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Australian Transport Safety Bureau

Section 1: Agency overview and resources

1.1: Strategic direction statement

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is established under the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 as the national transport safety investigation agency.

Its primary function is to improve aviation, marine and rail safety.

The ATSB is also required to cooperate with other parties that have functions and powers relating to transport safety or functions affected by the ATSB's function of improving transport safety.  The ATSB is independent and operates on a 'no blame' basis: it is prevented from apportioning blame or providing the means to determine liability in transport safety matters.

In discharging its functions of improving transport safety and cooperating with others, the ATSB will:

  • focus its resources where they are most likely to result in safety improvements;
  • harness the expertise and information necessary to its safety role;
  • conduct impartial, systemic and timely safety investigations;
  • identify safety issues based on evidence and expert analysis;
  • report safety issues clearly and objectively, without attributing blame or liability;
  • ensure the significance of safety issues is clearly understood by all concerned; and
  • promote effective safety action.

Key elements of the ATSB's strategic direction

Building capability and effectiveness

The ATSB's highest operational priority is to undertake those investigations of accidents and safety occurrences that have the greatest potential to deliver improved transport outcomes, with a particular focus on fare-paying mass passenger transport operations.

For many occurrences, the contributing factors and safety issues are well known and there are likely to be few benefits or safety lessons to warrant an extensive investigation. In those cases, the ATSB may undertake a limited fact-gathering investigation only.  Equally, there is often as much or more to be learned from serious incidents or patterns of incident as there is from accidents and where appropriate the ATSB will give priority to these sorts of investigation.

Strategies will be evaluated and implemented to improve the timeliness of the completion of investigations.  The ATSB has therefore adopted new Key Performance Indicators for 2010-11, which include an average of one year from the commencement of an investigation to the public release of the final investigation report.

The ATSB is committed to ensuring it attracts, retains and develops transport safety professionals who consistently carry out thorough, timely and authoritative investigations.  The ATSB will also ensure it is able to effectively respond to a major accident within Australia or to an accident involving an Australian air carrier or ship overseas through training, participation in regular exercises and contingency planning.

Strengthening stakeholder relationships

The ATSB will focus on ways to improve dialogue, coordination and cooperation while protecting the independence of its investigation function.  This work will have three areas of focus: other safety agencies (including coroners); transport industry participants; and the travelling public.  This will include updates of extant Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) and the establishment of new MOUs where these are seen as beneficial.

Commitment to safety research, communication and education

The ATSB will publish its safety research program for the financial year including a list of all active and proposed safety research projects. This program may be updated during the financial year to reflect changes to priorities and scope.  The ATSB will improve consistency and comparability of transport safety datasets, including those that focus on the collection, collation and analysis of data.  The ATSB will review modal occurrence datasets and make recommendations about which of those datasets should most appropriately be the responsibility of the national safety investigator.

In July 2010, the ATSB will release a draft safety communications and education strategy for industry consultation.  It will pay particular attention to industry education programs, to developing and delivering targeted safety messages and ensuring that the outcomes of its research and investigations are communicated as relevant and practical options for improving the system of safety.

Importantly, significant and critical safety issues identified through safety investigations will be communicated as soon as practicable to organisations and individuals best placed to take relevant safety action, regardless of the completion status of the investigation.  The ATSB will also promote the findings of safety investigations as a valuable means of measuring and providing assurance to industry about the effectiveness of safety management systems.

Consistent with its legislative framework and international requirements, the ATSB will cooperate with state, national and international safety agencies to share safety data and intelligence to allow all parties to better perform their safety functions.

Regional and international engagement

The ATSB will assist its regional neighbours, including through international agreements and through participation in targeted government aid programs such as the Indonesian Transport Safety Assistance Package (ITSAP); and cooperation with Papua New Guinea, consistent with the MOU on Cooperation in the Transport Sector.

The ATSB will engage with international counterparts and with relevant multilateral organisations.  The focus will be on ensuring that safety lessons and operational innovations are shared internationally and on collaborating to improve the international standards for accident investigation.  In addition, continuous improvement will be sought through benchmarking and networking with like overseas agencies.  Subject to resource constraints, the ATSB will seek to more fully meet its international obligation to investigate all aviation accidents and serious incidents.

Active participation in the transport reform agenda

The ATSB will work with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government to contribute to the government's regulatory reform agenda to improve the efficiency, safety, sustainability and competitiveness of the aviation, marine and rail industries.  In aviation, the ATSB will implement the government's commitments regarding the safety investigation function and responsibilities outlined in the National Aviation Policy White Paper - Flight Path to the Future, tabled on 16 December 2009.  In rail, the ATSB will position itself to ensure that it meets the Council of Australian Governments' commitment to a national rail safety investigator.  In marine, the ATSB will collaborate on safety investigation arrangements associated with an expanded role for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), covering all commercial shipping.

In its Budget, the Government has announced $8.256m for 2010-11 only for portfolio agencies to undertake some preliminary work associated with proposed reforms to the National Transport Regulatory framework.  The ATSB has been allocated $0.788m of this funding to prepare for an expanded role in rail safety investigations to include almost all interstate and corporate rail operations, and a potentially expanded role in maritime safety investigations to include almost all commercial vessels which will be regulated in future by AMSA.

1.2: Agency resource statement

Table 1.1 shows the total resources from all sources.

Table 1.1: Agency resource statement - Budget estimates for 2010-11 as at Budget May 2010

1.3: Budget measures

Budget measures relating to ATSB are detailed in Budget Paper No. 2 and are summarised below.

Table 1.2: Agency 2010-11 Budget measures

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Budget 2010-11