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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17491

Mr PYNE (2:41 PM) —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. Would the Attorney-General inform the House how the government is assisting the Australian Protective Service to protect airline travellers and Commonwealth property? What are its powers to search and remove dangerous objects?

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) —I thank the member for Sturt for his question, and I commend him on his continuing interest in security matters. As part of our continued commitment to the safety of the Australian community, the Howard government will strengthen the security powers of the Australian Protective Service. The APS is a front-line agency in the new security environment. It is responsible for protecting Commonwealth property, it is responsible for performing a counter-terrorism first response role at our major airports, and it is responsible for the provision of air security officers on domestic flights. Recognising this role, the government has funded an additional 156 APS officers in a counter-terrorism role at airports. This includes an increase in the number of explosive detection canine teams from six to 18. Building on this, the government has decided to introduce legislation to give the APS new powers to enable it to more effectively protect the community. In the new environment it is essential for the APS to play a stronger preventative role and to provide an extra layer of security at our airports. Rather than waiting until a person has committed or is committing an offence, APS officers must be able to respond appropriately in suspicious circumstances where an arrest is not immediately necessary or possible.

The government proposes new powers that would allow an APS officer to request a person's name and address and reason for being in the vicinity of a place or a person in certain circumstances. It is also proposed that, in strictly limited circumstances, APS officers have the power to stop and undertake a frisk or ordinary search of a person or seize an item from a person. Those circumstances would be where the APS suspects on reasonable grounds that the person possesses a thing that can be used to cause damage or injury constituting an offence over which the APS has jurisdiction.

An example of where these powers would be effective is where an APS officer sees a person at an airport who appears to have something hidden under their coat. With these powers, the officer could approach the person and ask their name and address. This would enable the officer to make an assessment of the demeanour of the person. If the officer remains concerned, he or she could request that the person take off their coat. If the person has in his or her possession a potential weapon, the officer could seize the item. This would obviously be a positive result in terms of protecting the travelling public against potential threats.

This is not a plan to do pat-down searches or frisking of all passengers as they enter the secure areas of airports. Privacy issues have been taken into consideration in the development of the powers. The new powers are a balanced and appropriate response to the changed security environment in which APS officers operate, and they reflect the government's continued commitment to the protection of the Australian community from terrorist and other threats to our security.