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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23552

Mr JULL (9:41 AM) —In continuing this debate on the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 and the Aviation Transport Security (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2003, it is probably worth our while to reflect on the role that Australia has played in the international aviation regime, particularly since the construction of the Chicago Convention in 1944, and to recognise the role that Australia has played in ICAO—the International Civil Aviation Organisation—in all things aviation but particularly in areas of security. This legislation is a continuing upgrade of the security that we are providing for aviation, for our airports and for the screening of passengers and freight. I do not think that this will be the last time that we will see amendments to these bills coming before this House, because obviously this is going to be an ongoing operation for many years to come. The initiatives that have been put forward in these particular bills and amendments are going to give effect to areas such as the 100 per cent screening of baggage on international flights—and, indeed, ultimately on domestic flights—and I understand that they will be coming in a full 12 months before the ICAO deadline.

It is interesting to note the developments that have occurred in the United States in the equipment that is being used to screen baggage and passengers. While there has been quite a large investment in this equipment for Australia, unfortunately, because of the nature of things, that investment is going to have to continue. I think we should all be very much aware of the cost of these provisions to the aviation industry and ultimately, I guess, to the passengers who fly in and out of Australia.

Australia's aviation record in terms of safety has been spectacular inasmuch as we have not had too many major incidents. There are only three major incidents that I can remember: the Mr Brown hoax on a Qantas 747 in the early 1970s, an incident involving a Fokker Friendship aircraft in Central Australia, and, of course, the hijacking of a DC9 aircraft out of Coolangatta en route to Brisbane. All of those resulted in the aircraft and all people on board being saved, but what we are facing today is a much more treacherous and much more demanding situation because of those who, through aviation, are dedicating themselves to interfering with the safety and security of a country.

The provisions of these bills are manifold. Having just made reference to the screening of passengers' baggage, I will also say that there will be much stricter provisions for regulating those who can work at airports. There will be security checks on all those who will be working air side. There will be checks on all those who have any contact with the aircraft, and rightly so.

Because the provisions in the United States have been so tough in recent years one would think that we would have seen a marked improvement in the provision of aviation security in that particular country. But we should remind ourselves that the United States has not been without its problems. There was a recent incident where a young student managed to board four aircraft at an airport and plant devices on them. Over and over we are seeing that people are finding ways of being able to go and interfere with aircraft if they really want to cause trouble. Thankfully, that particular incident in the United States was devised to prove to the authorities that the security provisions there were inadequate. I guess we in Australia are also going to face this sort of thing from time to time and hopefully the provisions in these particular bills will make sure that we minimise that completely.

One of the big growth areas in the aviation industry in recent years has been air freight. I know there has been some controversy over the way we should administer safety provisions for that particular sector of the industry. There are somewhere in excess of 800 operators either directly or indirectly involved with the carriage of air freight around Australia. For those who administer the aviation safety provisions—particularly DOTARS—this must be a nightmare.

While there has been the installation of much more effective equipment in airports—and I understand that has been extended to sea ports—that, too, is going to very much be an ongoing requirement if we are going to maintain the safety standards within our industry.

I would also like to pay tribute to the committee that has been set up by this parliament—the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit—for the inquiry into aviation security it is undertaking. It is looking at all sorts of regulations that apply to regional services, and it is the regional areas that are providing some concerns at the moment. It is also looking at the requirements of airport operators at the major and regional airports, the requirements of airlines to comply with Commonwealth security and the impact of security requirements overseas on what we provide here. It is also looking at the cost of security upgrades—that applies particularly to regional airports. There are some other areas concerning privacy and the ongoing development of technologies that will also be within the committee's purview. I have followed the hearings of that particular committee and think it has addressed its very big task very well indeed.

Its report is going to be interesting because there is concern in the regional areas that they could have aviation safety incidents if they do not have the ability to undertake the kinds of security checks that are provided at other airports. It is true to say that this particular legislation is very much directed at the 11 major airports. In particular, it is being directed at the international and main line domestic services, although I understand that the baggage screening provisions will now also be covering all propeller driven aircraft.

As I say, Australia has always been at the forefront of making aviation security provisions. We can hold our heads fairly high because, in many respects, we have been anticipating the greater requirements for aviation safety provisions. The reviews that have been going on were started a long time prior to September 11. I understand that the latest round of upgrades has been underway for more than four years now and is going to be very much a continuing process.

Getting back to the cost of providing these services, invariably we hear of and read about debates between the airline operators and the regulators as to who is going to pick up the tab for the provision of these services. When it comes to aviation safety there has to be a realisation within the community that it is an obligation that is going to fall on everyone associated with the aviation industry. Ultimately, it will be reflected in passenger charges in one way or another, and that is one of the things that we are going to have to face and live with. I hope that we will see a more pragmatic approach to some of those debates and a realisation that we cannot afford to let our aviation costs get out of control.

There are other means by which we can reduce some of those charges, even when security eats up so much of that money. At a time when we hear of a tremendous investment being put into the Australian tourist industry through the tourism white paper we must remember that aviation in Australian terms is a major contributor to that tourism flow. At a time when the industry has been hard hit internationally by things like SARS, the terrorist incidents and, indeed, the war in Iraq, we want to make sure that when we spend that sort of promotional money we remain competitive in terms of our international appeal. We do not want to see any excuse for people not being able to come here because the cost is too high.

I certainly commend the government for their ongoing approach to aviation safety. As I say, it is not an easy area at all, and one that will need ongoing attention. It is an area where the realisation that we have been lucky in the past is now coming through.

I will make reference to some of the new sections of the act which cover personnel. I mentioned these briefly before. There have been concerns that the new security checks that will be undertaken by aviation workers, whether in the security area or in the ground handling area, may be an invasion of privacy. I understand there has been concern, particularly among members of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, as to whether we are going too far in having security services check people working in the aviation area at our major airports.

In one of the hearings of the committee the idea was raised of having ASIO take part in checking these people. There are of course provisions within our security acts to make sure that there are appeals available to anyone who thinks they have been hard done by in a security assessment. But let us not weaken on that aspect at all. Never before have we had such a requirement to ensure that the people working in the aviation area at our major airports are absolutely clean. We have already had examples where people who may be of doubtful background have been involved in the provision of those services. Ultimately, if not checked, this may have led to some difficulties.

I conclude my contribution by commending the government for their efforts in this area. I encourage them to continue the ongoing review and to continue upgrading the equipment required for the provision of these services. As I said earlier, we all look forward to the report of this parliament's committee on what the provision of these services is going to mean, particularly in regional airports.