Referral of inquiry
On 9 November 2020, the following matters were referred to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by 31 March 2021:
The future of Australia's aviation sector, in the context of COVID-19 and conditions post-pandemic, having particular regard to:
the importance of Australia's aviation sector in supporting the economic and social wellbeing of all Australians;
the immediate and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic response on all aspects of the Australian aviation sector;
the immediate and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic response on all sectors that rely on aviation (e.g. tourism);
the adequacy of government industry support and procurement and programs for the social and economic well-being of workers for all sections of the aviation industry to survive the downturn caused by the pandemic;
the immediate and long-term employment landscape within Australia's aviation sector;
what policy and practical measures would be required to assist the industry to recover in the medium term; and
The Senate granted three extensions of time to report, enabling the committee to continue gathering evidence and monitoring the evolving situation:
On 18 February 2021, the Senate granted an extension of time to report until 13 May 2021.
On 13 May 2021, the Senate granted a further extension of time to report until 21 October 2021.
On 21 October 2021, the Senate granted a further extension of time to report until 17 March 2022.
On 18 March 2021, the committee tabled an interim report for the inquiry.
Conduct of the inquiry
The committee commenced the inquiry in November 2020, advertising the inquiry on its website and inviting submissions from a range of relevant stakeholders, including government agencies, industry, community groups and individuals. Details regarding the inquiry and associated documents are available on the committee's webpage.
The committee received 35 submissions and five supplementary submissions which are listed at Appendix 1 and are published on the committee's website.
The committee held eight public hearing:
28 January 2021, Brisbane;
29 January 2021, Brisbane;
10 February 2021, Sydney;
6 September 2021, Canberra;
8 September 2021, Canberra; and
A list of the witnesses who gave evidence at the public hearings is available at Appendix 2.
Throughout this inquiry, the committee has engaged with a wide range of stakeholders across both the aviation and tourism sectors to ensure it heard diverse perspectives on the impacts of COVID-19. The committee thanks those individuals and organisations who contributed to this inquiry by preparing written submissions and giving evidence at public hearings.
References to Hansard
In this report, references are made to both proof and official committee transcripts. Official transcripts are referred to simply as Committee Hansard. Proof transcripts are referred to as Proof Committee Hansard. Page numbers may vary between proof and official transcripts.
Evidence and analysis of the immediate impact of the pandemic on the aviation workforce formed the basis for the committee's interim report, published on 17 March 2022. In its interim report, the committee concluded that a strong aviation sector is key to Australia's prosperity and economic recovery from COVID-19. It also found that JobKeeper had not provided adequate financial assistance to aviation workers. The committee recommended the extension of JobKeeper—or an equivalent wage subsidy—beyond the 28 March 2021 end date, to all Australian taxpayers employed in the aviation sector. Despite strong evidence in favour of the scheme's continuation, JobKeeper concluded on 28 March 2021.
The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability and extent of insecure work in aviation. Over the course of the inquiry, the committee has heard evidence regarding actions taken by some aviation employers in response to COVID-19; including standdowns, outsourcing, redundancies and suspended enterprise bargaining.
The final report
In response to the pandemic, the Australian Government introduced various supports and financial assistance measures—initially totalling over $2 billion—intended to maintain essential air connectivity, preserve aviation capacity and protect supply lines. By the time of tabling this report, the Australian Government had 'committed over $5.3 billion in assistance since the emergence of the pandemic in 2020'.
A number of inquiry participants reported that the support provided was inadequate, or poorly targeted, while others raised concerns around the long‑term recovery of the sector.
Since tabling the committee's interim report, COVID-19 has continued to impact the aviation sector and skilled aviation workers have been especially affected. The committee sought further evidence to better understand the long-term impacts of COVID‑19 on aviation workers, as well as identifying opportunities to improve job security, support attraction and retention of employees, and safeguard the future of the aviation workforce.
Many of the core governance and policy challenges for the Australian Government stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic—such as regulatory burden, airline competition and policy coordination—were raised consistently throughout the inquiry. While these important issues have clear implications for the aviation sector, many have recently been, or are being, examined in detail in other inquiries and reports. This report discusses the impacts of these broader challenges on the aviation sector, and makes related recommendations, but does not purport to analyse them comprehensively.
Structure of the report
The information contained in this report is to be read in conjunction with the interim report.
This report contains the following chapters:
Chapter 1 is an introductory chapter which briefly outlines the context and administrative details of the inquiry, including the committee's interim report.
Chapter 2 outlines the Australian Government's response to the pandemic, providing a timeline of key events and a summary of policy responses and support initiatives.
Chapter 3 presents evidence from inquiry participants on the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on the aviation sector.
Chapter 4 considers the impacts of pandemic response measures on the aviation workforce, including the loss of skilled aviation workers and future workforce supply issues.
Chapter 5 analyses initiatives aimed at supporting and maintaining the aviation workforce through the pandemic, and considers options for future reform.
Chapter 6 looks at the future of Australian aviation, including: the role of the Australian Government in aviation policy and coordination; the Government's Aviation Recovery Framework; support for airports; and competition issues.