 1997
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine whether the Bill has been enacted and, if so, whether the subsequent Act reflects further amendments.

IRS staff are available to discuss the paper's contents with Senators and Members and their staff but not with members of the public.

ISSN 1328-8091
Commonwealth of Australia 1997

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1997.

This page was prepared by the Parliamentary Library, Commonwealth of Australia
Last updated: 12 August 1997


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