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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23588

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (12:22 PM) —I rise to comment on the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003. This bill goes to very important matters affecting the nation against the background of September 11. I think it is fair to say that this matter should have been reviewed prior to 2001, and certainly before today, but it is now before us. The opposition have concerns about some of the elements of the bill. We support the bill and have sought to move amendments. In the end, we support the bill despite its deficiencies, because it is critical for our national security.

I live in Sunbury, an airport town. It has suffered economic and social consequences as a result of the collapse of Ansett. There are many other aviation industry employees residing in that town and the outlying areas so I get the opportunity to speak to many aviation industry employees: caterers, cleaners, security guards, receptionists, pilots, flight attendants and so on. I get a chance to hear their views as people who work in the industry. They have expressed concerns to me about the need to review our security system.

The member for Batman, the shadow minister, yesterday indicated that, quite rightly, up until very recently we have been a very lucky nation in not having to be too security conscious. We like to boast about the fact that we do not have too many security dimensions to our lives. That provides, I think, a much better quality of life. Indeed, it is a much better thing that we did not—in the past, at least—have to tend to those things. Prior to September 2001, even this place was less security conscious. We have had to tighten our security in the parliament, and indeed in parliaments across Australia, as a result of terrorist activity offshore. Aviation security is a particularly important dimension to our security. That is not to say, however, that we are not mindful of all the other entry points and exit points for our nation—other industries that bring people to our shores. I rise to support this bill and to make some references to the second reading amendment moved by the shadow minister, the member for Batman.

I have read a number of the submissions made to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, and I want to make a number of references to some of those submissions. As I have said, I live very close to Melbourne airport. Melbourne airport is a very important airport for the nation—it is obviously one of the biggest. I think there are about 157,000 aircraft movements and in excess of 16 million domestic and international passengers handled each year within a single terminal complex in Melbourne airport. So it is a very significant airport. I therefore took the opportunity to read the submission made by the Australia Pacific Airports Corporation, the owner and operator of Australia's second major airport, Melbourne. They have some interesting things to say about what to do in this important area. They have made it very clear that the government have to be the regulator of this process. The reason for that is that they are the only ones who have the intelligence sources to make the necessary risk assessments, which are the foundation of any aviation policy. From the outset, I think that is a very significant point which should be properly acknowledged—and, indeed, is acknowledged by this bill. There are questions about costs and who is to pay. They are issues that, I think, have not been entirely resolved.

I turn now to the substantive parts of the bill. The member for Batman indicated that he had concerns with a number of elements of the bill. For example, he raised a concern that the whole terminology had changed—the aviation industry lexicon, if you like—in the bill. He was concerned that that was not a very clever move given the fact that terms such as `sterile area' and others are well understood and known within the industry. However, he did not think it possible—and I defer to him in relation to that—to amend the bill to change that deficiency. I think the government should certainly consider that problem in this bill. Further to that, I note that the government were considering whether to use a demerit points system. I understand now that the bill has introduced a specific power to introduce a demerit points system for penalising breaches of aviation security but will not actually have it applied. In effect that means that, while the government want to retain the power to introduce the system, they are not going to write regulations to commence that section at this stage. Clearly the level of industry opposition has caused the government to rethink their original position. I think, therefore, the government have been sensitive to the concerns of the industry. The opposition concurs with the government in relation to that matter.

The second reading amendment moved by the member for Batman calls for a post-implementation review of this bill to be conducted in a year. That is about ensuring that the parliament and the industry are accountable for the implementation of the bill. It is one thing to pass legislation; it is another thing to see it properly enacted and implemented. I therefore support the shadow minister's amendment in relation to ensuring a review of this piece of legislation after a year of it being passed to see whether or not it has been properly implemented.

In these uncertain times, I do not think there is a more important issue than this one to be vigorously reviewed and considered by this parliament. I add my voice to those who have spoken on the second reading amendment on the post-implementation review.

I referred earlier to the Australian Pacific Airports Corporation. They are held in very good regard and are a very important organisation in the industry. They have raised concerns about a number of security matters. They hold the view that the department must continue setting standards for aviation security in the country. While the airport operators' role in managing and controlling airport security should be strengthened, they understand, as I said earlier, that in the end the regulator must be the government.

They said in their submission that the measures introduced by the government should include: a clear definition of accountabilities under the various user security programs; a strengthening of compliance and enforcement mechanisms; enhancement of already good consultative arrangements; and, on a broader scale, a need for a strategic approach through risk based security management systems. Of many submissions made to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audits, their submission is one of the better ones. It should be closely examined by the government, if it has not already done so, and it should be considered in the context of any review if this bill, when passed, is found to be deficient and does not provide the necessary security for this country.