The Liberal-National government does recognise that, too often, changes have been made through the CASA regime that have imposed unnecessary costs with little or no safety benefit but that have come at a great cost to the aviation sector itself. That's why we have progressed changes to the CASA act through the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill that was passed through this place.
Senator McDONALD (Queensland) (14:35):
My question is to the Minister representing the Deputy Prime Minister. Minister, given the huge distances in Australia, our aviation industry is vital to keep families, tourists and businesses moving. Could the minister explain how the Morrison government's amendments to the Civil Aviation Act will help to deliver benefits to aviation investors and users?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:35):
I thank Senator McDonald for her question. She personally knows well the challenges of those large distances and also the need to have efficient aviation transport to overcome those and support those who live far away from our major centres. I also welcome a question that goes to the real challenges and issues that face Australians out there in the real world. The Liberal-National government does recognise that, too often, changes have been made through the CASA regime that have imposed unnecessary costs with little or no safety benefit but that have come at a great cost to the aviation sector itself. That's why we have progressed changes to the CASA act through the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill that was passed through this place. What that will in effect do is elevate the consideration of such costs from a guideline or minister's statement of expectations to the legislation itself. We are doing that with the intention to ensure that CASA, who make these standards and regulations, are held accountable to the principles that we set. I am sure that Senator McDonald, especially in her role as Chair of the rural and regional affairs and transport committee, will help make sure that there is accountability there and support of general aviation businesses in the sector.
That none of these changes will compromise safety remains the government's absolute commitment to prioritise a safe industry but also ensure it is one that is vibrant and resilient and one that supports Australians—particularly regional Australians, who require and rely on the services to do business, to go about their jobs and to get to and from important appointments, particularly relating to their health. This is a very important sector for our country and for the environment that we live in, and we have a strong commitment to make sure that general aviation in Australia continues to thrive, grow and support all regional Australians.
Senator McDonald, a supplementary question.
Senator McDONALD (Queensland) (14:37):
How important is our general aviation sector to regional Australia?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:37):
As I was saying, Senator McDonald knows well how important the sector is. One case in point is, earlier this year, in the devastating floods that hit north-west Queensland, which Senator McDonald knows well, the general aviation sector was crucial for that immediate first response to help people in danger, to support graziers getting feed and other materials for their household and to their cattle, and to help move cattle as much as possible out of danger's way. The sector itself is a massive one for our country. Directly or indirectly, over 500,000 Australians rely on the aviation sector to their jobs. There is something in the order of 22,000 aircraft that support those jobs in the communities they operate in. There are 255 flying schools right across Australia. We want to make sure that we maintain that support for regional Australia and regional Australian businesses because if we can't fly, those distances become longer than they already are.
Senator McDonald, a final supplementary question.
Senator McDONALD (Queensland) (14:38):
Minister, what are the challenges facing the aviation industry in regional areas?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:38)
The challenges that are facing the aviation sector as a whole particularly affect those in rural and regional areas specifically. There has been a shortage of pilots right around the world. That is having an impact on all Australians, but it particularly impacts the general aviation sector in regional areas, which rely heavily on getting those pilots and attracting people into these roles. That's why the government has announced in this year's budget an increase in the cap for aviation students through the VET FEE-HELP support program from $100,000 to $150,000 to help train pilots and to ensure that we have more trainee pilots graduate, come through with qualifications, and we increase the supply of pilots over time. I congratulate the airlines that have established flying schools in regional centres, which will help increase the supply of pilots through regional Australia. Centres are going forward in Toowoomba, Tamworth and Mackay to help ease these pressures. This will also make sure that, over time, we continue to have a strong and vibrant aviation sector for Australia.