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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15581

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (2:08 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Will the minister confirm that the averted hijacking last week highlights the need for more action on aviation security? Can the minister also confirm advice in Senate estimates late last week that, as at 30 March 2003, the Ansett ticket levy has collected $240.2 million? Why doesn't the minister use that money to tighten screening at places like Burnie, which had 91,694 passengers last year, and other major regional airports like Port Macquarie, Albury, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga and Devonport? When will the minister start delivering security in regional Australia, or does the minister buy the line of his Minister for Small Business and Tourism that, `The cost of providing full security at all Australia's regional airports would make the upgrade prohibitive'?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —As I have said in the media over the weekend, plainly, with the investigations that have been taken forward by the Transport Security Division of my own portfolio, by Qantas and by the Australian Federal Police—which is of course undertaking the chief investigation—we will garner all of the facts and all of the information we can and we will seek to respond appropriately and properly. You would expect that of the government.

Mr Crean —You've done nothing!

Mr ANDERSON —I hear the Leader of the Opposition saying that we have done nothing. That is nonsense, as he well knows. The categorised airports across Australia all have to have security plans in place which are relevant to their circumstances. It is all very well for the opposition to jump up in this place and seek to sensationalise—to go beyond what wise heads in industry, in the state governments and in the tourism industry are saying.

The SPEAKER —The member for Braddon!

Mr ANDERSON —We have the task of looking to the security of the Australian travelling public at the same time as we seek to ensure that transport remains viable—that people can get around and that airports are not completely clogged and unworkable.

The SPEAKER —I have on four occasions reminded the member for Braddon of his responsibilities.

Mr ANDERSON —In relation to those regional airports that do not have security plans, I first make the very important point that we respond to risk assessments put together by Australia's intelligence agencies. I repeat: we respond to risk assessments given to us by highly competent agencies in Australia. There is something of a tendency on the part of one or two people in this place to apparently presume a greater degree of knowledge than our intelligence agencies have. If they know something, or believe they may know something, those agencies do not know or if they have some facts those agencies might not be in possession of, the responsible thing would be to approach our office, and we would then put them in touch with those organisations. Furthermore, if local councils or airport owners believe that further security upgrades are needed—

Mr Martin Ferguson —What about the ticket tax? Tell us about the ticket tax!

Mr ANDERSON —The member for Batman does not want to hear this part of the answer, so he wants me to go on to the next part. I will get to it. Again I make the offer we have made before to airport owners: come and talk to us if you want to upgrade your security arrangements and if you think it is necessary. One regional airport in Australia has done it—none in New South Wales have, but one in Australia has. They came to inquire of us, we worked them through the facts and they went away saying, `We don't believe it would warrant the cost, the expense and the inconvenience,' based on the information given to them. These things have to be risk assessed; otherwise, almost by definition, you will clog everything hopelessly.

Let me come to the Ansett ticket levy. We have made it quite plain that it will be removed as soon as we are sure that there is no remaining exposure for the taxpayer. The member for Batman, as a former leader in the trade union movement, will be fully aware that it is the Ansett ground workers' superannuation trustees who are delaying this matter by insisting on a higher priority for a couple of hundred million dollars in the creditors' queue. As soon as that matter is resolved, we may have the certainty needed to be able to wind up something that I would like to see out of the way as quickly as possible.