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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5264

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (13:07): I rise to speak on the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012. The purpose of the bill is to implement a number of amendments that are to complement the introduction of body scanners in Australia's international airports. Since 11 September 2001, aviation authorities around the world have increased security measures to ensure passengers, crew and the general public are kept safe. Passengers and crew safety is paramount when regulating and administrating an aviation system, especially in a vast nation such as ours where a trip from one side of the country to the other by car can take several days compared to a few hours by plane.

Further, larger numbers of aircraft are flying around Australia than ever before. For the year ending June 2011 domestic airlines flew over 610,000 flights, which was up 6.5 per cent from the previous year, and international airlines flew over 150,000 flights during that period. If the increase in aircraft movements is not enough of an indication of the expansion of our aviation industry, the increase in passenger numbers most certainly is. Around 54.75 million passengers flew on Australian domestic airlines during the year ending June 2011, which was up 5.8 per cent from the year before. In the same year, there were 27.55 million passengers on international airlines, which was an increase of 7.5 per cent from 2010.

In my electorate of McPherson on the Gold Coast, the Gold Coast Airport saw passenger numbers rising to 5.17 million in 2009-10, representing an overall compound average growth rate of 9.6 per cent. According to the Gold Coast Airport's preliminary master plan, there will be an expected total of 16.3 million passengers by 2031-32. That number will be made up of 14 million domestic passengers and 2.3 million international passengers.

Airports, as a result of the increasing airline activity, bring a significant amount of economic benefit to their surrounding communities. The Gold Coast Airport alone provided over 1,700 individuals with employment at the end of June 2010. The economic impact of the airport precinct was $269 million, whilst facilitating $1.59 billion worth of tourism for the Gold Coast-Tweed region in the 2010 financial year. The aviation industry as a whole contributes $6.5 billion to the national GDP and employed approximately 51,000 people in November last year. Further, the industry grew by 6.3 per cent in the year ending 30 June 2011.

It is evident from these statistics that the regulation and administration of safety in the aviation industry is no trivial matter. We are dealing with millions of people every year in an industry that, if damaged significantly, can detrimentally affect the nation and the nation's economy. If flights stop, families do not see each other, businesspeople do not get to and from their meetings or where they need to be, mail and parcels do not get delivered and certain goods being transported by air remain off the shelves.

Many businesses count on the Gold Coast Airport to bring in tourists from both domestic and foreign markets. The Gold Coast tourism industry is currently fragile, due to a number of factors—including the high Australian dollar. Businesses and their employees cannot afford for an incident to occur with the transportation of visitors to the Gold Coast due to the lasting perception it would potentially create. We witnessed late last year the detrimental effects of issues occurring within the aviation industry, such as when industrial action was taken against an airline. The aviation industry facilitates trade and commerce in this country, and we witnessed the toll that stoppages could have on the country.

Although we hope that it will never come to this, it is still a sobering thought to contemplate the consequences of a successful terrorist action on board an aircraft. The September 11 attacks showed us that there are not only unnecessary and devastating losses of life but vast economic impacts. Therefore, when a man tried to detonate an explosive device he hid in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, it sparked concern amongst the aviation industry, because the device was not picked up in preflight screenings. This was because the explosive device contained no metallic objects and was therefore not picked up by metal detectors. What was even more concerning was that the would-be bomber had smuggled the explosive device from Yemen to Amsterdam before boarding the flight to Detroit. This incident has shown that there are still those who will go to any lengths to harm innocent civilians.

It has also shown that there is vulnerability in our security-screening practices at airports and that we must continue to be constantly vigilant when it comes to protecting our national security. As a result, a trial of body-scanning technology was undertaken at Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport from 2 to 19 August 2011 and at Melbourne International Airport from 5 to 30 September 2011. Volunteers standing in the main queue for screening were asked whether they would be willing to participate in the trial and then were directed randomly to go through the scanner. From the trial, in which over 23,500 passengers were scanned, 57 per cent of passengers were cleared to proceed straight after passing through the scanner.

However, the proof-of-concept trial report noted that passengers were six times more likely to alarm in the body scanner than in a walk-through metal detector. The report found that, out of every 1,000 passengers, on average 230 personal items within or under a passenger's clothing were detected, compared to 43 items per 1,000 passengers who walked through a metal detector. Many of the items detected by the scanner were hairclips, jewellery, coins and notes, watches, high boots with buckles and other miscellaneous items. Cargo pants, studs on jeans, zips and buttons, baggy clothes that create folds and sequins on shirts all caused the alarm in the scanner to go off.

In Senate estimates, the Office of Transport Security was asked about the rate of false positives during the trial period. The representatives of the office who were present at the hearing stated that the rate was somewhere between 20 and 40 per cent. That would mean that, out of the 230 items detected per 1,000 passengers, between 46 and 92 items were false positives.

Screening officers were also required to undergo training due to the high rates of officer-passenger interaction involved. According to the Office of Transport Security this should not mean any changes in the time it takes to process passengers. The average time to scan a passenger is 1.5 to 2.5 seconds, with delays in passenger facilitation rates more likely to occur when luggage is being scanned. The scanner that the government wishes to use, the L-3 Communications ProVision millimetre wave body scanner, has been cleared by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency as well as the Department of Health and Ageing, the Therapeutic Goods Administration and overseas authorities. The power density emitted from the scanner to the passenger passing through it is 1,000 times less than that emitted by a mobile phone call.

Although the introduction of the scanner is central to the context of this bill, the bill itself does more than allow for the introduction of the scanners. It amends the act in question to provide legislative support for methods used in the utilisation of the scanner technology. The major changes the bill will make are the assumption of passenger consent to a screening procedure other than a frisk search unless such consent is expressly not provided. The bill will also list the types of equipment that airports will be able to use for screening, as well as specifying that, when body-scanning equipment is to be used, the image used to identify anomalies must be non-gender-specific and non-identifiable. As expected—and this has been raised by previous speakers—some of the changes have raised privacy concerns for our passengers. The body scanners provide a readout on a screen that identifies where the anomalies are located on the body. The bill provides that a generic stick figure, rather than a gender-specific image, will be used to identify the areas in which an anomaly is located. Further, the scanner will not be able to store or transmit images of scans that have been taken of passengers.

Aviation security is a serious matter affecting millions of people each year as they travel around this country and overseas. As air travel becomes much more common, with greater passenger numbers and more flights, we need to ensure that we are doing all that we possibly can to protect the lives of the many people who choose to utilise air travel—as well as protecting the aviation industry and the many other industries that rely on its good health.