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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5249


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (12:01): It is always a pleasure to follow the shadow minister for transport in one of the rare moments when he is up there talking about transport issues. I thought it was a pretty good speech until we got to the 16 minute mark and it just fell down very quickly from there. Trying to blame the carbon tax is just absolutely ridiculous. It is ridiculous coming from the leader of a party that is shutting country TAFEs in Victoria—he is shutting country kids out of education and he sits there and smiles. I guess that says a lot about them.

I am very pleased to be speaking on the Gillard government's Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012 because the Labor government understands the vital importance of maintaining safe and secure methods of travel and the risks posed with international flights—risks posed by the more sophisticated and elaborate ways in which unseemly characters are trying to stop Australian travellers from enjoying the freedoms of air travel. The minister reminded us in his second reading speech:

On 25 December 2009, a passenger attempted to bomb Northwest Airlines flight 253 en route from Amsterdam to Detroit.

This would-be bomber successfully smuggled a viable improvised explosive device through aviation security screening and onto the aircraft without being detected.

The device, which was concealed inside the passenger's underwear, contained no metallic components and was therefore able to be carried through a walk-through metal detector without triggering any alarm.

This event highlighted a significant vulnerability in global aviation security screening practices, including in Australia.

Body scanners will be introduced at international departure and transit points in Australian airports later this year. I think that is a very telling thing. When Australians get on aeroplanes they want to know they are safe. What that tells us is that these unsavoury characters are using more sophisticated and elaborate ways with which to inflict harm on the innocent lives of people who are quietly going about their business and using air travel. That is why protecting Australians against the threat of any kind of violence, including terrorism, is an imperative for this government, particularly when examining the security methods of aviation transport, as the bad guys find new and more dangerous ways of practicing their trade.

The bill will ensure that Australian airport security is strengthened, with minimal impact or delay to passengers and, really, the impact will be small and become the new normal for the thousands of travellers who will use this technology in the years to come. I am proud to be part of a government that has introduced this bill—a bill that protects Australian travellers from harm and does so in a non-intrusive and safe way. The fact is we are not introducing the same scanners as used in the US and Europe. The concerns stemming from the American and European models cannot be accurately transferred to the Australian model. Comparing these new scanners to the American and European models is like comparing apples to oranges, and it is contributing to a growing scare campaign as part of the ugly exploitation of the fears of Australian travellers by those opposite. We on this side of the House are choosing to sift through the nonsense, to take the facts and to leave out the scaremongering and the mistruths.

Our policies are based on what is real and relevant to Australians. That is why we have taken heed of the concerns about the backscatter scanners used in America and have chosen not to use them here. We understand that there is a difference, and that millimetre wave technology is the safe body scanning alternative. The Gillard government recognises Australians have legitimate concerns for their health—that is important and is why the government has acted accordingly.

We are not introducing the backscatter scanners to Australian airports; we are instead introducing body scanners that use millimetre wave technology, because emissions from these scanners are negligible. You would actually receive more radio frequency energy as you go about your everyday life. Whereas a single backscatter X-ray emits the equivalent of two minutes in an aeroplane, the millimetre wave scanners we are introducing use ten thousand times less radio frequency energy than your average mobile phone call. That is like standing in the kitchen while someone is using a mobile in the lounge room at home. There are no conclusive studies to suggest that there is any health risk posed by the millimetre wave scanners that will be introduced to Australian airports; the studies dispel the misconception that millimetre wave technology is somehow bad for Australians. I am proud to be part of a government that is delivering a safe and harmless method of protecting our aviation industry, protecting Australian travellers and protecting Australian jobs.

It is important to note that scans taken by these machines will not be intrusive or breach the privacy of our citizens. The government understands every person likes their right to privacy, and for this reason privacy enhancements to the scanners will be made mandatory in Australia. There have been instances in the US where we have seen genuine concerns for the so-called 'pornographic pictures' taken and stored by body scanners, but we are not using the American model. The privacy enhancements this government has made compulsory prevent any image from being stored, transmitted, displayed or even created. No-one travelling through Australia's international airports will ever have to worry whether their image could be displayed on some sort of body scanner dotcom website or something. The protection is there that no image is created in the first place.

This bill will ensure that the closest thing to raw images that will come from these scanners will be some sort of resemblance to the kids' character Gumby. The picture of the head might be a little bit more symmetrical—like the little green animation figure—but the images that come from body scanners will be humanoid, and rightly so. That is about as far as it goes. These are generic human shapes, unidentifiable, non-specific, genderless stick figures, which are used to highlight areas of concern. The purpose of these stick figures is to highlight areas of a person which warrant further investigation by highly trained security staff—inspections which could save the lives of passengers and crews on international flights. Security will be able to go directly to the point of concern and immediately clarify any concerns.

We understand that airport security can sometimes appear cumbersome. I am sure we have all queued up in those lines at the airport to put our bags through the scanners, and waited and waited and waited as big long queues form because someone has left a deodorant in their bag. But that is what we have to deal with. Standing in front of the metal detectors with your arms out can also be very slow and awkward. The process of body scanners will help ease that strain, with a direct approach to security points of interest.

The bill will ensure that, whilst the safety of Australians is protected, the effects of the security processes do not heavily impinge on the every-day commuter's trips. Technology is changing and it is vital that our security systems change with it. Too often we hear 'back in my day'. Nostalgia may be comforting when we remember those days, when Pluto was a planet and the daily paper was about 20c but that sepia-tone haze cannot protect us any more from the evolving technology of those who wish to do us harm. Yes, there was a time when we did not have these body scanners, but there was also a time when we did not need them.

That time is the past, and it does not do well to dwell on it. We must learn from the past and we must not remain in it. When we see a hole in the system, when technology has evolved that can be a threat to our safety, we must act. When the bad guys see an opening, we have to block it. The Gillard government understands that metal detectors alone are no longer enough. We have seen in recent years how terrorism is evolving and we need to ensure that our bases are covered. Metal detectors will not be replaced by body scanners and will still be used by airlines. However, it is important that our aviation industry is also protected against alternatives to metallic methods of terrorism.

Those such as the 'shoe bomber' and, more recently, the 'underwear bomber' have already successfully bypassed current security systems. It was only three Christmases ago that the underwear bomber was able to smuggle plastic explosives on board an international flight. That person was able to successfully pass through security checkpoints onto the plane, smuggling non-metallic explosives in their underwear. Thankfully, the explosives failed. But it would be irresponsible for us to let this happen again. Labor' response to this failed attack was very swift. Body scanners are just another way in which we continue to enhance Australia's aviation security.

These body scanners will prevent terrorists like the underwear bomber from making it onto that plane. The government is making it clear that those who think they can get through Australia's security are wrong and will be caught. It is also for this reason the bill will deliver a no-opt-out policy. This means passengers must go through whichever primary screening procedure is used at that e airport, with the exception of those who have a serious physical or mental reason to use an alternative. No screen: no fly. Being able to opt out for an alternative method means being able to choose which security procedure may best be exploited. The Gillard Labor government is removing the gaming from aviation security. If a person will not undergo the nominated screening process, they cannot choose which alternative best suits them and they cannot fly. It is vital that we do all that is possible to prevent those who intend to do us harm from getting the upper hand.

Here on this side of the House we say 'yes' to protecting Australians' right to privacy, to be healthy and safe from threats of harm by extremists. I am proud to say that the Gillard Labor government is delivering on this goal.