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Wednesday, 21 June 2006
Page: 168

Mr BEVIS (10:00 AM) —This bill amends the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004. It is driven in large part by the 2005 Wheeler review into aviation security and policing. The Wheeler review was an important and long overdue assessment of aviation security in Australia. The government’s decision to appoint Sir John Wheeler to conduct that review was welcomed by the Labor Party at the time. Indeed, the Labor Party made a submission to the Wheeler review outlining a range of concerns Labor had held in respect of aviation security post 9-11. It is something of an indictment of the Howard government’s approach to aviation security that it took some years after the 9-11 disaster for a comprehensive review of aviation security to be undertaken. It is an indictment of its failure to take practical measures in the years that followed 9-11 2001 and the failure of the government to properly administer the Office Of Transport Security that an outside expert was required to be brought in to conduct that review. Nevertheless, as I said, Labor welcomed the Wheeler review. We made a submission to it and I believe the recommendations contained in the Wheeler review were widely accepted throughout the aviation industry as containing sound, practical measures which the government is in the process, belatedly, of implementing. The bill before us implements some of those matters that were dealt with by Wheeler.

The bill operates in two main ways. First, the bill improves operational arrangements in the regulation of cargo inspection. Cargo inspection was a matter of concern included in the submission that I gave on behalf of the Labor Party to Sir John Wheeler and it was a matter of comment and concern to Sir John Wheeler in the recommendations that he produced. Second, this bill allows for the variation of security regimes at airports for special events such as the upcoming APEC 2007 heads of government conference and the Australian International Airshow at Avalon, which is held on a biennial basis. I think the next Avalon air show is due in March 2007. This bill provides for some variation of procedures so that major activities of that kind can be dealt with under a different regime. That is, I think, a sound approach.

Cargo security is improved in the bill by clarifying the requirements for cargo being examined, certified and cleared. Labor called for improvements of this kind in its submission to Wheeler, but cargo is still not being appropriately screened in Australia. This bill, whilst offering some improvements, does not address a number of practical holes in the system. They are, in part, the subject of an amendment I will be moving shortly.

Labor shares the view outlined in the explanatory memorandum that the one size fits all approach under the current arrangements imposes an unnecessary burden on some players. It fails to take account of the scale of operations or to take account of where the particular provider fits into the supply chain of the cargo service. The creation of two separate classes of cargo businesses—regulated air cargo agents and accredited air cargo agents—is, we think, an appropriate security regime without becoming unnecessarily burdensome on smaller operators.

Cargo, as it relates to the aviation industry, is often handled by multiple operators and passes through several consolidation points before it gets loaded onto an aircraft. For that reason, it is not always appropriate for cargo screening to take place exclusively at airports and, indeed, apart from a security aspect of this, there are efficiencies that I think industry would take advantage of in being able to conduct screening at other points in the process. It is a practice, I know, that is followed in other countries. Having not long ago visited the United States to talk about homeland security matters, I am aware that they are looking at sophisticated methods of cargo tracking and security at various stages of production, not simply at the point of departure or at the point of boarding an aircraft.

Screening at airports, whilst practical for passengers and baggage—indeed, absolutely essential for passengers and baggage—is not always practical for air cargo. Cargo security must occur wherever possible from the start of the transport chain, through a validation process to the point of departure. This bill amends what was an inflexible act that attempted to treat cargo like passengers. And, as I said, that is a change which we regard as appropriate.

The two classes of cargo agents clarified in the bill will be subject to regulations and consultation with industry for the purpose of intercepting cargo in the transport chain prior to being loaded onto an aircraft. I encourage the government in its consultations to cast a broad net amongst the range operators—the cargo merchants, the forwarding agents and the transport companies and airlines. I also encourage the government to consult with the representatives of the workers in the industry. The government has benefited, as has national security when it has dealt with areas such as maritime security cards and aviation security cards, by consulting not just the major employers involved but also the relevant unions. The workers in these industries have a very vital interest in these matters and often have a perspective and knowledge of events that provides for improvements that would not otherwise be incorporated into these security regimes. That is certainly the case in cargo. Over the course of the last 12 months I have received a range of advice and good information from people working on site in these places who are able to identify potential shortcomings in the system. Their knowledge and expertise, not to mention their clear interest in these matters, is important. If there were to be a terrorist event, if there were to be an explosive device contained in the cargo, these are the very people whose lives are at risk first and foremost. They have a high stake in ensuring the security of cargo transport is as good as it can be and their input and that of those who represent them in the trade union movement should be actively sought in the consultation process.

Other security fixes in this bill allow for regulations against unlawful aviation interference and also to prescribe requirements in relation to each type of airside event zone. Prescribed requirements can include the screening of people, vehicles or goods for entry to airside event zones and the security checking, including any background checking, of people who have access to airside event zones.

In essence, this bill makes it easier for an aviation industry participant to vary the usual security arrangements at security controlled airports during certain specified events. An airside event is an event which occurs in an area located within the airside zone of a security controlled airport. For most of us who travel as passengers on aircraft, that is those parts of the airport we are not allowed into. It is the security restricted parts of the airport zone. Under the bill, a zone in a security controlled airport could be managed at a lower level of security than that which normally applies to that area. Operating an event at a lower level of security must be approved by the secretary of the department, who is required to satisfy himself or herself that the risk of a proposed event will be managed in an appropriate way. Furthermore, events that happen airside in a security controlled airport with a lower level of security must also use a screening point to control access to vulnerable aircraft and runways.

These changes are practical measures, but I think we need to understand that, whilst they are practical measures appropriate for events such as those that I mentioned—for example, the International Airshow at Avalon in 2007—they are nonetheless a reduction in what would otherwise be tighter security. I think in those circumstances it would be prudent for the Inspector of Transport Security to be required to monitor the operation of these new arrangements and to report—and I believe the minister should report to the parliament—on the operation of these new arrangements so that the parliament, along with the government and the public, can be confident that these new, less stringent arrangements for significant events that are airside can be carried out in a manner that facilitates the event with a minimum of interference whilst at the same time not compromising the level of security that I know all Australians expect to be provided at their airports.

Sadly, as is the case with this bill, on too many occasions the government’s response to the threat of terrorism has been too slow, too focused on laws and insufficiently focused on practical measures. This bill actually does deal with a number of practical measures. We have to bear in mind that we stand here in the middle of 2006 discussing changes in airport security and that the world focused very heavily on airport security matters on 11 September 2001. We are nearly five years down the track, and we are now dealing with this matter. The government has been extraordinarily slow to act, particularly slow when you consider the public spin this government likes to place on matters associated with security and in response to terrorism. The government has been keen to legislate, but it is far less capable of implementing practical measures that make a difference. Accordingly, I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the Howard Government for its failure to provide necessary air-security and protect Australians, including its:

(1)   mismanagement of the Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) system;

(2)   failure to ensure all baggage is screened;

(3)   failure to properly upgrade security at regional airports; and

(4)   failure to establish adequate security measures for charter flights”.

I could easily have expanded that list of items of concern that Labor has with respect to aviation security and the government’s failure to address a number of important measures. But they are amongst the most significant, and I want to take a few minutes to refer to those items.

The government, with the support of the Labor Party and the industry, put in place a new aviation security identification card system, the ASIC system, and that is a necessary requirement to improve security at our airports. This system has been operating for only a couple of years, and something in the order of 10,000 ASICs have been issued. The frightening fact of life is that, with only 10,000 ASICs in circulation for only a couple of years, we know that at least 384 of them have been lost or are unaccounted for. We know that 384 have been lost or unaccounted for, because that information was given in evidence at the end of last year to a Senate inquiry.

The fact that, from a total of 10,000 cards, some hundreds of ASICs can be lost in the space of a couple of years should cause great concern to anybody with an interest in security matters. It does make you wonder about this government’s capacity to implement the national ID card that was being suggested a few months ago. If this government cannot competently manage a 10,000 security card system in the aviation industry, you are only left to wonder what the effect would be of this incompetent government trying to administer the 16 million ID cards that were being touted for security purposes—although I know the government now says that we are not going to have an ID card for security purposes and Minister Hockey and others are pursuing some alternative, supposedly to reduce identity theft and fraud.

Be that as it may, the simple fact is that in this quite confined area of airport security, hundreds of security cards, out of about 10,000, have been lost or misplaced. We know where two of them are, because two individuals were charged with the offence of improperly using them and I think are currently before the courts. Those two individuals were carrying aviation security identification cards without authority. So we know the whereabouts of two of those misplaced cards but unfortunately we do not know the whereabouts of the other few hundred misplaced cards.

A security system is as good as its weakest point. The entire aviation security system at airports relies upon ASICs. They authorise people to enter security sensitive areas of an airport. To think that in the space of a couple of years they could be so mismanaged as to see a few hundred lost or unaccounted for is mind-boggling. What confidence can the public have in the administration that this government is responsible for when that is the outcome? As shadow minister for homeland security, I have to say I have little confidence in this government’s management ability in these areas. This government is far more concerned with getting the political spin right, with getting the headlines right, and far less concerned with getting the security on the ground in place. We see a situation where the operation of these critically important ASICs has been completely maladministered by the Howard government. It is a terrible state of affairs.

Baggage is still not being X-rayed as the government said it would be. The government made an announcement some years ago that by 31 December 2004 all checked baggage on international flights departing Australia would be X-rayed. Certainly a couple of months ago that was not the case and, as far as I am aware, that is still not the case. A couple of months ago Australia’s largest airport, Sydney airport, was not X-raying 100 per cent of checked baggage on international flights. That is more than a year after the deadline by which this government said it would have that system in place. Maybe something has happened in the last couple of months, but this week I made some inquiries to try to find out whether Sydney airport is now X-raying 100 per cent of its checked international baggage. The advice I was given this week is that they are not. I have not been able to get a third confirmation on that; hence my qualification on the statement.

But even if that has happened in the last couple of months it is an appalling performance by this government. Some years ago it set itself a target of ensuring that, by the end of December 2004, 100 per cent of international checked baggage would be X-rayed. By the end of December 2005, it had not done it. By the middle of 2006, on my best advice it still has not done it. If you cannot implement those basic security arrangements in our largest international airport, what signal does that send to the rest of the world? Of course, it is one of the reasons why you see the speculation surrounding people such as Schapelle Corby. The debate as to whether or not baggage was being properly handled or whether it could be interfered with was raised in the defence of Schapelle Corby by her lawyers and supporters. I do not want to get into the argument about Schapelle Corby’s case—that is a matter for another debate—but the fact that a large number of Australians were quite happy to believe Schapelle Corby’s defence indicates that the Australian public think it is quite possible, if not probable, that their baggage on these flights can be interfered with. The fact is that we know some of it has been. We know people have been arrested for interfering with baggage, and there was a drug ring operating at Sydney international airport.

We even had the bizarre situation of a fellow who worked at the airport taking a camel suit out of one of the pieces of luggage and parading around the airport. We can all have a bit of a chuckle about someone doing that, but there is a very serious side to that story. If somebody can interfere with the baggage in that way, they can just as easily put drugs in, put a bomb in or do anything with the luggage—put it in or take it out. That is not a secure system. Leaving aside the question of responding to terrorism, that is not an acceptable standard for any customer-client relationship. But when we are talking about questions of security, particularly post 11 September, it beggars belief that we could see that sort of malaise in the day-to-day operation of security on the ground.

As we stand here today, my best advice is that we are still not X-raying 100 per cent of the baggage going out of Sydney on international flights. They X-ray some of it, and the bits they do not X-ray they swab—and no-one pretends that the swabbing is a substitute for X-ray. If it were, that is what we would be setting as the standard. We do not. The standard is to X-ray 100 per cent, and it is not happening. We are about to reach another deadline shortly, which is to X-ray 100 per cent of domestic checked baggage. We will see whether or not the government can manage that better than they manage the international cargo. Sydney airport managed to get itself a special exemption from that. Sydney Airports Corporation, headed up by Max Moore-Wilton—a person well known to members in this parliament and a former head of the Prime Minister’s department—managed to get an exemption.

So the Department of Transport and Regional Services allows Sydney airport to continue an operation that fails to meet the standard which the government itself set and the deadline of 2004 for that standard to be met. It happens to be an issue of speculation—more in the industry than in politics—as to how that conversation went that enabled the corporation that Max Moore-Wilton heads up to get that special exemption, but there are plenty of other people in the industry who have cast a cynical eye over the arrangements that have seen this government allow Sydney airport to operate a less secure screening process than other airports in Australia are obliged to follow. The sooner Sydney gets its act together and does X-ray 100 per cent of international baggage—as I believe most, if not all, other international airports do—the better it will be for the entire Australian travelling public.

There is also a problem with cargo on those flights that include checked baggage. This is cargo carried on passenger aircraft. The Wheeler report made comment about that. Wheeler said:

It is recommended that the Australian Government require that the screening of cargo be expanded and include mandatory screening of all cargo on passenger aircraft where passengers’ checked baggage is screened.

Very shortly, Australian regulations will require all domestic and all international flights in Australia to have checked baggage X-rayed. So the simple answer here is: wherever there are passengers on planes who can check baggage in, we should also be ensuring that the cargo on those flights is subject to the same scrutiny—that it is X-rayed as well. I am not sure whether that recommendation has been adopted across all airports. I would be interested in advice from the minister in reply to this debate confirming what the situation is with that. Certainly my understanding is that it is not followed in all airports, but I think it is nonetheless a sensible recommendation from Wheeler that deserves consideration.

There is a separate matter, of course, which is air cargo on cargo flights. On that matter I have had a number of representations from people who work in the industry. They are very concerned that the security is inadequate. It was a matter that we included in our submission to Wheeler last year, when Sir John Wheeler was here in Australia and I discussed it with him. I think it is also an area of concern as part of the overall aviation security envelope.

The amendment also refers to the government’s failure to properly upgrade security at regional airports. One thing which became clear and which is mentioned quite a bit in the Wheeler report is a problem that people responsible for security at regional airports have to confront. Examples have been given of people being able to get on a plane in a low-security environment airport, where they are not X-rayed and their baggage is not checked, and landing at a high-security airport, a counter-terrorism first-response airport, and being able to walk airside with very little supervision. That was a matter of concern to Labor and it was an issue raised also by Sir John Wheeler. There is also the problem of the actual security of those airports.

The government’s response to that has been to build some fences. As people in the industry have said, the fences are more useful for keeping the rabbits and the wallabies out than for protecting the security of the airport. There are some questions that we have to look at seriously for regional Australian airports. Some provincial airports, quite significant sized airports, that have flights regularly into our capital cities have inadequate security—and the government, as a priority, needs to look at those. Sir John Wheeler said as much. The government again has been slow to pick up that recommendation and to put in place practical measures to address it.

The final point in my second reading amendment deals with the establishment of adequate security for charter flights. A lot of focus has been put on the operation of our major airlines—and correctly so—but Australia has a significant charter flight industry. Typically, charter flights fly from different terminals to the main airlines. They can be on the opposite side of the airfield or quite some distance away from the normal security structures that exist for major airline passenger travel, and an audit of that charter industry needs to be undertaken.

People who have focused on situations like September 11, with the threat of the hijacking of aircraft and so on, I think wrongly focus on the hijacking of large aircraft. A lot of good work has been done in securing large aircraft. I think the Australian aviation industry can be proud of the work that it has done to make sure that our large aircraft are as secure as they reasonably can be made. The assumption made by some that you have to have a very big aircraft to have an impact in an incident I think misunderstands not only the motive of some terrorists but also the other half of the equation—that is, if a plane is going to be hijacked for the purpose of turning it into a missile, the impact can be determined just as easily by what the plane runs into as distinct from the size of the plane. There are a number of targets you could identify that are potentially explosive and would produce a catastrophic incident should a small aircraft be hijacked and used as a missile with them in mind.

I think we pay too little attention to the charter industry and the small aircraft industry in this security debate. In a sense, with questions associated with terrorism, we run the risk of doing what military planners condemn, which is planning to fight the last war. We run the risk of planning to deal with the last terrorist attack rather than contemplating what the next terrorist attack might be. After September 11, there has been a flurry of activity to make large aircraft secure and to make major airport terminals secure—and that is the right thing to do. I applaud efforts in that direction. But it is folly to pretend that, having done that, we have addressed aviation security questions.

We do confront the threat of terrorist activity. We need to be ahead of the game and not playing catch-up. In the aviation industry, a couple of areas where we simply have not been ahead of the game are the aircraft charter and cargo sectors of the industry. This bill does not address those issues adequately, although, as I said, we do support the provisions in the bill that are practical. I hope the government takes up the Labor Party’s suggestion that these matters should be the subject of review and report to parliament, particularly those that deal with the relaxation of procedures for major events. A sound enough position is in the bill, but it is appropriate that these matters be the subject of public consideration so that we can be confident that the changes we are making with this bill are, indeed, correct on balance.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Hatton —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.