Conditional kudos to The Australian today for bringing something that might seem inexplicably coincidental in terms of political donations and hitherto secret lapses in the public administration of air safety in this country into the national mainstream media.
The story, by Anthony Klan, is invisible actually quite hard to find on the newspaper’s site, but has been shared on Google+ so here is the gist.
LISTED airline Rex has been unable to explain why it made unprecedented, massive donations to political parties two years ago, at the same time as an investigation into the crash of one of its aircraft was being conducted.
Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss called for the reopening of an investigation into the ditching of a Pel-Air plane carrying six passengers into the ocean near Norfolk Island in 2009, after systemic “errors” were found in the initial report. Pel-Air is a fully owned subsidiary of Regional Express, or Rex.
The investigation into the crash, which involved one serious injury, took the Australian Transport Safety Board almost three years to complete but did not mention 57 breaches or “serious deficiencies” at Pel Air found by regulator the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority.
Until 2012, the only political donation Rex had made was $3486 to the ALP in the year to June 2004. Then between July and November 2012, the company donated $250,000 of shareholder funds to the federal ALP, $95,700 to federal Nationals and $40,000 to the Liberal Party, marking it as one of the biggest political donors in the nation.
Rex spokeswoman Alicia Chapple refused to comment yesterday when asked why the airline had made the donations, whether they were related to the Pel Air investigation, or whether Rex welcomed the reopening of that investigation.
The donations have raised additional question marks because Rex has repeatedly described the airline industry as being in crisis, stating it was “beyond crisis”, and highlighting the “graveyard” of collapsed rivals in its last annual report.
It was unclear why it had donated $250,000 to the federal ALP when shortly afterwards, ahead of the 2013 federal election, the group warned the aviation industry would struggle if the ALP were re-elected.
While the story has been circulated today to an apparently select group of recipients, it may have been first published late last year.
However when stories by Mr Klan are searched for they lead to this page, which is a mixture of old and recent, none by Mr Klan, although further adventures with Google turned up this article, about political and community donations by Rex and its failed competitor in Queensland, Skytrans, dated yesterday 19 January and quoting the same figures for Rex donations as the invisible hard to find story shared on Google+.
(Finding what you really want on The Australian’s cutting edge website is journalism’s equivalent to searching the southern Indian Ocean for MH370. You just know it’s there, somewhere.)
Should we be able to find it, any subsequent Rex response to the story about its generosity to a Labor party which was hell bent on driving rural aviation into ruin together with the live beef export industry will of course be published here.
In the meantime, and that could be a long time, let’s assume that this astonishing outbreak of political generosity was just a brain fade on the part of the airline, or that a data input error turned $2.50 into $250,000.