FRAN KELLY: Last night in Federal Parliament, two senior MPs, one from the
Government, one from the Opposition, both rose to speak about a
tragic plane crash nearly a decade ago and half a world away, in
which three Australians were killed.
Labor's Gary Gray and the Liberal MP, Judi Moylan, both from WA, detailed numerous safety failures and official inaction since the South African registered Cessna crashed in 2004. All up, six people on board were killed.
Despite the deaths and two further serious incidents, the company responsible for the maintenance of that Cessna is still in business. The campaign for a proper investigation into the crash is now gathering speed. Present in the Chamber last night were the high commissioners for South Africa, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Gary Gray is the Special Minister of State. Gary Gray, welcome to Breakfast.
GARY GRAY: Good morning, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Gary, can you tell us briefly what happened ten years ago? This was a sightseeing flight over Victoria Falls.
GARY GRAY: That's right. The aircraft took off from Zambia and was heading back into South Africa. At the time of the incident, the aircraft had reached its cruising level. The pilot reported engine vibration. The vibration became more severe and then ultimately separation of the propeller from the engine, with corresponding loss of power to the aircraft, oil over the windscreen of the aircraft. The pilot then began to search for a place to land in such a distressed state. Within six minutes, the airplane had crashed into the ground and all on board had been killed.
FRAN KELLY: So a propeller, when the propeller falls off at eight-thousand feet, it's hard to land the plane safely. Has there been or was there at the time a proper investigation into this and what happened?
GARY GRAY: Sam Morton, the West Australian man, father of a young woman who died in the crash, her husband also died and his mother, he began the work himself. He gathered parts and had them properly analysed. It was then concluded that the service company had used a wrong part in attaching the propeller to the aeroplane as part of its servicing process.
FRAN KELLY: But just to stop you there, Gary Gray, you're saying this was found out by an investigation run by the father of one of those people killed, not run by the company itself or the Aviation Safety Authority in South Africa.
GARY GRAY: The Aviation Safety Authority had begun work, we believe, genuinely seeking to pursue the reasons for the crash and to understand and to properly remedy. It does appear that in recent years there has been a less diligent approach by authorities. That's really what drove Judi and I to our seat to raise the issue in such a very public way in the Parliament last night.
FRAN KELLY: But it sounds like you're saying that Sam Morton and the investigation he ran has found clear evidence of a breach of safety proceedings. The company, the aviation maintenance company, Nelair had inspected this plane just nineteen days before the accident.
GARY GRAY: That's correct. In fact, work had been performed on the propeller.
FRAN KELLY: So you want the South African Department of Transport to take appropriate action to ensure proper investigation and if appropriate prosecution of those responsible. What pressure can you really bring to bear here?
GARY GRAY: Over the years, both Judi and I have ensured that prime ministers
have written letters for South Africans. We've ensured a proper level
of diplomatic pressure [unclear 003:33], a formal letter of complaint
has been lodged with the South African authorities from the British,
from the Canadian and from the Australian authorities.
But over the years, the South African authorities have shown less and less of a predisposition to properly investigate and to take proper action to create a situation where we would say appropriate measures have taken place to ensure air safety in South Africa. That's why we were moved to our seat last night to argue the case and to present the full picture of the events, the tragic events that had happened almost a decade ago in order to encourage the South Africans to properly investigate and conclude that investigation with proper measures to ensure air safety in South Africa.
FRAN KELLY: It's four minutes to seven on Breakfast. Our guest this morning is Special Minister of State, Gary Gray. Gary Gray, you are a politician, standing for re-election in Western Australia, which is the state where the mining tax hit hard and was heavily opposed. You're also a former senior executive in the resources sector, working at Woodside. Re the mining tax, given the amount of money we've seen it raise in its first six months, in your view, should this tax now be redrawn?
GARY GRAY: No. I don't think it should. It's a profit-based tax. Over the course of the last six and eight months, we've seen significant volatility in the price indexes, particularly for iron ore. Iron ore has dropped as low as eighty-eight-dollars and has been has high a-hundred-and-forty. And with the kind of volatility that we've seen and especially the prolonged trough in prices, we saw a lot of mining ventures and mining companies struggle to just make it through the third and fourth quarters of last year.
FRAN KELLY: But is this really the problem? I mean, the Prime Minister herself notes that the GST distribution review panel reported last year that allowing mining companies to deduct all present and future royalties they pay state governments from their mining tax liabilities was, quote, neither desirable nor sustainable, that while ever that's in place the thinking is this tax will not raise what was promised and what it should raise.
GARY GRAY: I think it's worth having in mind that there were circumstances surrounding the design of the mining tax that meant the Government had to do the best job it could do in the circumstances available to it. Now, in the design of a profit-based tax, we had to reasonably take into account how the royalty system worked in various different jurisdictions, while at the same time understand as best as we could the future projections through the price cycles for those commodities. My belief is the mining tax is a tax which had a revenue difficulty last year as a consequence of what happened in global minerals markets and in particular in iron ore markets.
FRAN KELLY: We've just got to just very briefly, because we have to go - but you - as I say, you are in a - you hold [the seat 006:44] of Brand by six per cent. You are under pressure from that twenty-two-million-dollar campaign from the mining industry against the tax. Would you be worried if the Government moved to make this tax more onerous on the miners? Would you be worried of another campaign against it in the run-up to an election?
GARY GRAY: No. Campaigns themselves have never been of concern to me. Having a tax system that works as well as it possibly can, to have a tax system that doesn't compromise future projects is critically important. And that's why the central core of this tax is a profit-based tax. If you make a profit, then it depends where that profit is after certain costs have been deducted. You don't simply have a tax like a royalty that works twenty-four/seven, every day of the week, every week of the year, taxing a commodity as does the royalty regime.
FRAN KELLY: Gary Gray, thank you very much for joining us.
GARY GRAY: Thank you very much, Fran.