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Tuesday, 15 August 2006
Page: 30

Senator LUDWIG (2:45 PM) —My question is to Senator Ellison, Minister for Justice and Customs. Does the minister recall his claims yesterday about successful airport security enhancements, particularly at regional airports? Is the minister aware of comments by Ms Janine Hugo, the manager of Whyalla Airport, who said that they have ‘been told that it’s not a requirement to use the metal detectors at this stage’ at a regional airport? Given the minister was in here yesterday boasting about the $8 million that the government has spent on so-called hand wand metal detection services, can he now advise the Senate about the other aspects of the regional airports security package that are also optional? Why, under the minister’s watch, can something as fundamental to the security of the travelling public as metal detectors be considered optional?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —Since March 2005, for the first time, 250 regional airports and airlines have been captured under our aviation security initiative. By way of upgrade, I can advise the Senate—because it is relevant to what Senator Ludwig asked and he might want to listen to the answer—that 750 people are being trained in aviation security, including hand wand metal detection capability. That is a result of the regional initiatives that I mentioned yesterday. As well as that, the regional response teams that I mentioned, which are managed by the Australian Federal Police and which I have responsibility for, have been in action. Over 100 regional airports have been involved in exercises, training and an assessment of security.

At each regional airport, there are varying degrees of assessment in relation to security and various measures are required. This relates to the traffic and the risk assessed, and that has been done in relation to the various airports around Australia. In fact, some of the regional airports I have come across have been quite large; others have been quite remote, involving a strip, and charter aircraft being the only landings there. There is a huge variation when you look at regional airports in Australia. That is why we have put in place an assessment where our regional response teams go out to these regional areas. They deal with the local councils and local police and they operate in relation to joint exercises, training and security assessment. As I say, 750 people have been trained in relation to hand wand metal detection.

As well as that, we have approved funding of $29 million for 124 regional airports. This relates to security infrastructure. It is an essential part of our plan. We have also provided $1.5 million to expand eligibility to include no-jet non-screen transitioning airports, including places like Burnie, Devonport, Groote Eylandt, Mildura and Weipa. This demonstrates the variety of the sorts of regional airports that we are looking at from Tasmania to the gulf. A very important part of our regional initiative is that we look at the different circumstances applying to a particular region. It is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all. We have to address what a particular airport needs, and we rely on the locals to assist us in that regard. That is why we have the joint operations with local police. This is an initiative which has been comprehensive—a $48 million securing our skies initiative. As I say, for the first time, since March 2005, over 250 regional airports and airlines have been captured under our security regime.

Senator LUDWIG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question: is the minister aware of reports that more than 400,000 passengers have not been screened before boarding aircraft at South Australian regional airports alone? Does this mean that screening passengers is also optional under the minister’s management of airport security? Is this what the minister meant yesterday when he was talking about world’s best practice or would his alternative comment that ‘security is a work in progress’ be more appropriate?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —I can only reiterate what this government has done in relation to regional airport security. For the first time, we have put in place measures in regional Australia to address things like perimeter fencing, training people, joint exercises, and the technology of hand-held wands where a walk-through detector is not required, because a hand-held wand can do the job as well where you have a low level of traffic and usage. That makes absolute sense. In relation to applications for funding, there are 130 approvals for funding at 124 airports, totalling $29 million—that is, direct funding to regional airports for security infrastructure.