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Air crash investigation agency to cut staff by about 20 per cent

Australia's air crash investigation agency is to cut its staff by up to 20 per cent.

As the search continues for the Malaysian Airlines flight missing between Malaysia and China, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau is set to tell its 110 workers that at least 20 of them must go.

Unions are demanding that frontline safety inspectors will be quarantined from the cull, which is being blamed on the "efficiency dividend" cost-cutting hitting most government departments.

The bureau is the federal government's lead agency for the investigation of air, rail and shipping accidents, near-misses and safety flaws. The ATSB's staff of about 110 includes about 60 air, sea and rail safety investigators, mostly based in Canberra but some working from field offices in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

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The bureau also provides Australian know-how to help countries in the region investigate tragedies and develop their own safety frameworks.

Transport Minister Warren Truss was on a flight on Tuesday and could not respond to the news but a bureau spokesman confirmed the ATSB was "facing a substantially reduced budget for the coming year''.

"We are currently reviewing the strategies we have in place for meeting that reduction," he said.

"No final decisions have yet been made about what further action needs to be taken to reduce staffing levels.''

Professional Australia, the union that represents many of the bureau's staff, said it was worried the move would see a reduction in the numbers of frontline investigators.

"We are concerned that investigators have been told that these cuts could result in a reduction of investigator numbers," union official David Smith said.


  • In October 2011, there was an accident at the Old Bar Beach Festival when an ultralight aircraft crashed into a Ferris Wheel; fortunately there were no casualties however this easily could not have been the case. The ATSB commenced an investigation AO-2011-126 and a preliminary report was issued on the 29th November 2011. This report should have raised serious public concerns about matters discovered during this preliminary investigation. As of today, the final report has not been issued despite an update on the ATSB website dated 6th February 2014 as follows: "Completion of the final report has been delayed by the involvement of the investigator in charge in several other investigations and is now anticipated for release to the public in February 2014." As of this morning, this report has not been released.

    It is obvious from this and the time taken for other investigations that this important role for maintaining and improving the safety of public transport in Australia is seriously understaffed and the proposed staff reductions will result in future investigations being delayed or not undertaken at all thus reducing the opportunity for prompt corrective action to enhance public safety.

    Another instance where politicians "know the price of everything and the value of nothing".

    NSW Mid-North Coast
    Date and time
    March 12, 2014, 8:20AM
    • Don't worry mate - the government is merely liberating the workers, liberating the airlines from independent investigation, and liberating the Australian public from such high safety standards.

      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 11:16AM
    • I wonder how long an independent contractor would have taken to complete the work, if they were paid upon an acceptable deliverable?

      Maybe the delay just highlights the glacial pace that some of these organisations work at.

      Been there
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 3:53PM
    • I take your point. If they're that useless we may as well fire 100% of them.

      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 4:35PM
    • Been there. An independent contractor would come to a conclusion within the timeframe to ensure getting paid. It does not mean that the conclusion is correct as there was an incentive to complete the investigation within a given time frame irrespective of the outcome or the contract would not be paid. Getting an outcome is not the same as getting the truth.

      Shane in QLD
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 7:22PM
    • Been there
      The problem with"payment on acceptable deliverables" is that the debate is about whether the deliverable has been met rather than whether the report is actually correct.
      I'd prefer an accurate report. After all these investigations are about preventing future crashes, not apportioning blame.

      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 7:51PM
  • Its these sorts of agencies where we can save a motza. There is no need for it to be a seperate agency (and the baggage + budget that comes with it) . Just make it a branch of CASA. That would save at least 40% of its budget. There is no need for it to have its own IT, HR, Finance, Property, Media and other hanger-ons that these piddly agencies seem to collect.

    Then go after each agency and make them a branch in a department.

    Date and time
    March 12, 2014, 8:31AM
    • There is fat to trim in the public service in middle management positions (ie ELs with no staff reporting to them) and SES with small reporting areas. Wouldn't have thought cutting an agency responsible for what is essentially investigating transport safety etc would be such a sensible idea though.

      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 9:13AM
    • Stoney
      Disagree entirely with you. The ATSB needs to be independent so it is not influenced by CASA, or be dependent on funding and HR from them. Besides it now investigates across the Transport spectrum, not just air safety matters. It is already a lean organisation, and cutting funding is a sure recipe for compromising quality of its investigations and reporting. We have good record of transport safety for air, rail, and marine, let us keep it that way!

      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 9:26AM
    • But CASA is funded by the airlines...

      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 10:06AM

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