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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee - 20/10/2014 - Estimates - INFRASTRUCTURE AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO - Office of Transport Security

Office of Transport Security

[20:27]

CHAIR: We will now move to the Office of Transport Security.

Senator CONROY: Are you familiar with the Transport Security Outlook to 2025 document released by OTS two weeks ago?

Mr Mrdak : Yes.

Senator CONROY: The document's purpose states:

The Outlook provides OTS with a credible information base designed to enhance its ability to prioritise decision-making and allocate resources. It will assist OTS to plan how its regulatory framework and business model will be shaped to deal with the growing volumes of trade and travel and the likely complexity in the Australian transport industry in the future.

Does that sound familiar?

Mr Wilson : That sounds familiar.

Senator CONROY: And further:

OTS was established 10 years ago in response to a growing spate of terrorist attacks, such as the 2001 attacks in the United States and the Bali bombings in 2002. Since then, the core role of OTS has been to implement measures that strengthen transport security and safeguard Australians and Australia’s national interests through regulation, and domestic and international partnerships.

All good? In your oil and gas section, you make the following observation:

In response to a lack of highly skilled Australian employees available to work on offshore projects, some facilities are hiring staff from overseas. About 10 per cent of the workforce for the floating LNG project Prelude, within the Browse Basin permit area, comprises highly trained foreign staff.

Why is that observation relevant to transport security?

Mr Wilson : Under the act that we regulate, the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act, we also regulate security arrangements associated with offshore facilities.

Senator CONROY: So you are raising it because you think that 10 per cent might be an extra security threat?

Mr Wilson : I am sorry, Senator?

Senator CONROY: I am trying to understand what it has to do with the broad paper. I appreciate your work but—

Mr Wilson : In terms of the issue of 457 visas?

Senator CONROY: I am wanting to understand why you made the point about a lack of highly skilled Australian employees? Is that a security issue?

Mr Wilson : Employees that operate on offshore platforms will hold an MSIC—a maritime security identification card—so there are issues associated with individuals being employed under 457 and holding MSICs. So there is a—

Senator CONROY: So there is a higher degree of vetting that they have to go through because of this?

Mr Wilson : It is the same vetting process, but—

Senator CONROY: If it is the same vetting, then why are you raising it?

Mr Wilson : Because, Senator, issues associated with employees from overseas have a greater degree of complexity in terms of the background checking, because of their overseas location.

Senator CONROY: In your maritime section you make the following observation:

The maritime industry will see continued diversity in crew origin and ship ownership. Trends to date indicate that the Australian trading fleet is becoming increasingly registered overseas …The international trading fleet facilitating Australia trade is made up of a diverse range of foreign flags such as: Liberian and Korean vessels carrying bulk cargo; British, Singaporean and Tongan vessels carrying containerised and general cargo; and Australian, Bermudan and Hong Kong flag vessels carrying LNG.

Again, why is this observation relevant to transport security?

Ms Wimmer : It is about the changing patterns of what we are seeing coming into Australia and what that means from a security perspective. Previously it was much easier to understand Australian ownership and how those structures might operate and know what their security profiles might be. Vessels that are either foreign owned or come in from other locations have an obviously different security profile.

Senator CONROY: So, again, it is more complex to be able to get to the bottom of, because by definition—

Ms Wimmer : We cannot access the material that actually allows us to see—

Senator CONROY: Does that mean it is more costly for you?

Ms Wimmer : No, it is just more complex, which means that the security is not quite so transparent.

CHAIR: Is it not true that you cannot actually get to the bottom of it? You best guess. But we are dealing with likeable rogue providers. We cannot even get out own security blokes right. If I say it again this committee will kill me, but half the employees of Sydney Night Patrol are crooks.

Senator CONROY: Senator, I am with you in spirit here but I am doing my best to follow your orders as well. But I am with you in spirit. Sorry, did you want to add anything, Mr Wilson?

Mr Wilson : It is a contextual document to assist the division with framing their future. It is painting a picture of what the trends are into the future in terms of what the industry that we regulate will look like. It is a fact that the industry is changing, so there is a degree of complexity associated with the fact that—

Senator CONROY: No, I want to unpack the word 'complexity' because it is a word you are using to cover a range of different things. To borrow Senator Heffernan's phrase, complexity means you cannot get to the bottom of it as easily. Or can you get to the bottom of the security checks at all? Are you able to do adequate security checks?

Ms Wimmer : Senator, we do a lot of things based on risk assessments. Obviously we are more concerned about things that are inbound to Australia and things where we have less visibility about what they contain, who is on them, how they might be owned and how we can control them, because they are not within our sovereign control.

Senator CONROY: I get all of that. I am trying to understand. There is less visibility, which means by definition that it is more complex; it is more difficult to get to the truth.

Ms Wimmer : It makes an assessment more difficult, yes.

Senator CONROY: In your maritime section you make the following observations:

In the Asia-Pacific region, officers from the Philippines (30 per cent) and India (24 per cent) make up the largest proportion to the world shipping fleet. The Philippines (72 per cent) and India (18 per cent) also contribute the majority to non-officer crew. These two countries will continue to be leading providers of seafarers to the maritime industry, as they have established technical colleges for training technicians and lower level crews.

That is factually correct? Again, is this back to it is more complex to examine these interviewers? You may have the piece of paper from one of these colleges, but that does not help you at all in trying to understand the security risk assessment.

Ms Wimmer : Also, we would say that there is a higher security risk, perhaps, in some of those countries you have described.

Senator CONROY: I would have thought the Philippines has a range a challenges—its own internal security and terrorist issues—and that India has also demonstrated significant issues. I think that is what you are getting at, so I am trying to understand—

Ms Wimmer : That is right. It is exactly that, yes.

Senator CONROY: Those workforce composition factors are not referred to for other modes of transport—aviation or surface transport, involving road and rail. I can see why road and rail are not there. But you are not as concerned about aviation because the qualifications are more easily accessible or because the processes people go through to be a captain of a plane or the service crew on a plane—

Ms Wimmer : It is probably a more controlled industry. We are more concerned about aviation and we talk a lot more about inbound passenger numbers and where they are coming from. It is a similar kind of thing, but we focus more on passengers than we do on the crew, because the crew are not the key concern—because there are so few of them.

Senator CONROY: Because this trend is towards fewer Australians involved—you are just making an observation there; that is what has happened—that is making it more difficult for you to do your job?

Ms Wimmer : It is making security assessments more difficult, but I think it is also changing the security profiles that might have existed in the past, so we have to think about how we regulate in a different way.

Senator CONROY: What do you mean when you say, 'how we regulate in a different way'? Either they pass a security check or they do not.

Ms Wimmer : It is not black or white. It is shades of grey. You do not want to put security measures in a place where risk is reasonably low. You want to graduate your measures to—

Senator CONROY: To go back to, say, offshore oil rigs—that is a higher risk than an incoming vessel. I have no idea. I am asking you. It would make sense. We have a lot more to lose potentially with one bad outcome there than we do with an incoming vessel.

Ms Wimmer : There are a variety of things we take into consideration for risk. One of them is the threat, which comprises the capability, the intent and the vulnerabilities. Then, obviously, there are the consequences. With your example of offshore oil and gas, the threat is actually quite low—because it is quite hard to get onto an oil and gas platform—but the consequences would obviously be quite high. In a risk equation, that balances out to a low risk.

Senator CONROY: You are more concerned about incoming vessels? They are a higher risk than an oil rig?

Ms Wimmer : That is right, but we would take into consideration where they are coming to, what they might be carrying and how many passengers there are on board or whether it is primarily a bulk importer. We take all of these different elements into consideration when we make a risk assessment.

Senator CONROY: But Australia is able to, despite those complexities, decide who comes to our country? We can regulate who can come to our country by sea, surely?

Ms Wimmer : We can, but what we tend to do is regulate how much security is needed around whatever vessel it might be, as opposed to whether they can come here or not.

Senator CONROY: How do you make a judgement on a vessel. I am confused. Is it based on what you think it contains or what you know it contains? Is it the personnel you are worried about? How do you balance that?

Ms Wimmer : We regulate the ports they are arriving at. The ports have to have the security measures in place so that they can manage the security risk that the vessel is bringing towards Australia. It is the ports that actually manage security and we regulate those ports.

Senator CONROY: The factors include the personnel, the vessel type, the vessel size, where it is going to?

Ms Wimmer : Yes, and what it might be carrying, where the port is and so on.

Senator CONROY: You hope they are carrying what they say they are carrying.

Ms Wimmer : That is exactly right, yes.

Senator CONROY: This increasing trend has made it more complex and more challenging—and, particularly for the individual component, it is harder to get to the truth of a security assessment.

Ms Wimmer : That is right.

Senator CONROY: Do you actually write to them saying that we need to know who these people are and what their backgrounds are? Or do you just say: 'There are 10 from four countries. They are all relatively low-risk countries, so we will not bother' or 'They are all from one country—' and I am deliberately picking no specific country here—'that might be of a higher risk'. How do you do that?

Ms Wimmer : It is not based on one variable. It is a range of variables—all of the things we spoke about before. These include vessel size, the crew or passenger numbers, where it has come from, what it is carrying, where it is going to, how big the port is, whether it is near a population centre, whether it is iconic—all of those elements come into the equation.

Senator EDWARDS: Since the National Terrorism Public Alert was raised to high on 12 September, what is the role of the Office of Transport Security within the framework of the National Terrorism Public Alert System now?

Ms Wimmer : ASIO assesses the threat. We engage with the industries that we regulate—aviation, maritime and offshore oil and gas. The role we had during the increased alert level was to make an assessment about whether the threats that were being talked about actually warranted a change in our regulatory posture around those industries. Given that the alert level was increased on the basis of no specific attack planning—it was a generic threat—we made the assessment that there was no need to change our regulatory posture to increase any of the security. But we engaged with all of our industry participants to encourage them to increase their vigilance and refresh themselves on some of the key areas that we thought might be of greatest concern given the alert level increase.

Senator EDWARDS: How do you then interact with the Attorney-General's Department in relation to the same issue?

Ms Wimmer : As in the security element of Attorney-General's?

Senator EDWARDS: Yes.

Ms Wimmer : They are the ones that provide us with the threat information, so we are a taker of their information and we then work with our regulated industry to determine what that means for them.

Senator STERLE: Has the department or the Office of Transport Security provided operators of Australian international gateways with an updated policy and procedures as a result of the rise in the security threat? I know you touched on it.

Ms Wimmer : Yes. We have not provided updated policies and procedures, but we did communicate with them that they should do a number of things and they were to take steps to reinvigorate their security awareness around their facilities to increase vigilance around unattended and suspicious items—that applies to airports primarily—and review their active-shooter plans and emergency management programs and to increase security signage and communications in the airports.

Senator STERLE: What is a shooter plan?

Ms Wimmer : An active-shooter plan is basically to deal with those situations when someone has a gun and actively shoots.

Senator STERLE: Like a bikie or something?

Ms Wimmer : Potentially, or the experience that the US seems to have quite frequently. We also encouraged them to review security measures around their front-of-house areas—the area outside the sterile area at airports—and increase the frequency of face to their aviation security identification card checks. And obviously we worked closely with the AFP to talk to them about how they were going to increase their patrols.

Senator STERLE: What about the ports?

Ms Wimmer : For the ports, we did basically the same things. They are generic security measures.

Senator STERLE: Has OTS received additional resources since the threat level was raised?

Ms Wimmer : No, we have not.

Senator STERLE: So you had a bit left in the piggy bank?

Ms Wimmer : Basically we were not required to do anything further. We were talking with industry participants to say what is reasonable given that it is a very general threat increase and alert level increase rather than anything specific.

Senator STERLE: Did you request any extra resources?

Ms Wimmer : No, we did not.

Senator STERLE: Have you heard of the Jones Act in America?

Ms Wimmer : No.

Mr Wilson : Yes.

Senator STERLE: It is bloody brilliant, isn't it? The Americans will not let anyone, unless they are Americans, do their coastal shipping, for security reasons. Yet our government is happy to see Australian seafarers lose their jobs and have foreigners on the boats. We are quick to rush off to Iraq, but, 'Let's get some foreign workers on these ships; we don't even know who they are'!

Senator CONROY: Who regulates oil and gas rigs? It is implemented by OTS? Or does OTS rely on oil and gas companies to implement a plan on Australia's behalf?

Ms Wimmer : We regulate security of offshore oil and gas platforms, but we do not actually regulate their operations per se.

Senator CONROY: So you do not check their implementation of your regulation?

Ms Wimmer : We do.

Mr Mrdak : Yes, we do. They are required to have transport security programs, which are approved by our office and also audited by us.

Senator CONROY: So OTS regulates security, but not their ongoing operations—is that agreed?

Ms Wimmer : That is right.

Senator CONROY: But you do monitor, check—whatever—that they have a security plan?

Ms Wimmer : In their security plans, yes.

Senator CONROY: Thank you.

CHAIR: So, we will not deal with Ebola and what that might mean to security?

Senator CONROY: No. We will just move on.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Ms Wimmer, the information you were giving to Senator Sterle about the security at airports, was that a part of the review that the department touched on at the budget estimates about the regulatory requirements?

Mr Mrdak : No, that is a separate issue following the lift in the general terror threat.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So what is the status of the review about the regulatory requirements?

Mr Mrdak : We are continuing to look at opportunities to reduce regulatory burden where it does not impinge on security outcomes. We discussed this morning where we have reached in removing a number of regulatory impediments and reducing costs, but not at the expense of communities.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Is that going to be an ongoing review?

Mr Mrdak : That is correct.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Is the Hobart International Airport a part of that review?

Mr Mrdak : We are looking at categorisation of security regulation at airports for policing activities. The decision on Hobart Airport policing was one for the AFP.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I understand you said previously that advice was not sought from your department. Was that the case?

Mr Mrdak : That is right.

Senator CAROL BROWN: In the regulatory review, will you be looking at the Hobart Airport?

Mr Mrdak : We are looking at a categorisation of counter terrorism.

Ms Wimmer : We are looking at counter terrorism first response airports but we are actually looking right across all of the 174 security controlled airports, obviously including Hobart.

Senator CAROL BROWN: When will that be?

Ms Wimmer : It will be a long-term process to go through all of those airports. It is a holistic review so it will take us at least six months to a year.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I understand you were not consulted about the AFP being removed from Hobart Airport in the first instance. Since that time, the Tasmanian police commissioner has written to the federal government seeking a review.

Mr Wilson : He has written to the AFP Commissioner.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Was any advice sought on that matter?

Mr Wilson : At that time?

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes.

Mr Wilson : No. I understand that Commissioner Colvin has responded to the Tasmanian chief of police reconfirming the decision.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes, reconfirming the previous decision—unfortunately. Do you know what happened to the dogs that were down there?

Mr Wilson : No, I do not.

Senator MILNE: Given that the decision to increase the level of terror alert and the nature of Hobart airport, can you, as the Office of Transport Security, guarantee travellers through Hobart that there is adequate security given that the Federal Police are to leave Hobart airport's jurisdiction?

Mr Wilson : I do not believe you can ever guarantee that. In the space in which we regulate, you cannot give a 100 per cent guarantee.

Senator MILNE: Is security increased or decreased by the decision to take away the Federal Police from Hobart airport?

Mr Wilson : My understanding is the arrangements that Hobart International Airport will put in place for policing arrangements with the Tasmanian police will meet the needs of the Hobart International Airport.

Senator MILNE: Are you aware of what they are?

Mr Wilson : I am aware at a general level but not in specific terms. I do not have it in front of me.

Senator MILNE: Let me tell you, if there is a suitcase or a piece of luggage unattended, the travelling public will have to wait until a Tasmanian police officer from a local police station can find the time to come to the airport to check it out. Meanwhile, everybody waits. Is that satisfactory?

Mr Wilson : The arrangements with the AFP for the AFP withdrawal, I cannot comment other than to say the AFP have confirmed that is what they are doing and Hobart international airport is putting in place arrangements with the Tasmanian police.

Senator MILNE: My frustration here and that of Senator Brown's is you are the Office of Transport Security. Everywhere else has got this increased security alert yet it is laissez faire in Tasmania, it would seem.

Mr Mrdak : I do not think that is how we would categorise it. As Mr Wilson indicated, we believe that the arrangements being put in place in Hobart are adequate for the measures required in Hobart.

Senator MILNE: What makes Hobart able to deal with security without the Federal Police when everywhere else cannot? Why can they not all rely on the local police station?

Mr Mrdak : Most airports in Australia operate under those arrangements. The counter terrorism first response is targeted principally at our international gateways. That is where the higher risk assessment has been undertaken.

Senator CAROL BROWN: The police commissioner has asked for a review of the decision. He certainly must have some concerns.

CHAIR: We will finish with the Office of Transport Security. The National Transport Commission is next.

Proceedings suspended from 20:52 to 21:07