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Wednesday, 15 August 2007
Page: 178

Mr VAILE (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) (10:51 AM) —I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on this bill and I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport for their attention and input—in particular, in relation to the screening and clearing of dignitaries and their consideration of a proposed new section for interference with the operations of a security controlled airport by persons outside the boundary of that airport. Aviation security is a very high priority for our government, as we continue to say. It is under constant review to ensure that the regulatory framework is responsive to changing threats to the Australian aviation industry. As has been highlighted by the contributions from the other side, we do maintain the arrangements under constant review. We are responding to the recommendations that have been outlined in the Wheeler review. To date we have spent about $886 million implementing the Wheeler recommendations. Implementation of some aspects of the Wheeler review is going to take some time. It is not just a matter of making a decision, spending the money and then they are implemented on that day. There are issues where agencies are improving their cooperation and improving the sharing of intelligence which will take time to achieve. But certainly we are absolutely focused on implementing those Wheeler review recommendations.

The other aspect that the shadow minister reflected on is the operation of the Office of Transport Security and the inspector in that position. Of course, we want to respond to circumstances to ensure that there are not systemic failings in the system. There are always going to be one-off issues, and the shadow minister referenced one which answered his question with regard to regional carriers coming into Sydney. There was another one in Melbourne yesterday morning where, inadvertently, a contractor in the airport came back through an entry point to hand some keys back to someone but stayed air side, causing a perceived security breach. So the whole place was put on alert to screen everybody on that side in the secure area. Those circumstances will occur from time to time. We need to be prepared to respond to them in that manner, as in Melbourne yesterday and as occurs in Sydney where people arriving from an unscreened circumstance at a regional airport on a turboprop RPT operation are marshalled at the steps of the aircraft. They are accompanied by secure persons from there on a bus into an area that is outside the secure area in the airport.

The shadow minister gave the example of a busload of passengers being delivered through the wrong door. Obviously, the response to that is that everybody in the secure area must be rescreened. Those circumstances may arise from time to time, no matter how much effort is put in. But certainly the intention is that people on regional RPTs who are coming into airports from unscreened regional airports go into an unscreened area. They are not allowed to go into the screened secure area at Sydney airport; therefore, they are not near any of those higher target operations of the jet passenger services.

These amendments are about the continuing job of improving and focusing on our aviation transport security. Firstly, of the four amendments, the Aviation Transport Security Act is amended so that regulations can be made to prohibit activities or conduct taking place outside airport boundaries which disrupt or interfere with the operations of a security controlled airport—in particular, shining a laser device through the airport fence at an aircraft. Examples of this conduct have occurred. It is a highly dangerous act; it is a very irresponsible act. I appreciate the comment made by the member for Batman, who said that we do not want to highlight this in the broader community—

Mr Danby —Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Is the member for Lyne willing to give way?

Mr VAILE —Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Danby —By way of supporting what the member for Batman said, can the minister advise me how long the jail term is for people who do these kinds of acts, such as shining lasers into the cockpits of aircraft, or what kinds of measures already exist—Wheeler or not—even in a general way?

Mr VAILE —I will get some information for you. I will just finish my comments. I am just responding to the issues which have been raised by members of the opposition, particularly the points raised in the amendment, which obviously the government will not accept because we have already addressed these issues. You highlight the significance of this as a current issue. It is only an offence from within the airport boundaries, but certainly it also needs to be an offence from outside. The amendment will also provide a clearer basis for prohibiting conduct within an airport which can lead to serious disruption, such as leaving baggage unattended in a public area of an airport. The new regulation-making power does not extend to disruptive activity which forms part of the normal and usual operations of an airport or airline as a place of business, such as lawful industrial action by airport or airline employees.

The amendment to aviation security screening exemptions for some dignitaries reflects a balance between Australia’s international legal obligations and security outcomes. The amendment will provide flexibility only to exempt dignitaries, most, if not all, of whom would be expected to enjoy privileges and immunities under international treaty obligations that we are already bound to comply with. The actual list of persons who might be exempt will be determined by the government, following consultation and advice from relevant agencies. The amendment that the Labor Party has moved calls for further consultation. That consultation will take place in developing and putting into regulation that list of people who will be exempt from screening. Any airline still has the ultimate right to determine which passengers it will carry and under what conditions.

The Aviation Transport Security Act now contains further powers for Australian Customs officers at airports and implements one of the recommendations from the aviation security report by Sir John Wheeler. Again, in response to one of the amendments which have been moved by the Labor Party, the first amendment to the Civil Aviation Act covers dangerous acts committed by a person on the ground or on board an aircraft, having particular regard to the direction of laser beams at aircraft. The second amendment to the Civil Aviation Act provides new powers to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to enable it to implement a new drug and alcohol regime for the civil aviation sector. This amendment will provide safety benefits for both aviation workers and the broader community by appropriately addressing the risk of impaired aviation personnel.

Lastly, there are also amendments to the Aviation Transport Security Act that include enhancements to the transport security program regime. These amendments are consistent with requirements contained in the maritime regime. One of the comments by the member for Batman was with regard to drug and alcohol testing. I do not think that there would be an area of transport security that is more important than this. This bill moves it down into the general aviation area, and I outlined how that was going to work. The member for Batman made the point that there needs to be broader consultation because there have been experiences in other workplaces. That is fine, and we think that we have undertaken all of that consultation. But the member made the point that it should be on the basis of harm minimisation. We do not believe that. We believe that it should be on the basis of zero tolerance. There should be no tolerance of any abuse of alcohol or drugs, not necessarily just by people who are in command of RPT operations but by people involved in GA operations that might have an impediment if, say, they are operating in and out of the same airport as an RPT operation. There should be zero tolerance in this area as far as drug and alcohol testing is concerned for people who are in charge of aircraft that might have to interact with RPT operations in major airports across Australia.

The other point that I want to respond to—and I have mentioned the effort that the government has put into it and the amount of money that has been spent on responding to the Wheeler review and its 17 recommendations—relates to the last part of the amendment moved by the opposition regarding expanding the powers of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement and Integrity. The government takes the view that the key issue in combating corruption is ensuring that the core law enforcement agencies maintain the highest standards of integrity. Those bodies are free of corruption. They are in a good position to ensure that allegations of corruption in other agencies are effectively investigated. The government is not persuaded that there is a need for the Integrity Commissioner to have a jurisdiction going beyond the ACC and the AFP, but, if there is a clearly demonstrated need, the act provides for jurisdiction to extend by regulation over other Australian government agencies. We are trying to ensure that there is a bit of extra flexibility so that Customs officers who might be working in that part of a secure airport area which is not being covered by the AFP have certain powers to be able to ensure that their security responsibilities can be discharged at that particular point.

In conclusion, in response to the point raised by the member for Melbourne Ports with regard to laser offences, I am advised that the penalties that apply are up to two years imprisonment under the Civil Aviation Act and a $5,500 fine under the Aviation Transport Security Act for offences that occur under that act. Those penalties apply to offences that occur within the boundary of an airport. As a result of this amendment, we are going to extend that so that offences outside of the boundary of an airport can be proved. So there are penalties and compliance mechanisms, and they are two years imprisonment or a $5,500 fine. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.