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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23512

Mr HUNT (8:30 PM) —I rise to speak on the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 knowing that it is both a reflection and a necessary by-product of the fact that we live in a changed world. September 11, 2001 was a sad and salutary lesson for everybody. It indicated that our skies were not as safe as we had hoped and not as safe as we need them to be. There are new threats which we had not imagined only 2½ years ago. This bill is in part a response to that and in part a response to the necessary and continual process of modernising our organising systems for our skies, for our safety and for our airline systems. In essence, the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 focuses on the coordination of security in our skies. It establishes a framework that brings together our airlines and airports and places them within the reach of the Department of Transport and Regional Services. It provides a framework and a structure so that we can deal with the unexpected and adapt to new security needs.

What does this mean in practice? What does it mean for the men and women throughout Australia who fly and who go to airports, whether they be large city airports or smaller regional airports, such as those in Tamworth, Launceston or Broken Hill? Very simply, it means that there will now be a national system which can be tailored to each airport based on the level of threat assessment. So it is utterly flexible but with consistent policies and a consistent set of actions for each of the airports. That means that for the things that matter to people who catch planes—whether it is in rural and regional areas or, as for the vast bulk of travellers, in urban areas—such as baggage screening, access, distance from fuel facilities, before they are screened off, there is the ability to adapt and adjust to changed security circumstances. That is important; it has a big impact.

In essence, today I want to speak about three things: the background to the bill, the importance of the bill and the core provisions of the bill. Firstly, the bill is designed to enhance levels of aviation security. In particular, it seeks to establish safer airports and safer skies. That means, for the general public, a safer travelling environment. Secondly, the bill is designed to improve the structure of aviation security by creating a regulatory framework. That, again, is a very important element. That framework is not just a bureaucratic construct but a practical way of ensuring that if there is an airport, such as Launceston or Tamworth, which needs to have its security approach adjusted then that can be done—and it can be done quickly, and it can be done in anticipation of needs or in response to changed circumstances. That matters for the travelling public.

The bill is also designed to reform penalties for non-compliance and reform the enforcement regime more generally. What this means in practice is that if airlines or airports fail in their duties then there are consequences. That is a very important measure. In addition, it deals with the increased awareness of threats posed by breaches of aviation security since September 11. Furthermore, it implements the recommendations of the Australian National Audit Office report on aviation security tabled this year. We have recognised that the current legislation needs updating to adapt to the changed circumstances. Presently, the aviation security regulatory framework is spread across a range of legislation. It is difficult and slow moving. What we have here is a means of consolidating the general approach to aviation security in Australia and a means of giving Australia's travelling public confidence.

In essence, the importance of the bill is that it delivers two main benefits: security and confidence. How does a bill such as this improve security? How does it actually help the 94 per cent of the travelling public who will immediately be brought under the legislative provisions of this bill and the six per cent of the travelling public, in some of the most remote and regional airports, who might potentially in the future—if necessary—be brought within the provisions of this bill? What does the bill do to improve security? The answer is simple: firstly, it acts to improve the capacity to control specific security issues such as cargo security; secondly, it acts to help with issues such as the transportation of people in custody by providing a mechanism for such transportation; thirdly, it tightens up the vagueness of the weapons schedule, which is a legacy from times past and something that will be clearly and precisely dealt with by this bill; and, fourthly, it restructures the airline and airport categorisation. It does this to ensure that there is a clear system so that all airports are appropriately categorised and that, where there is a change in threat assessment, an airport's category can immediately be altered to fit the new system.

Those are the important measures in terms of security. How does this bill enhance confidence in Australia's system? That is quite simple. Again we have four basic measures which will lead to that confidence. Firstly, the public will be able to have a well-founded belief that each of the airports covered will be safe. Secondly, there is a recognition that a single security breach has the potential to destroy confidence in aviation security—and this bill drives at zero breach. That is the goal and the tough, hard, clear objective established by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, and I commend him for the work he has done on this bill. The bill aims at a set of measures that are free of breaches. It will be difficult, but that is what we have to deal with in this changed security environment, where we have seen, unfortunately, that planes can be used as weapons.

Thirdly, we also recognise that there is a potential risk of disastrous damage to the Australian economy if our airline system is seen as unsafe. So by pre-empting any threats we provide confidence, which can help with our transport, with our cargo, with our commercial aviation and with our inbound and outbound tourism. Fourthly, by focusing on that tourism level, the general notion of Australia as a safe place is a critical element. The general notion of Australia as a safe environment is enhanced by the fact that Australia is pre-emptively taking steps to ensure that our skies are completely safe.

In that context, I briefly want to mention a couple of provisions of the bill. In particular, part 2, division 2, clause 12 of the bill works to ensure that industry participants must have a transport security program in order to operate. That is a very important thing. Under this bill not all airports and aircraft officers will be required to meet aviation security regulations, and some of the smallest airports will have their own set of arrangements, but we can see that all the participating airports will be included in the system and, where necessary, even the smallest airports can be brought in. That is very important.

Finally, I spoke earlier this evening on the ASIO Legislation Amendment Bill 2003. We find that Australia, along with other countries throughout the world, is facing a different international security environment. In the post September 11 world, we have come to realise that threats which we had perhaps previously swept under the carpet or which we had hoped would not manifest themselves are real. Those threats—be they in aviation security, in our domestic infrastructure or, as we have so sadly seen in the tragedy in Bali, in the places where Australians holiday—are all too real. So we have to update all of our security mechanisms, be they in terms of our intelligence, our capacity to investigate or, as in this case, our aviation transport security. In that context, I am delighted to commend this bill to the House. I hope that it receives the full support of members of both chambers.