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21 February 2020


New documents obtained under FOI by Senator Rex Patrick reveal that regional air fares will increase to the point where many routes will simply get closed down if security screening is imposed on regional airports without the Government covering the operating costs.

The Federal Coalition Government has introduced regulations into the Parliament that will require security screening at regional airports. They’ve offered to pay for the equipment but not the much more significant ongoing operating costs.

"I’m happy for there to be security screening at regional airports, but the Government must pay the operating costs," said Senator Rex Patrick. "National security should be a national responsibility, not a local cost."

A Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development case study into Whyalla, an airport serviced by both REX and Qantas, has found that the new requirement will increase the per person flight by $53 or $69.

If screening is only carried out on Qantas passengers the cost will be $69 extra, clearly a number that will make Qantas uncompetitive. If it is carried out on both REX and Qantas passengers the cost will be $53 extra, which will reduce the ability or willingness for people to fly. This will result in either a reduction in the number of flights to and from Whyalla, or potentially the cancellation of the service completely.

"The Government has botched this up completely," said Senator Patrick. "They failed to do proper due diligence from the beginning and only now are they discovering the devastating impacts this proposal will have on regional communities."

"Whyalla and Port Lincoln will be seriously affected by this bungle. However, it’s the thin edge of the wedge. Kangaroo Island and Mount Gambier are likely next."

"When bureaucrats in the Canberra bubble first dreamed up this policy they thought the annual cost of operating the equipment would range from $530,000 to $760,000. They conducted no studies into the impacts that these additional charges would have on regional townships. It is only after criticism by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport committee that they bothered to do any analysis. The newly completed analysis for Whyalla shows an annual operating cost of between $1.2M and $2M, a number that will cripple air travel in that region."

"The new analysis suggests that the increased cost might not be directly passed on through ticket pricing. This just shows how hopelessly out-of-touch Scott Morrison’s Government has become," said Senator Patrick.

Senator Patrick has moved to disallow the regulations imposing the screening requirement and will not withdraw it until the Government agrees to meet the operating costs. The disallowance vote will take place in the Senate on the 12 May 2020.

"This will be a real test for Coalition Senators who often claim to represent regional Australia," Senator Patrick said. "I’m going to give them the opportunity to buck the party line and vote in support of regional communities."

"This is also a test for the Labor Party which regularly just waves through Government legislation in this Parliament."

A copy of the document released under FOI, along with Senator Patrick’s additional comments to the Senate Inquiry Report providing relevant background, can be found here.