Councils operating regional airports have welcomed the federal government's late addition to regional airport security screening cost offsets, brought about by pressure from the Nationals in the Senate.
The move, undertaken by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, to ensure costs incurred by regional airports to improve security screening measures, in line with government requirements, will not be passed on to regional travellers, came ahead of a disallowance motion by Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick.
In February, Mr Patrick, a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, revealed that the the costs associated with the ongoing operation of screening airline passengers had been vastly under-estimated by the government when it brought in its regulations.
The federal government committed more than $50 million dollars towards new security equipment at regional airports in the 2018-19 budget.
According to the Nationals leader in the Senate Bridget McKenzie, they had since negotiated a positive outcome with the government to ensure regional travellers do not face disproportionate cost increases, particularly at a time when regional aviation is reeling from the consequences of COVID-19.
Fellow Senator and chair of the RRAT, Susan McDonald said that if a nationwide solution was required, it went without saying that a nationwide price was the answer.
"I believe with every fibre of my being that, as a nation, we cannot accept differential pricing to be loaded onto regional communities to achieve the nation's outcomes.
"I sincerely thank the minister for his work in reconsidering these costs in this regard."
Neil Fisher, the councillor overseeing airport growth for the Rockhampton Regional Council, welcomed the news and thanked central Queensland Senator Matt Canavan for being supportive of the cause of local government airport owners.
He said the new scanning equipment at the Rockhampton airport required substantial structural changes that would cost $14.3m.
"It's not like changing a light bulb," he said.
"We've had to pull out all the front wall, the current scanning equipment and the lifts, so the new equipment, which is three times bigger, fits.
"On top of that, it uses more power and there will be extra operating costs because it will be a lot slower for people to go through."
Cr Fisher said complying with the government's increased security regulations was coming at a time when their budget was really stretched.
"There has been a 95 per cent drop in business at the airport.
"If we're going to keep the airport viable, we're going to need help."
Major terminal works at Emerald airport will cost $4.25 million dollars plus operating costs of about $219,000.
Gladstone airport's security investment is worth approximately $100,000.
Ms McDonald said regional airport operators had made it clear what increased costs would mean.
"Everyone is aware that if you increase costs on airports, they will be passed on to operators, who will pass them on to passengers," she said.
"At our hearings, many regional airport operators told us they are concerned about the potential impacts of increased costs leading to fewer passengers, fewer services and eventually even fewer airports serving regional Australia.
"The Nationals in the Senate will not take a backward step in standing up for rural Australia."
Taking it on faith
Greens Senator Janet Rice asked to see what had been negotiated and what its price was.
"We should have heard an announcement from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister standing side by side today to say how the new cost arrangements were going to occur.
"We just have to take it on trust, on faith, that somehow the Nationals have negotiated a better deal."
Speaking to his disallowance motion, Mr Patrick said he wanted to make it clear that his seeking disallowance of the regulation was not about airport security, which he supported.
"It's about sharing costs; it's about being fair about how we distribute costs.
"People in the regions are paying for security but the threat is most likely in the city where they arrive.
"So we've got people in the regions putting their hands in their pocket to pay extremely high airfares, and they are doing so in the interests of the people in the cities.
"This is a national security requirement; it should not be a local council cost; it should be looked at nationally."
The story Regional councils welcome airport security cost announcement first appeared on North Queensland Register.