Jul 28, 2010

Australia's first Aviation Ombudsman announced

The Minister for Transport Infrastructure and Local Government, the Hon Anthony Albanese, has announced the appointment of Australia’s first Aviation Ombudsman. The Aviation Ombudsman will be the current Deputy Commonwealth Ombudsman, Mr Ron Brent. And his appointment will commence in September.

This announcement is as a result of the strong advocacy of the Australian Mayoral Aviation Council which had been demanding for many years an independent oversight of the severe problems caused by aircraft noise, rather than bureaucrats.  As I point it out in my Presidential address to be Annual Conference of the Australian Mayoral Aviation Council  on 2 September 2010, which is available for download at http://www.botanybay.nsw.gov.au/pdf/mayoralspeeches/2009/AMAC Speech.pdf

“In this way we could possible see the end of the fiasco of noise sharing arrangements. As we all know far too well, for more than a decade the noise sharing targets have not been met and they haven’t been met even once.

And, an Ombudsman could perhaps put the onus on the airlines to tell passengers and communities of the truth. Terminology, and I really mean excuses, such as ‘operational matters’, ‘air traffic control issues’, ’weather’, ‘late arrival’ and on, and on, may disappear.

Even the nearly acquired ‘security issues’ may be more scrutinised by an Ombudsman.

Airline operators telling the truth, now that would be something indeed.”

In making the Government’s announcement, the Minister said: “Our airports are vital for our economy but it is also vital that communities who live around the airport have the confidence that their concerns are being met.”

I want to on behalf of the community I represent as Mayor, and on behalf of the Australian Mayoral Aviation Council of which I have the honour of being the National President, wish to congratulate the Hon. Anthony Albanese for being responsive to the needs of not only our community but also all the communities surrounding airports in Australia. This really is a significant achievement for those communities.

I noticed in the Southern Courier an article published on its website on 27 July, 2010 headed “Australia’s first Aviation Ombudsman, is it just plain noise” where candidates for the upcoming Federal election were critical of the Government’s announcement.

Mr Allan Rees of the No Aircraft Noise Party asserts “voters would be sceptical about the timing of the appointment.” The New South Wales Greens warned the Federal Government of the risk of back lash of residents living under the flight path if he didn’t take action.

Greens lead Senate candidate, Ms Lee Rhiannon suggested that the decision made by the Minister “will be seen as window dressing” saying “governments of the day have been long known for setting up independent watch dogs only to ignore what they say.”

The Greens candidate for Grayndler, Sam Byrne, criticised the Minister saying “he has been in charge of Sydney airport for three years but the only thing he has done for residents is to sign off a master plan which boosts aircraft movements.”

I know this is a Federal election time and that it’s the silly season. I know Mr Byrne, the Greens candidate from Grayndler, who is former Councillor and Mayor of Marrickville, and I have the highest regard for his knowledge and ability.  But I am disappointed that he has compromised his obvious talents and abilities by playing politics over such a significant achievement for the community, a community he seeks to represent in the national Parliament.

In my view it reflects poorly on the democratic process when candidates are not prepared to recognise significant achievements by Governments as they try to garner support for their own political ends.

It is the responsibility of all of us, either those who hold public office or those who seek election office to public office, to recognise achievements and to criticise outcomes when those criticisms are genuinely held.

As you can see from what I have said, this is not a cynical decision by a Minister in an election campaign.
This has been a long held demand by communities around airports in Australia. And, it’s something of which these communities in the short, medium and long terms will be extremely grateful.

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