Mr BLACK: My question is directed to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads. How is the State Government assisting regional airlines?
Mr SCULLY: Air services are in many ways the lifeblood of rural communities. Air services allow residents in country New South Wales to conduct business in Sydney, allow professionals such as doctors, barristers and judicial officers to serve in rural centres and, more importantly, allow families and friends to stay in touch. We are all aware how tough the past two years have been for regional airlines. Country Labor members, together with the honourable member for Northern Tablelands, the honourable member for Port Macquarie and the honourable member for Dubbo, continue to remind me of the problems that their communities face regarding the continued viability of regional airlines.
The statistics paint a bleak picture. In the 2000-01 financial year 1.4 million passengers travelled on regional airlines to Sydney. In the last financial year there was a 30 per cent decrease in passenger numbers. Deniliquin lost its service to Sydney in 2000, followed by Cowra, Forbes, Young, West Wyalong, Cootamundra, Gunnedah, Singleton, Scone, Coonabarabran, Kempsey and Maitland in early 2001. Casino, Nyngan and Brewarrina lost their air services in the wake of the Ansett collapse. That makes 15 centres cut off from Sydney in less than two years.
Mr George: Point of order: The Minister did not mention Casino.
Mr SCULLY: I just did. Following the initiatives that the Government implemented some time ago to improve the viability of regional airlines, I can inform honourable members that we are now able to take further steps. Although the Federal Government has primary responsibility for air services, I asked the Department of Transport what additional initiatives we could take to assist the viability of smaller air routes. I am pleased to announce to the House that the Government will extend the single-operator protection to all routes with fewer than 50,000 passengers, we will waive licence fees for all routes with fewer than 50,000 passengers and we will extend the licence period for all operators from three years to five years. This will protect a further six centres—Orange, Lismore, Griffith, Lord Howe Island, Moree and Taree, all of which are currently served by a single operator—from competition, giving long-term certainty to operators on smaller routes and peace of mind to country residents.
Abolishing the licence fee is only a modest contribution to improving viability, but I think protection against competition is a significant initiative on the part of this Government. I will continue to call on the Federal Government—as I know will Country Labor and independent members—to do more to ensure the viability of regional and rural air services. The Federal Government must address the increases in airport charges following the sale of Sydney airport: the $10 per ticket Ansett levy, taxes on the sale and purchase of new aircraft, and Civil Aviation Safety Authority charges for compliance checking. I ask Country Labor and independent members to continue to put pressure on the Federal Government and to inform their electors that this Government is fair dinkum about doing its bit to protect the viability of regional airlines.
Questions without notice concluded.