Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (16:35): As at 1 January, regional airports throughout Australia are required to have full passenger screening scanners in airports that operate aircraft with a seating capacity in excess of 40 and with more than 30,000 passenger movements a year. I support these measures, it must be said. The government doesn’t make these decisions lightly. It’s on the best advice that our security agents are giving us that aircraft of a certain size can become a target of terrorists because they can be used as a projectile weapon. Fully loaded with fuel, there is a certain level where they believe that they become a real risk. These scanners will be installed around a number of airports around Australia. Some have them already; others will need more sophisticated equipment. The government has said that they will pay for the capital costs of installation.
But, since it was first mooted, I’ve had serious concerns about the effect that it may have on a number of smaller airports where the ability to defray fixed operating costs over a limited number of passengers can have quite a severe impact. To give you some idea, there are a number of different aircraft operators around Australia, but many residents in much of regional Australia are serviced by either QantasLink or Rex Airlines or both. In the case of Rex Airlines, their SAAB aircraft have less than 40-seat capacity, so any airport that is operating Rex only will not be affected. Their passengers will not be screened. For any airport that is operating Qantas only, while they have a fleet of smaller aircraft—certainly in my part of the world they are using Q400s, which have a seating capacity well in excess of 40—they will, of course, be swept up in this regulation. Where you have both aircraft operating, then it is going to be a decision of the airport operator as to where the extra landing costs will go. I can tell you that a thought that’s been proposed to me is that maybe councils should pick up the extra tab.
I have a report here from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development. They used Whyalla as a case study. That’s one of the airports that I’m most concerned about. Whyalla has a throughput of 82,000 passengers a year. That would indicate that 41,000—because you’re only screened on outbound flights—will need to be screened. For Whyalla Airport, it’s estimated the cost per passenger will be $69.50 if they screen just the Qantas passengers and $53.90 if they screen all passengers, because the costs go up. The bottom line is that, to screen all those passengers—just 40,000—will cost about $2 million a year. That’s a cost that will be put onto all regional airports around Australia that require scanning. Some of them already have scanning, as I said, so the lift will not be great. But it’s the kind of cost that I don’t think these airports could stand. We know, for instance, that the operators in that space are already under great pressure. Only a couple of weeks ago, Rex Airlines announced that they were no longer carrying through to Kangaroo Island, leaving Qantas as the only supplier.
There have been some suggestions that maybe the aircraft operators—and, in most cases, that is the council—can pick up the tab. I asked the Whyalla City Council how much money they were making out of operating Whyalla Airport. It turns out that last year they lost $186,000, and this year they’ve budgeted for a $175,000 loss. So there’s not a lot of sauce on the plate there to skim off. The airport’s already operating at a loss. They can’t stand extra costs. I am really, really concerned that one or two of the carriers may well pull out. If, for instance, Qantas pulled out, then we could pull the scanners out and stack them out the back of the airport, because then we wouldn’t need them for the Rex flights. It’s putting great pressure on the airport operators, who are trying to work out whether they should be putting the landing fees on all aircraft or just on the aircraft that are over 40 seats. This is bringing a real imbalance to the decision-making process. I’m still hopeful that we are going to see some movement on this from the government. I ask that all members consider it. (Time expired)