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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Airline safety audit reports not exempt

Expect this decision by Senior Member Taylor in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal this week  to make big news, at least in aviation circles. Michael McKinnon of the Seven Network and Mr Vasta the assistant federal secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association substantially succeeded in a Freedom of Information case against the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, winning access to CASA safety audit reports from 2006-07 concerning problems with, and standards for, maintenance of Qantas aircraft offshore.(Update-The 7 Network ran the story Flying Blind on Today Tonight on 12 July.  They promise more when they actually get the documents.)

CASA argued against disclosure, supported by submissions from Qantas and other international airlines, that detrimental effects would follow disclosure. Senior Member Taylor found many of these claims to be general and overblown, and didn't think much of what CASA's main witness had to say on some matters. Exemptions that involved prejudice to the future supply of information, adverse effect on operations and unreasonable effect on business affairs, on the evidence, were not made out, with an exception for one category of documents, Service Difficulty Reports submitted by Qantas concerning serious safety problems

CASA also came in for some criticism about the handling of the FOI applications, which go back three years, including the narrow way it had interpreted a request, and whether all relevant documents had been identified.

The Tribunal, subject to submissions from CASA, is disposed to make a rare recommendation to the Attorney General that the Government pay what would be the "substantial costs" of the applicants, but an anachronistic limitation on the need to demonstate financial hardship is probably going to get in the way here.

Await something interesting on Channel 7 once they get their hands on the documents-or if there is any error of law in the decision, and it looks sound and based on the evidence to me, news of an appeal.

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