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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5251

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (12:12): I rise to speak on the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012 and to support this bill, but I do so with some reservations about this government's policies and the effect they are having on the tourism and aviation industry. This bill seeks to introduce body scanners at international airports and remove section 95A opt-out provisions that allow a person to choose a frisk search rather than being scanned. We support that entirely.

We all want to be secure when we travel. On its own it would be hard to quibble with the notion that Australians be afforded the highest level of protection against aviation terrorism. Neither would the coalition argue with the aspiration for new security technology, such as body scanners, to be used in such a way that give travellers the greatest protection with the minimal inconvenience.

The need for greater security was brought home to us back in 2009 when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. What was unique about this man was that, unbeknown to security officials, he had a 15-centimetre explosive device sewn into his underwear. The device was not detectable, despite the stringent security measures in place—as anyone who has travelled to the United States can testify—as it did not contain metallic elements. Had the so-called underwear bomber been successful, 290 people would have perished in the air—not to mention the collateral damage on the ground.

The coalition welcomed the government's announcement of a package of measures in February 2010 to ensure a similar incident does not occur here in Australia. We believe it is important to follow the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and the Netherlands in introducing body scanner technology. We will therefore not oppose the repeal of section 95A, particularly as body scanners were successful in thwarting a device similar to that worn by the underwear bomber in the US last month.

Now that there has been a voluntary trial, where some 20,000 scans were undertaken at Sydney and Melbourne international airports in August and September last year, we see no reason to delay their use any further. Putting the requisite safeguards in place, where body-scanning equipment is used—that the image must be gender neutral and non-identifiable—is extremely important, as is the provision that machines not be able to store or transmit any information or data. With the power density exposure for a person undergoing a scan less than a thousand times that which emanates from a mobile phone, according to the USA Transport Security Administration, any health concerns in this regard would appear to be slight. This brings me to some reservations I have as the shadow minister for tourism and regional development. Our tourism industry contributes $73.3 billion share to Australia's GDP, and along with the hospitality sector provides almost one million Australians with employment. As I have said in many forums, the industry has been doing it very tough in recent years due to a number of factors. These include: the anaemic growth in many of our largest markets for inbound visitors, exacerbated by our strong dollar; competition from new and highly-competitive destinations in our region; the impact of natural disasters such as the Victorian floods, Western Australian bushfires and Cyclone Yasi; and, of course, short-sighted, ill-conceived and economically counterproductive policies introduced by this government.

The latter has been responsible for Australia falling in the World Economic Forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index from fourth in 2008 to 13th last year. The coalition is determined to ensure the industry's global competitiveness. With the phenomenal growth in China, which has seen Chinese visitors surpass those from the United States to become our third-largest market for international visitors, and the growth from other Asian markets, we are excited by the further prospects our Asian neighbours can generate for Australian tourism.

However, for that to occur it is important for Australia to make a good first impression. The government therefore needs to understand that there are no second chances at first impressions, and must ensure that measures in this bill are administered with the least inconvenience to the travelling public. Although we want our nation to continue to be seen as a very safe destination to travel to, there must be a recognition that airports are usually the first experience many of our international guests have of Australia, and the last impression they have of us when they depart. It is important that their experience of travelling from our airports is not perceived as an unpleasant one due to unnecessarily overzealous, inefficient or unfriendly security measures.

I must say that previous experience of this government's policy does not provide me with a lot of confidence. For only in the last budget this Labor government has cut the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service funding as part of its forward estimates, and cut its capital expenditure by $19.5 million during the same period. This leaves open the real likelihood that despite more international arrivals there will be fewer officers and services to process them, leading to lengthier queues and longer waiting times.

After the dramatic failures of their border protection policies at sea, it is strange that this government thinks it is a good idea now to make cuts at airports: impressions, impressions. Not only will queues lengthen due to Customs and Border Protection cuts but our international guests will now only be able to bring in two packets of their favourite smokes. On the face of it, this may seem a very minor hindrance. However, what the government has not considered is that this will require a wholesale printing of landing cards which currently state that you can bring in a carton. I can just see an elderly Chinese couple arriving on QF130 from Shanghai at 8.30 in the morning. Despite the hospitable service of our national carrier, they are tired after an 11-hour flight and wearily they disembark the aircraft with a carton of 'Double Happiness' ciggies for a friend who had specially requested them. They join the lengthening queues at Sydney Airport to be processed by a reduced number of customs officers who now have to spend additional time charging duty or confiscating cartons from passengers. As I said, Mr Deputy Speaker: impressions, impressions.

In any case what plans has the government to put in place to update international duty-free schedules around the world? What monies have they set aside to let our international visitors know of these changes? When in the next month is it going to happen, and where is the estimated $10 million cost of an emergency reprint going to come from? It certainly will not come from any surplus revenue the government is expecting because, as Steven Clarke from the Australian Duty Free Association highlighted in his media release last week, the government has seriously overestimated its receipts from this policy.

Tourism is a price-point sensitive product in what is an increasingly competitive global marketplace. But this government has not only increased the likelihood of waiting times at our airports; it has made it more expensive for visitors to arrive in this country. From its 45 per cent hike in the passenger movement charge since 2008, with a 17 per cent increase in the recent budget alone, and increases in visa fees, tourism has simply been a cash cow to plunder for this government. Despite employing more people than those working at the country's federal and state governments and the private agricultural, finance and insurance sectors, tourism was seen as less deserving than the Australian steel workers. They received $300 million in carbon tax assistance, but the tourism sector did not receive a cent—not one cent in direct industry-specific assistance.

Australia is one of the most, if not the most, urbanised nations on earth. Of our nearly 23 million people, 80 per cent live in three per cent of land mass and in just six cities. This fact, coupled with our relatively small population, creates a range of policy challenges for policymakers and regulators. There is the age-old problem of communications: we all expect first-world services when we are as a people early adopters of technology, including smooth and clear phone calls. Yet the costs of these services spread over few people means that as individuals we pay dearly for them.

Although an urban people, we identify strongly with rural, regional and remote areas and their populations. While many of our regional locations in Western Australia and Queensland are doing well out of the mining boom with increased economic activity and air services, I also want to bring to the attention of the House the significant challenges facing many other regional, remote and rural places that have not been so fortunate. They have not been helped by the significant cost imposts imposed by this government. When the Wheeler review—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): Order! Can I remind the member that we are debating the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill, and that you are skirting over the borders of that debate? I ask the member to come back to the bill.

Mr BALDWIN: As I was saying, when the Wheeler review of airport security and policing was released in 2005, it called for security costs at airports to be shared by governments, industry and the general public. It also stated:

It is neither practical nor desirable to expect 100 per cent security at regional airports. The sheer diversity of Australia’s regional airports makes the challenge of common standards of security an impossibility. Any protective security enhancements should be undertaken in accordance with a local threat and risk assessment and not instituted on the basis of what is sometimes media-driven scaremongering.

I am concerned that there are a handful of our smaller remote airports that may not meet the deadline imposed by this government to be security-screening compliant. I hope that we show them some flexibility and afford them some latitude in meeting this challenge. We want to aid rural areas by encouraging tourists, particularly international tourists visiting the outback, yet we face the same cost challenges in making this affordable. Similarly, we want our population to be distributed and remote Australia to have the same access to services that urban Australians enjoy. We have been innovative in dealing with these challenges. For example, the School of the Air and the Royal Flying Doctor Service are ways for remote Australians to receive decent education services and life-saving health services. The wonderful thing about technology is that it creates solutions to the tyranny of distance.

From listening to regional airline operators at the RAAA Summit held in Parliament House on 19 March this year, however, it is clear that they are facing a disproportionate economic challenge. From 1 July this year, regional carriers are facing what the Australian newspaper called a 'triple whammy' of imposts from the Gillard government. After the carbon tax, the second of these imposts will be the costs of the new fees they will be charged to cover these new airport security measures. If this was not enough, they are also facing the loss of the $6 million en-route subsidy scheme. Brindabella's Jeff Boyd has said that all these imposts will do is increase the costs of an air ticket because the companies have already introduced all of the environmental cost-saving measures they possibly can and new, more fuel-efficient aircraft are not currently available. The 'triple whammy' will therefore simply have the effect of reducing regional aviation's competitiveness against the automobile in what is also a price-point-sensitive market. New fees to cover airport security could lead to a $12 to $20 levy per passenger on Brindabella to cover the $4 million cost that Tamworth Regional Council may impose for building new baggage-screening facilities. Factor in the loss of the en-route subsidy scheme and the airline's recruitment levy to sponsor new pilots from South Africa, and flying begins to look much less attractive to travellers. It will not be long before demand is affected by the growing cost of a ticket, putting regional aviation businesses and employees' jobs at risk.

Regional, rural and remote areas are often heavily dependent on their regional air links for visitation, access to services only available in the cities, and tourism and economic development. Without such links these areas could be left condemned to isolation and economic stagnation. In 1997 there were 54 regional carriers operating 237 regional routes, and today I believe that figure is less than 20, flying around 125 routes.

As I said in my address to the RAAA summit, four European and two Australian carriers have gone out of business in the past six months, so we can see the effects that these cost pressures can result in, particularly at a time when the global industry as a whole is struggling with falling patronage and rising fuel costs. The costs of greater security being passed on to airports and ultimately airlines should therefore be carefully monitored and regularly reviewed.

The carbon tax will also make Australia a more expensive destination to visit, with tourism businesses being affected as disproportionately high energy users. The increased cost will not be felt just by international visitors but also by Australians wishing to holiday at home. It was Qantas's CEO, Alan Joyce, who told a Senate committee that his company estimated the cost would be as high as $115 million in the first 12 months. Virgin Australia has said their equivalent will be $45 million. Qantas said that $6.80 will be added to the cost of a flight from Perth to Sydney, and Virgin said that it will charge an average of $3 per flight to cover this Gillard tax impost. Is it any wonder, then, that there is a growing tourism trade deficit which the Transport and Tourism Forum expects to reach around $8 billion in the next financial year?

In conclusion, whilst the coalition welcomes measures that make it safer for people to travel to, from and within our country, the government should see this in the wider context of making Australia a more competitive destination to visit. Both the tourism industry and regional Australia deserve better from this government, a government that has made our nation more expensive to visit and which has been quick to take from the tourism sector, giving very little in return.