Referral of inquiry
On 9 February 2017, the Airports Amendment Bill 2016 (the bill) was
referred to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation
Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by 28 March 2017.
In its first report of 2017, the Senate Standing Committee for the
Selection of Bills recommended the bill be referred to the committee, for
consideration of several issues including:
concerns with changes to complex airport planning frameworks;
that airport planning is normally led by state authorities,
rather than federal;
possible concerns with changes to major development consent
the significant community interest in airport planning issues.
Purpose of the bill
The Australian Government owns a number of airports which have been
privatised via long‑term leases. The Commonwealth maintains regulatory
oversight in relation to certain activities on these sites, such as building
approvals and land use planning, via the Airports Act 1996 (the Act).
The Act regulates federally-leased airports in Australia (except Tennant
Creek and Mount Isa), and provides for the 'efficient and economic development
and operation of airports'. The Act stipulates that all federally-leased airports
will have master plans and an environment strategy, and that major development
plans are required for 'significant developments' at airports.
Under the Act, a Commonwealth-owned airport can only be leased to a
company, known as an 'airport-lessee company' (airport lessee). Federal leased
airports, with the exception of Mount Isa and Tennant Creek, are required to
Master Plans (MP) every five years to establish a strategic
direction for efficient and economic development at the airport; and
Major Development Plans (MDP) for specific major on-airport
developments, once a monetary trigger is reached (currently $20 million).
According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the bill aims to amend a number
of administrative arrangements relating to MPs and MDPs, to offer 'more
flexible, proportionate' and efficient regulatory responses.
Overview of provisions
The bill inserts new provisions in the Act and makes necessary
consequential amendments to differ the five year MP submission cycle for
secondary and general federal leased airports, to instead facilitate an eight
year MP submission cycle for 15 airports (Table 1.1).
The bill retains the current five‑year cycle for five major airports:
Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney (Kingsford-Smith), and Sydney West.
Table 1.1: Airports under proposed
8 year Master Plan cycle
In addition, the bill requires a renewed Australian Noise Exposure
Forecast (ANEF) in each new MP. While an ANEF is required in each MP, the
current legislation does not require that the ANEF must be renewed in each
Other key measures of the bill include:
an increase in the current $20 million monetary trigger for MDPs
to $35 million;
allowing the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to issue
legislative instruments for two purposes:
to increase the threshold amount (monetary trigger) for MDPs
every three years, taking into account price indexations indicating changes in
construction activity costs; and
to specify the cost that must be included, and must not be
included, when calculating the cost of construction for an MDP.
specifying a 15 business day statutory decision timeframe within
which the Minister must consider applications from airport-lessee companies for
reduced consultation periods for MDPs, which such applications deemed approved
if there is no Ministerial decision within this timeframe;
enabling the Minister to extend more than once the period that
approved MDPs are required to be substantially completed; and
enabling airport-lessee companies to notify the Minister if an
approved MDP is not able to proceed on the basis of exceptional circumstances.
The bill also contains a number of application and transitional
provisions to accommodate those airport lessees already in the process of
developing or implementing MPs and MDPs, and to clarify which provisions only
apply on or after commencement.
The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Darren Chester MP,
explained that the amendments will 'fine-tune existing regulation and
streamline policy intentions'. He continued that the bill would not
significantly change existing policies or regulatory oversight, but would offer
several efficiencies and reduce administrative burdens.
Recent aviation incidents
On 21 February, soon after the initiation of this inquiry, a Beechcraft
B200 Super King Air VH-ZCR crashed at Essendon Airport. The aircraft impacted the
DFO shopping centre alongside the airport resulting in a major fire. An
Australian pilot and four American tourists on board died in the crash.
These tragic events brought into stark relief the importance of
appropriate airport planning regulation and processes.
Evidence received by the committee at Additional Estimates on 27
February detailed the accident investigations currently underway by the Australian
Transport Safety Bureau. In addition, the Department of Infrastructure and
Regional Development (the Department) noted that it was examining 'development
approval processes involved in the land‑use planning at the airport'.
Departmental Secretary, Mr Mike Mrdak informed the committee that the Department
had provided advice to the Minister on the accident investigation process as
well as the development approval process for buildings allocated at the DFO
The committee was also advised that the National Airports Safeguarding
Advisory Group (NASAG) was considering the adoption of draft national
guidelines, regarding runway public safety zones around airports, and runway
end safety zones. Queensland is currently the only Australian jurisdiction to
have public safety zone legislation.
On 2 March, correspondence was received from Minister Chester requesting
that the committee consider extending its inquiry in light of the tragic
accident and subsequent investigations underway (at Appendix 1).
The committee recognises that the findings and recommendations of the
investigations into this tragedy, and the work of NASAG, may have implications
for the bill. It takes the view that sufficient time should be provided to
allow the investigations to proceed and for the committee to then properly
consider their findings.
Therefore, the committee recommends that its inquiry on the bill be
extended to allow consideration of the investigations and any other relevant
aviation regulation developments.
Submissions already received and published by the committee (at Appendix
2) will be considered as part of the inquiry following the outcome of the
The committee recommends that the Senate grant an extension of time for
the committee to report to the first sitting day of March 2018.
Senator Barry O'Sullivan
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