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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19889

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (2:38 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. It relates to his open-door security policy as revealed yet again at Melbourne airport with another screening breach. Can the minister confirm that an off-duty police officer was allowed to board an international flight at Melbourne airport on Tuesday inadvertently carrying a clip of bullets? Wasn't this only brought to light because the police officer informed the airline of this mistake? How many more system failures resulting in security breaches, Minister, will it take before the government takes national security here in Australia much more seriously?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. I think we established yesterday quite clearly that what amounted to a burglary does not open us to the claim that we have an open-door approach to security.

Mr Crean —What did Bob Charles say?

The SPEAKER —Leader of the Opposition, the question has been asked!

Mr ANDERSON —Frankly I think it is outrageous and irresponsible—I really do—to ignore the very principles that the member for Batman put down when he indicated that irresponsibly raising these sorts of issues was inappropriate. There has been a screening breach at Melbourne airport. It happened on the ninth of this month and it involved an off-duty policeman who did the right thing and alerted crew to the fact that he had inadvertently, apparently, taken on board a limited number of rounds of ammunition.

I have to say at the outset that I do not believe that this was a deliberate attempt to avoid the screening process. There was no malicious intent or any threat to the passengers or aircraft. There was no cover-up. I ordered an urgent inquiry by my department and a few matters have been established, which I put before the House. A regional manager from the aviation security regulation branch of my department was promptly in attendance at Melbourne airport as a part of this investigation. The investigation has so far included a reconstruction of the incident with Melbourne airport staff, including the screening process. The investigation is continuing, although I can establish that it appears at this stage that the screening equipment itself was functioning properly.

My department wrote to Melbourne airport on 10 September, directing that compliance with department standards for screening procedures be taken up with the screening company and requesting a full brief on the incident and the measures taken by the airport to address the breach. My department is seeking legal advice on any other appropriate enforcement action. I understand that Melbourne airport has removed from duties the staff member involved for retraining and is in the process of briefing all security screening staff to remind them of the correct procedures. Similar directions have been conveyed to other airport screening authorities, and they will be discussed at the next meeting of the Aviation Security Industry Consultative Group, which is due to be held here in Canberra over 17 and 18 September.

We will continue to monitor the compliance of all regulated airports, including Melbourne, with the appropriate set-out standards that we expect to be fully honoured. I understand that Victoria Police are conducting their own investigation into this incident. I find it very surprising that the Victoria Police minister would play politics with one of his serving officers before the official investigation is completed. The Victoria Police minister may well be seeking to attempt to deflect attention from a failure of the Victoria Police procedures that allowed the officer to be carrying the ammunition in the first place.

Mr ANDERSON —I know you are a Victorian but it ought to be properly considered. I am advised that there may have a breach of the dangerous goods regulations administered by CASA. Carriage of ammunition in an aircraft cabin is an offence under the Civil Aviation Act, and that is being investigated by CASA.