Coalition Airport Security Policy puts the Handbrake on Regional Growth
Centre Alliance has called on the Government to rethink its damaging airport security policy that would see regional centres held responsible for national security costs.
"As we see people like Sanjeev Gupta putting the foot on the growth accelerator in and around Whyalla, the Prime Minister is putting on the handbrake," said Senator Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance Transport Spokesperson.
In May 2018, the Government announced a budget allocation of $50.1 million to upgrade security at regional airports through the installation of body scanners and advanced x-ray equipment. This coincided with a decision to mandate the screening of regular public transport flights carrying 40 passengers or more, down from the current 20,000kg mean take-off weight threshold (approximately 50 seats). This will affect Qantas and Regional Express (REX) Airlines' flights out of Kingscote, Mount Gambier, Port Lincoln and Whyalla.
The Government has not offered sufficient funding for the cost of airport terminal modifications that will be required in regional towns like Whyalla to be able to accommodate a check-in area, a security screening area and a sterile area for passengers awaiting departure. Additionally, and more significantly, the ongoing costs of operating the new security equipment, estimated by the Department of Home Affairs to be between $530,000 and $760,000 per year, will have to be borne by either increased regional council rates or increased ticket prices.
The ongoing Senate inquiry into regional airfares has received strong evidence that increased passenger fares ultimately lead to a decrease in passenger numbers and have even been the cause of people deciding to leave regional areas.
"Regional air services are the lifeblood of regional, rural and remote communities. It is critical for the general community for access to medical care, educational services, small business and to encourage tourism," said Rex.
"I have asked questions at Senate Estimates and conducted a Freedom of Information request of the Department of Home Affairs but from the evidence presented, it is clear that very little analysis, if any, has been carried out by the Government as to the negative effect the policy change will have on the affected communities."
Senator Patrick and colleague Rebekha Sharkie, Member for Mayo, wrote to the Minister for Transport and Regional Development, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, asking him to reconsider the policy.
"Centre Alliance is calling on the Government to treat national security costs as exactly that - national. It should not be for regions to bear a disproportionate share of the cost of security from terrorism or other threats," Rex said.
"The full capital and operating costs of the Canberra mandated changes must be borne from consolidated revenue. If the Government refuses, this will become an election issue."
Senator Patrick has also written to Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, and Member for Barker, Tony Pasin, calling on them to support Centre Alliance and their constituents on this issue.
Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie has expressed strong concern about impacts the Government's policy would have on airport operations at Kingscote.
"Qantas has only recently commenced operations out of Kingscote Airport which has already improved passenger numbers by more than 10 per cent over the past twelve months," said Rebekha. "This policy has the real potential to derail this, predominately tourism related, increase. This would be totally counterproductive to Kangaroo Island."
Centre Alliance Candidate for Grey Andrea Broadfoot said the change in policy will also adversely affect both Whyalla and Port Lincoln.
"The electorate of Grey encompasses key regional centres like Whyalla and Port Lincoln that are reliant on affordable air services," Andrea said. "Rowan Ramsey may be conflicted in his loyalty to the Liberal Party, but Centre Alliance is calling on him to put his constituents first and lobby with us on this issue."
Centre Alliance Candidate for Barker, Kelly Gladigau, expressed concern about how the Government's policy could affect the growth of the Barker electorate.
"Only recently did REX Airlines and the District Council of Grant resolve differences over airport landing charges," said Kelly. "This change in policy will reopen old wounds and once again stifle regional growth that the area so desperately needs."
Copies of the letters to Minister McCormack, Mr Pasin and Mr Ramsey are available here.