There is is one thing that stinks badly about the Rudd Government’s record in relation to aviation, and that is the persistent failure of Anthony Albanese, the Minister for everything including air safety, to act against the abuse of process in the ATSB and CASA over the Pel-Air crash cover up of CASA incompetence.

This week the deadline for Minister Albanese to respond within 90 days to the report of a Senate committee which inquired into the matter, passed without action.

This inaction drew this statement last night from the Independent Senator from South Australia, Nick Xenophon:

Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, has criticised Transport Minister Anthony Albanese for failing to respond to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee’s damning report into aviation accident investigations within the required three month timeframe.

This is despite evidence given by the Department of Infrastructure and Transport during Senate estimates that it would be providing advice to the Minister in early June.

“This is a disgrace,” Nick said. “The Senate committee’s report revealed serious failures on the part of CASA and the ATSB, and still the Government has nothing to say.”

The report, which focused on the ditching of Pel-Air flight VH-NGA off Norfolk Island in 2009, found that the ATSB’s investigation of the accident did not hold up to international standards and that CASA had withheld vital evidence detailing its own failure to oversee Pel-Air from the ATSB.

“Even the ATSB’s Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said he wasn’t proud of the investigation, but neither the ATSB nor the Government are willing to fix what is clearly a broken system,” Nick said.

“The committee went so far as to say Mr Dolan’s evidence to the inquiry as ‘questionable’ and had ‘seriously eroded’ his standing as a witness,” Nick said. “These are incredibly serious allegations about the Chief Commissioner, but the Government has said nothing.”

“Every Australian who flies should be alarmed at the unanimous findings of the Senate inquiry,” Nick said. “It’s a pity this critical report doesn’t seem to be on the Government’s radar.”

Now, it may well be that the Labor way in such matters is to sit back and let corrupted bureacracies screw over individual Australians like the pilot of the crashed plane while compromised public authorities concoct a report which lays all of the blame on his actions.

Little people probably don’t count for much when it comes to the machinations of big government, a criticism that might well be just as applicable to the other side of politics.

Who really gives a toss about injustice in public administration? But a Senate committee drawn from Labor, Coalition and Green and Independent senators, unanimously found the testimony of the chief commissioner for the ATSB, Martin Dolan, to be unacceptable, and sought directly a Federal Police determination as to whether the cover up of a damning document identifying CASA failings in relation to this accident breached the Transport Safety Investigations Act.

(It does if the words of the act mean what they say, however the possibility of the AFP finding anything wrong in the withholding of information about an air crash by CASA from the ATSB contrary to the act is, in reality, wildly implausible.)

What is of concern is that the Minister made or allowed to be made on his behalf, a series of commitments for a timely response to the Senate committee’s report, and well before the 7 September election was called and government entered caretaker mode.

Those commitments have not been honoured.

There are potential consequences from this for the safety of all Australians who use or rely upon air services of any type. CASA after all has blood on its hands from the 2005 Lockhart River crash in far northern Queensland in which an operator known to CASA to be unsafe was allowed to continue flying until it eventually killed all 15 people aboard a small turbo-prop making a landing approach to an airstrip in poor visibility.

CASA subsequently denied that it had any obligation to warn the public of unsafe operations.

However the biggest potential risk in the really grubby circumstances of the Pel-Air incident, in which the air safety investigator went out of its way to avoid recovering potentially incriminating evidence from the aircraft’s data recorder, which lies on the sea bed near Norfolk Island, is to Australia’s international air safety rating.

If ICAO were to audit and fail the administration and performance of air safety standards and oversight in this country, the US FAA would follow suit, and Qantas and Virgin Australia would have their code-shares with US carriers suspended, and their rights to increase their flights to American cities revoked.

Thus there are compelling safety and commercial reasons for any Australian government to act on the evidence and recommendations gathered and made by the Senate committee in relation to the Pel-Air matters.

It’s a matter of good government. It needs to be fixed.

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