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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23514


Ms GRIERSON (8:41 AM) —As the previous speakers, including the shadow minister for transport, have noted, the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 is critical, and it certainly should have been before us before this stage. But it is here, and we on the opposition benches will be supporting it; and I will be supporting the second reading amendment to it. Civil aviation now faces a new challenge—although it was certainly one that we were always aware of. We were aware that there were security risks for aviation, but it is a changing world and September 11 changed the landscape a great deal.

This legislation has been vital. Perhaps it should have been before us as a response to the 1998 Audit Office report on security. It has been in the process since 2001. The audit report of 1998 did not get a speedy response. The 2003 audit report, which was presented to those of us on the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, if not prompted this legislation, certainly demanded some speed in this legislation. So this legislation does respond to the changed threat context and it also aligns Australia with international civil aviation standards, and that is something we are seeing in all transport areas at the moment. It is those international standards that everyone is going to look for before they commit their aviation industry to international travel, and the same will apply in the maritime industry.

This legislation now introduces penalties within a revised enforcement regime to try to make sure that the Australian travelling public are protected. It also attempts to respond to the ANAO recommendations that were tabled in January and separates the legislation to allow, as and when required, further amendments as well as policy reviews. That is important, because we cannot have a new legislative framework every time we want to make changes; so this legislation does contain procedural changes as well.

Unfortunately for Australia, I believe the audit report showed that we had problems; that is as recent as January of this year, post September 11. There were problems. Tests were put in place and actions were taken by the Audit Office as it moved around Australia, and these problems certainly alarmed it. When there are incidents at airports where doors marked `do not enter: secure area' are able to be opened and alarms go off but no-one comes, we know we have not quite got it right. But this legislation is one way of trying to get it right.

Unfortunately though, this legislation is very dependent on regulations. We are seeing this government move, more and more, to a regulatory framework rather than a legislative framework. That means there is a lot of regulation drafting, in which we do not always get a say and nor does the industry. Therefore we are concerned that, without full disclosure and full consultation with those regulations, the scrutiny of parliament—which is why we are here—cannot be carried through as rigorously as it should be. But overall this legislation does reflect the aviation industry's primary role in delivering security outcomes and regulating the industry to ensure some compliance and to monitor progress and encourage achievements.

The legislation has 10 parts. Some of these are fairly straightforward but others I would like to draw to the attention of the House. The first part of the legislation includes the objects of the bill, its application inside and outside Australia, and particular definitions. The second part of the legislation requires various aviation industry participants to develop and comply with a transport security program. I certainly know, from being a member of the audit committee, that the industry is responding. I know that security firms and organisations, airport operators and airlines are certainly responding, but I cannot say I have confidence that all those three responses are dovetailing as smoothly as we are going to need them to. The programs that are being developed will be approved, according to this legislation, by the Secretary of the Department of Transport and Regional Services. If adequate, they will be allowed to stand but they may also be cancelled by the secretary and reviewed over time. I am always interested in monitoring: we have seen too many examples in Australia where things have not been monitored and the results, whether they be financial or employment outcomes, have been bad for the public. In this case it is absolutely vital that we have a security and safety monitoring process.

Part of the legislation looks at airport areas and zones. It gives the department the power to declare an airport or part of an airport to be a security controlled airport. That very much interests me, being the member for Newcastle, as our regional airport is classified by the department as category 3—it is in the middle of the five categories—yet our airport is co-located with an air force base, which would signal some things to most of the travelling public. One would be that, yes, you would expect a high level of security because you would expect to some degree a higher level of risk. I can only praise the fact, and I will speak later about this, that our airport is taking security particularly seriously.

The legislation also makes sure that screening occurs of passengers and persons who are cleared to enter certain areas or board an aircraft. That is vital, particularly when we look at regional airports in areas that are going to be security classified. It also gives powers to officials—and the public are always concerned about how much power officials have—and there will be four classes of person with different powers: aviation security inspectors, law enforcement officers, airport security guards and screening officers. Having listened to the evidence put forward to the audit inquiry, I think that is going to be difficult. Everyone needs to know who is doing what, particularly when it comes to powers. There is currently a heavy reliance on ordinary state police responding to most incidents in most airports. However, there is also a much higher expectation that police will be there all the time. From living in busy cities, I know the reality is that police are not always available to be at airports and perhaps there is not that needed presence, so I would be very concerned that the Australian Protective Service do have a greater role and may need greater resourcing. There may be a need to coordinate the training of police with the APS and for some formalised agreements that I do not think are there at the moment. There will also be reporting and information gathering regimes in this legislation and, as I have already mentioned, enforcement. There will be review throughout the course of this legislation.

The shadow minister for transport has moved a second reading amendment. It asks for a review within 12 months. I think that is critical, as the world is changing and the requirements are many. We are already seeing legislation, such as the ASIO legislation, coming back to us. Legislation has to be responsive to situations we might have never encountered before, and a 12-month review of an area as critical as this is important. In our amendment we have also proposed replacing the secretary of the department's powers, making them the minister's powers. We in this country are not used to giving a bureaucrat unfettered powers. We really must make sure that those powers rest with a minister so that they do come more fully under the scrutiny of parliament. Certainly the actions of a minister have absolute public accountability; it is very difficult for secretaries of departments to have that sort of accountability to the public. They do not have that responsibility; their responsibility flows through the minister, so that amendment is terribly important.

The other part of the amendment that I think is vital to regional and rural Australia is that the Ansett levy be used to assist the small regional airports that lack the critical mass, or volume of traffic, to be able to institute major security measures. I am pleased to say that passengers who arrive at Newcastle airport will know that their security is being looked after, albeit at the cost of the airport. When they arrive and they go to buy their tickets, they will have to show their photo ID before they are given a ticket or a boarding pass. To enter through the screening into the departure lounge, they will again have to show their photo ID, ticket and boarding pass. It might seem slow—and I recall that when that was introduced it was a bit of a groan—but, now that human behaviour has been conditioned a little bit, we get out our ID ready for screening and we just go through at peak hours, quite used to being screened to make sure that we are the travelling person before we go into the secure area of our departure lounge and can then board an aircraft.

I have had a recent experience of being tested by the trace explosive detection system at Newcastle airport. I am told that this equipment costs between $80,000 and $100,000. That is a significant cost for a regional airport. It has been purchased by Newcastle airport, which is under the authority of two councils—Newcastle City Council and Port Stephens Council. It is quite a big commitment for a regional airport to look at a trace explosive detection system to the tune of $100,000. Added to that, you need a person to operate it; an additional person is needed at all times.

Those are the expenses faced by regional and rural airports. Hiring skilled and trained people, manning the machines in inconsistent hours and shift work—it is not easy to find people who are willing to take that on—mean that our regional and rural airports will have significant costs. I am fortunate because at Newcastle the configuration changes and security strategies were taken on a long time ago. But I have travelled through many regional and rural airports where there is no separate and secure area for passengers.

Regional and rural airports need to look at building and construction works. We are very much aware of that on the committee because that sort of evidence has been put forward. It is not just building reconfiguration that needs to be looked at but apron areas that are accessible to the public. To screen those areas off by putting fences and boundary protection around them will be very difficult. So there will be some specific and considerable costs. The Ansett levy has had a while to build up and must have attracted some interest by now. I imagine it would make a great investment in aviation security and would be well spent in regional and rural Australia.

The committee also discussed several other issues of general concern in aviation security. Salary levels in the security field are not high. Security personnel working in airports are not being paid a great deal of money—you cannot convince me otherwise because I have looked at those rates—and now have responsibilities that are not reflected in what they are paid. I am assured that there are certificate level training courses and that this is a well-monitored industry. I would think that it needs to be tested and monitored very carefully. Retention rates of security personnel and salary levels have improved. But the way in which front-line personnel have been affected needs to be considered in any 12-month review.

The other area everyone in Australia should be worried about is the use of subcontractors and the outsourcing of IT services. We have seen too many incidents where security is diminished because of the failure to regulate outsourced operators and private contractors. Some of these people have also put forward evidence to suggest that, when some functions are passed on, other people think that their responsibility is diminished: if IT services are passed on, people think the security of that service is passed on as well. That is not the case.

I have mentioned the role of state police, which I think is an important issue. The other issue is `who knows what'. Capital city airports are huge; they are like mini-cities. I am pleased to see coordination of information in Melbourne and Sydney. Procedures are being set up and people are holding meetings. In some cases meetings are being held more frequently and others are being held as needed. Exchange of information is critical. This legislation will not bring about any improvement unless there is a change in attitude and culture, and human beings are given support and a definition of what is really expected.

There have been many security incidents in aviation. This year there have been 19 recorded incidents which have been well documented and shared with the public. That is a high number. There have been five security incidents at Melbourne airport, six at Sydney airport, two at Perth airport, two at Brisbane airport, one at Adelaide airport, one at Cairns airport and one at MacKay airport.

The risk that I have mentioned for airports like mine is that, although their screening and security processes are very good, unfortunately you can travel from smaller regional and rural airports in this country to Newcastle without being screened. In two instances I have been contacted by constituents who were mortified that, when arriving at Newcastle airport, they had been able to bring through things like Swiss army knives which had not been detected. These people had come from small airports which do not have the security capacity of larger airports. So I suppose no airport is really secure if we do not respond to the risks in regional and rural Australia.

Some incidents at our airports have required specific responses. Some have involved drunken tourists making threatening comments. There is a culture of people making jokes about security, but it is not a joking matter. Evidence has been put forward that more responsibility should be placed on travelling passengers to behave in a certain way and that consideration should be given to imposing penalties. At this stage there are no penalties for passengers unless they break a provision of the Crimes Act. There have also been instances of assault. In one incident which took place a security guard was assaulted by a passenger at Melbourne airport. Of course we know about the attempted hijack on Qantas flight 1737 shortly after take-off from Melbourne airport. Staff certainly are at risk. We have received evidence from their union that staff will need protection, and changing the behaviour of the travelling public is most important. Of particular concern is that minor weapons have passed through the detection process. I think only training and rigour can address that.

Previous speakers have said that these are difficult times. They certainly are, but one of the wonderful things for Australia is that we are seeing a certain amount of recovery in aviation. We have had tough times in Newcastle, with one of our minor operators going into liquidation. However, that airline is still operating because the industry has shown interest and kept it going, which is good. Smaller airlines do have a responsibility in this area. Major airlines have had to carry a bit of a load since Ansett was allowed to go under. Although our smaller airlines have done it tough, they have continued to operate through this difficult time. I am pleased to say that the travelling public are still travelling within Australia.

We have to take this legislation very seriously and get it right. The report that will be handed down by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit is vital. This legislation will be passed because we are supporting it. Members of the committee have travelled Australia. The committee inquiry has been rigorous and open. Confidential evidence has been put forward and there has been a willingness by the industry and by the travelling public to make submissions to the inquiry, which I know will only better inform the debate on improving aviation security around Australia. I support the proposed legislation and certainly urge support for the amendment moved by the member for Batman.

Debate interrupted.