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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 powers relating to transport safety or functions affected by the ATSB’s priority 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 safety 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 (Short Investigation). 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 those sorts of investigation.

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 emergency 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 continue to publish educational material aimed at line operators and others based on the analysis of occurrence data and in-house expertise. The ATSB will work with the national rail safety regulator project office, the seven current rail jurisdictions, and industry to ensure that a national rail occurrence database that reflects the needs of the regulator, investigator and industry, is operational by 2013, including the population of agreed historical data. The ATSB will review marine occurrence datasets and make recommendations about the appropriate role of the national safety investigator in relation to a future national marine occurrence database.

The ATSB will continue to implement its 2011 Communication Plan. Using the findings of the stakeholder research conducted in 2010, the plan provides an evidence-based approach to communicate key safety messages to the transport industry and community

The website will be further developed as the ATSB’s key communication channel to publish more regular status reports and updates for ongoing investigations, timely and targeted news items, and announcements of new investigations.

To support and guide its communication and education activities, the ATSB will conduct follow-up research with stakeholders in September 2011. The research will also track stakeholders’ awareness of safety issues and level of satisfaction with the ATSB’s services.

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 and Transport 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.

In its Budget, the Government has announced funding of $2.4m in 2011-12 and $8m in 2012-13 to enable the ATSB to prepare for a national role as Australia’s no-blame rail and maritime safety investigator. As part of the reforms to rail safety, the Council of Australian Governments has agreed that the ATSB will take on the national role of investigating rail accidents across Australia.

Steps are in train to consider the development of similar arrangements for maritime safety investigation as part of those national reforms. This will potentially expand the ATSB’s role from only investigating accidents involving Australian registered, interstate and overseas trading ships to include all corporately owned commercial vessels operating in state waters.

1.2: Agency resource statement

Table 1.1 shows the total resources from all sources.

Table 1.1: Agency resource statement - Budget estimates for 2011-12 as at Budget May 2011

1.3: Budget measures

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

Table 1.2: Agency 2011-12 Budget measures

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Budget 2010-11