25 February 2015




ABRAHAM:  Labor Senator Penny Wong is Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and was also leading questioning last night in Senate estimates of Airservices Australia, particularly their plan to shift air traffic control jobs – not all of them but a substantial number – from Adelaide Airport to Melbourne Airport. Labor Senator Penny Wong joins us now. Welcome to the program.

WONG: Good morning, good to be with you.

 ABRAHAM: And thank you for being available. We contacted Airservices Australia for comment. We were told ‘we do not have anyone available.’

WONG: They had a late night, we all had late nights.

 ABRAHAM:  You’re available.

WONG: [laughs] I had to do a few things this morning.

 ABRAHAM:  Senator, what have you learned from your questioning of Airservices Australia in terms of Adelaide Airport?

WONG: Well last night what we learned is that they have made a decision to send traffic control jobs that are currently at Adelaide Airport to Melbourne. They also revealed that the decision to shut down what’s known as the Terminal Control Unit was made by the board in December without a full safety case being submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority. And we also learnt that prior to the decision last year a number of Liberal Party members, including the Member for Hindmarsh, Matt Williams, received briefings about their intentions prior to the decision being made and extraordinarily Mr Williams didn’t ask Airservices Australia not to proceed with the decision. So there was quite a lot that came out last night. I think the thing that would worry people is not only more local jobs but the loss of this local expertise at our airport.

 ABRAHAM:  The decision they took back in December correct?

WONG: Correct.

 ABRAHAM: Was that an in-principle decision or a draft decision or in other words ‘Look, we think it makes… there’s a good economic case and an efficiency case for moving some of these air traffic control jobs to Melbourne Airport, let’s now run up a safety case for it and look at all of the other aspects.’

WONG: Well that’s not how it was expressed in the hearing and really it’s unfortunate that Airservices isn’t available because they could put that to you. And, that is also that sort of draft decision is not how it’s going to be expressed to affected employees. Whilst they weren’t able to give me any indication of what had been written I think you’ve seen in the media, and I think you might even have commented on it previously, that employees have been advised of this decision. So, if they’re trying now to say it’s actually only an in principle maybe decision, it doesn’t accord with the way they’ve approached it.

 BEVAN:  Can you explain what the changes will mean in practical terms. I remember one report I think it was saying that instead of handing over responsibility for the planes at about the 50k mark to Adelaide Airport, it’ll happen at about the 10 kilometre mark, is that right?

WONG: Well look, you’re probably testing my technical knowledge but you’re right, essentially it works in different zones, different – when you’re on a flight, different parts of the flight are controlled by different means and this is what’s known as the Terminal Control Unit and as I understand they guide aircraft into the landing area and then the tower takes over.

 BEVAN: Right, so it won’t be Melbourne controlling the plane all the way down on to the tarmac in Adelaide, it’s just that the control will be handed over to the Adelaide control unit at a later point?

WONG: Much later. As I understand the tower actually only controls landings and take-offs, it’s basically the landing strip, and then the Terminal Control Unit takes over thereafter. But, I think the point here is and I think Stephen Mullighan who unfortunately also wasn’t advised of this prior to the decision being announced or being made public – I’m sure he can give you much more detail about what this means – but the point I think he’s made previously is that this is about local controller experience and knowledge. These are people who control not only large jets but also RAAF planes and light aircraft. There was a very important role they played, I understand, during the Sampson Flat bushfires because of all the emergency aircraft. And I think, it just doesn’t pass the sniff test, why do you want these approaches controlled in Melbourne?

 ABRAHAM:  Maybe Matt Williams can help us, as Liberal Member for Hindmarsh, as you say he’s full-bottle.

WONG: Well, maybe he can, but I’ve got to say, I’m just wondering at what stage Matt Williams will actually stand up for South Australian jobs.

 ABRAHAM:  I suppose that’s a political statement.

WONG: It is, it is, but I think –

 ABRAHAM:  And you are a politician.

WONG: I am a politician. But on the basis of the way in which this particular MP, and frankly many Liberal MPs, have approached both the submarines and this issue.

 ABRAHAM:  Senator Penny Wong,thank you for talking to us.

WONG: Good to speak with you.