Bills Digest 1 1996-97 Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 1996

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This Digest is prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments.

This Digest was available from 12 July 1996


Passage History

Date Introduced: 22 May 1996

House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Transport and Regional Development
Commencement: Royal Assent


To increase the maximum size of the Board of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).


CASA, together with Airservices Australia, was formed in 1995 from the previous Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The creation of CASA was the result of concerns raised over safety regulation following the Monarch and Seaview fatal accidents (for more information on the formation of CASA, refer to the Digest for the Civil Aviation Legislation Amendment Bill 1995, which is available on the ISR database).

CASAs main function is to conduct the safety regulation of Australian aviation through the development and enforcement of standards; the issue of certificates, licences and permits; industry surveillance; and the monitoring of safety related trends. CASAs senior management, the Board of CASA, consists of a Chairperson, the Director of Aviation Safety and between one and three other members appointed by the Minister. The Civil Aviation Act 1988 (the Principal Act) sets no prerequisites or qualifications for those who may be appointed to the Board. The grounds on which members of the Board may have their appointment terminated are listed in section 42 of the Principal Act and relate to:

  • the member becoming bankrupt;
  • a full time member, other than the Chairperson, engaging in paid employment that the Minister considers to be in conflict with the performance of the duties of the member;
  • a full time member being absent, without being granted approval, from 3 consecutive meetings;
  • the Minister being of the opinion that the performance of the member has been unsatisfactory for a significant period of time; or
  • the Chairperson engages in paid employment without the Ministers approval or is absent, except on leave, for 14 consecutive days or for 28 days in any year.

The Principal Act also provides that if the Minister is of the opinion that the performance of the Board or CASA has been unsatisfactory for a significant period of time the Minister may terminate the appointment of all, or specified, members of the Board (section 42).

The Board of CASA currently comprises:

Chairperson - Mr Justice Fisher, President of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission;

Director of Aviation Safety - Mr Leroy Keith - 31 years of experience with the US Federal Aviation Authority;

Members - Captain Geoff Molloy, former 747 captain and Flight Safety Manager with Qantas;

Dr Clare Pollock, expert in system safety and human factors; and

Mrs Gabi Hollows, consumer representative.

There have been two recent disputes between the government and CASA, relating to Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) and the decision of the Board not to resign when requested by the Minister to do so.


ELTs transmit location signals in the advent of an aircraft emergency and are principally of use when an aircraft has crashed. ELTs can facilitate the location of a crashed aircraft, leading to quicker rescue for survivors of a crash and a consequential reduction in the cost of a search. In January 1996, CASA announced that it intended to require most aircraft to be equipped with a fixed ELT that conformed to certain requirements, with a sturdier ELT being required to be fitted in most cases. CASA estimated the cost of the requirement would be approximately $6.5 million. CASA also stated: 'The proposed legislation mirrors United States Federal Aviation Regulation 91.207, with some minor exemptions'.(1) The recommendation followed significant consultation with industry and other groups, which commenced in 1992, with over 800 submissions received on a Discussion Paper distributed on the matter.(2)

The proposal for mandatory fixed ELTs was opposed by the Airline Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) which campaigned for portable ELTs, which could be activated in the event of an emergency. AOPA argued that fixed ELTs were likely to be destroyed in a crash and would be ineffective in locating survivors in the event that an aircraft crashed into the sea, survivors left the aircraft and it subsequently sank. Contrary arguments were that the newer, sturdier ELTs would be able to survive most impacts, an injured or shocked survivor may not be able to activate a mobile ELT and that a small proportion of accidents were likely to occur over the sea. It may also be noted that the mobile ELT proposed by AOPA costs significantly less than the sturdier type of fixed ELT recommended. Media reports suggest that a mobile ELT would cost approximately $300, while the recommended fixed ELT would cost approximately $2000 including fitting costs.(3)

It is reported that the then Opposition spokesman for aviation supported AOPAs arguments and promised that if elected the requirement for fixed ELTs would not be implemented.(4) In June 1996, the Minister announced that CASAs recommendation regarding fixed ELTs would not be accepted and that portable ELTs would satisfy the regulatory requirements.

Non-resignation of the Board

In its Aviation policy released before the 1996 General Election, the Coalition stated: 'We will appoint Board members who are competent, and who have practical aviation industry experience'. The policy also promised to 'investigate the establishment of a Board Appeals Committee, which will act as a readily accessible appeals tribunal for cases concerning the suspension, variation, or cancellation of licences and certificates'.(5)

It is reported that in early April 1996 the Minister approached members of the Board asking them to resign to enable people with more experience in the aviation industry to be appointed to the Board and, at the same time, the Minister expressed support for the Director of CASA. It is also reported that the Board members refused to resign and threatened legal action if measures were taken to dismiss members of the Board other than in accordance with he Principal Act.(6) The Minister is quoted as saying that the Director:

needs a Board that can give him 110 per cent support, that can help him implement change in his organisation. To do that, we have got to have people who can talk the language of the people in the organisation, who understand the issues, who understand the history, who understand the personalities of CASA and the broader aviation community.(7)

The Board's reported response to the Minister centred on the past composition of the Board of the CAA and the degrading of safety that occurred in the past. The Minister is quoted as saying:

He [the chairperson] highlighted (the fact) that the CAA had been run by people with aviation experience in times past and it had got into a mess.(8)

Later in April 1996, the Minister addressed the prospect of the Board members refusing to resign, stating:

There are certain powers that are available to the Minister to terminate their appointment. I don't choose to do that at this stage.(9)

The next step in the dispute occurred in late April 1996 when the Chairperson issued a statement to various media outlets. It is reported that the statement accused the Minister and the president of AOPA, Dick Smith, of destabilising the Board. It was also reported that the statement alleged the Ministers actions were to repay a political obligation to AOPA.(10)

The next major step in the dispute occurred on 25 June 1996, when the Minister made a statement to the House of Representatives on Aviation Safety Regulation. In the Statement, the Minister affirmed the governments view that the Board did not contain sufficient members with expertise in the aviation industry and noted that the non-executive members of the Board had failed to comply with the request that they resign. The Minister then stated:

In putting their own interests ahead of the need to have the best available people with appropriate expertise and qualifications, the board members were effectively putting their own needs ahead of aviation safety.

The Chairperson's response to the Statement are contained in a Media Release dated 26 June 1996, the main points of which alleged:

  • that the part of the Statement relating to Board members putting their own interests ahead of safety was defamatory, unworthy and unsupportable and should be withdrawn; and
  • that CASA was in a rebuilding process and staff needed support to achieve the rebuilding.

The Media Release also states:

The Minister was not given power [by the Principal Act] to dismiss the Board except on an attenuated basis not suggested to be available here. The responsibility for conducting safety regulation is vested in CASA as a separate statutory authority, not the Minister.

The Minister's response was released on the same day, 26 June 1996, and, after stating that the Chairpersons public comments were 'definitively disloyal', continued:

The Board is responsible to the Minister and Mr Justice Fisher [the Chairperson] should clearly understand that, not withstanding his statutory duties as Chairman, he is in the exercise of them responsible to the Minister.(11)

Main Provisions

Items 3 and 4 of the Schedule to the Bill will amend section 33 of the Principal Act to provide for a Deputy Chairperson to be appointed to the Board and to increase the maximum number of members that may be appointed to the Board from 3 to 4.


(1) CASA, Media Release, 15 January 1996.

(2) Ibid.

(3) The Australian, 16 January 1996.

(4) The Canberra Times, 16 January 1996.

(5) Soaring into Tomorrow, 13 February 1996, p. 4.

(6) The Australian, 18 April 1996, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April 1996.

(7) The Australian, 19 April 1996.

(8) The Australian, 20 April 1996.

(9) The Australian Financial Review, 25 April 1996.

(10) The Australian Financial Review, 29 April 1996, The Canberra Times, 2 May 1996.

(11) Media Release, 26 June 1996.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Chris Field Ph. 06 277 2439
11 July 1996
Bills Digest Service
Parliamentary Research Service

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.

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

ISSN 1323-9032
© Commonwealth of Australia 1996

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1996.

This page was prepared by the Parliamentary Library, Commonwealth of Australia
Last updated: 1 July 1996

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