Councils that operate airports in western Queensland are trying to understand how news that the federal government vastly under-estimated the cost of regulations requiring security screening at regional airports will impact them.
Revelations of the costs associated with the ongoing operation of screening airline passengers have been made by Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick, a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport.
He said documents obtained under Freedom of Information showed the federal government had offered to pay for screening equipment but not the significant ongoing operating costs.
"When bureaucrats in the Canberra bubble first dreamed up this policy they thought the annual cost of operating the equipment would range from $530,000 to $760,000," he said. "They conducted no studies into the impacts that these additional charges would have on regional townships."
Thanks to criticism by the Senate Standing Committee, analysis was undertaken, which Mr Patrick said showed that in Whyalla in his home state of South Australia, annual operating costs would be between $1.2m and $2m.
"(It's) a number that will cripple air travel in that region," he said "The new analysis suggests that the increased cost might not be directly passed on through ticket pricing."
Mr Patrick is planning to request the entire document produced in October 2019 detailing case studies on the financial impacts of passenger security screening enhancements, which includes Longreach airport.
The Barcaldine Regional Council has already installed checked baggage screening at its airport, which CEO Steven Boxall said was "run on the smell of an oily rag" to keep costs as low as possible.
A pool of staff, trained at council expense, fill the screening roles at the airport.
"Ours is a regulated route so it's already subsidised by government," Mr Boxall said.
"But the airport is an essential service and council invests a substantial amount in supporting that.
"We would certainly be against anything that increases costs to people coming in or out of Barcaldine."
During the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport references committee hearing in Darwin last March, QantasLink CEO John Gissing said markets such as that at Whyalla would be significantly impacted by the costs of new security measures.
He estimated ongoing operational costs of between $700,000 and $1m and said that would put services such as those in jeopardy entirely.
Mr Patrick said he was happy for there to be security screening at regional airports but the federal government must pay the operating costs.
He has moved to disallow the regulations imposing the screening requirement and said he would not withdraw it until the government agreed to meet the operating costs.
The disallowance vote will take place in the Senate on May 12.
"This will be a real test for Coalition Senators who often claim to represent regional Australia," Senator Patrick said.
"I'm going to give them the opportunity to buck the party line and vote in support of regional communities.
"This is also a test for the Labor Party, which regularly just waves through government legislation in this parliament."