Warren Entsch, MLA for Leichardt and Chief Opposition Whip, delivered a fiery denunciation during last night’s adjournment debate, of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s treatment of Barrier Aviation. Warren’s electorate covers a large patch of Barrier’s operating area, and as a long-standing MP and frequent flier throughout Cape York and the Gulf Country, he’s watched these processes for many years with growing concern.
Other parliamentarians to whom ProAviation has spoken share his concerns, and Mr Entsch’s calls for an enquiry are likely to be echoed in many other electorates. Our readers have been providing us with suggested inclusions in a terms of reference, which we’ll be passing on at an appropriate time.
Here’s Mr Entsch’s speech in full:
I rise tonight to outline a very serious issue —the seemingly corrupt and anti-commercial conduct of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority office in Cairns, which appears to hide in the shadows and cites ‘safety’ as a reason to advance personal vendettas against local aviation operators. Numerous operators in Cairns have been subjected to incompetence, threats and demands from individuals who make decisions outside of CASA’s authority. Barrier Aviation is the most recent victim, but I know of at least three other operators who have been irreparably damaged by the Gestapo tactics of a few individuals, namely, Phil Lister, Mark Ayrey and Gerard Campbell, and with the Director of CASA himself turning a blind eye.
The complaints include: totally incorrect interpretations of regulations, requiring operators to jump through unnecessary hoops at the inspectors’ commands; the inexperience of inspectors, not knowing how to interpret regulations or legislation; inspectors entering aircraft unauthorised and unsupervised and interfering with master control switches; inspectors threatening regulatory action if operators do not do as they are told even when the inspectors are wrong; formal complaints being buried and never responded to.
It is common knowledge within the aviation industry that, if CASA want you shut down, they simply bury you with regulations and wear you down with costs until you go broke. In Cairns the personal vendetta against David Kilin, an industry stalwart of almost 40 years, has led to the closure of his life’s work.
It started back in 2011 when a complaint was made by Barrier to the Industry Complaints Commissioner. This complaint implicated a number of individuals within CASA Cairns who had displayed incompetent, unethical and irresponsible conduct towards Barrier. In a blatant conflict of interest, the main subject of the complaint, Mr Phil Lister, remained as an inspector of Barrier Aviation and associated companies and, incredibly, received a promotion. Despite requests, CASA’s office refused to assign Barrier to another CASA office. Meanwhile, the complaint was never responded to and, in retaliation, CASA spent almost 18 months setting Barrier Aviation up. This included a complaint that was lodged against Barrier by a disgruntled ex-employee, who then fled back to his home country of New Zealand, resulting in the cancellation of Barrier’s AOC.
Barrier has serious concerns with CASA Cairns’s procedures, including the total lack of collaboration between CASA and the industry, unilateral decision-making, reversal of the onus of proof and the lack of procedural fairness and rights of appeal. At no time did CASA try to work with the operator to address their concerns. It was simply a witch-hunt to seek revenge on David Kilin. CASA has lied about evidence and padded their investigation to make Barrier into an unsafe operator despite Barrier previously excelling in this area.
What is also unbelievable is the abuse of process. Six months after Barrier was forced to shut its doors, they still have not been able to test a single allegation in court—and at the cost of $28,000 per day in lost revenue. And to top it off, CASA has sent press release after press release with statements that have never been tested.
Around 50 people have lost their jobs, investors have lost millions of dollars, and David Kilin has lost his life’s work. And even now, CASA is not content with just burying Barrier, they want to dance on the grave as well. I was disgusted to learn that CASA Cairns has been speaking to potential purchasers of Barrier aircraft, threatening that they will not approve their airworthiness.
Since Barrier’s very public demise, I have had numerous calls from right across the country from people telling me that CASA Cairns has a history of destroying small businesses. The most troubling thing is that, while these callers are keen to express a huge amount of sympathy for Barrier, they are too scared to speak publicly. This industry urgently needs an independent body and rights mechanisms to hold CASA Cairns accountable for their own inadequacies and conduct. After 14 September, I will be calling for a full inquiry. I will not let Barrier be destroyed without holding those individuals who are directly responsible for this sordid business accountable for their actions.
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