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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23554

Mr WINDSOR (9:54 AM) —I rise to speak briefly on the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 and the Aviation Transport Security (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2003. I will be supporting the legislation, but I will use this opportunity to talk about some of the issues that are not included in these bills. I take on board the comment made by the member for Fadden that this legislation may have to be revisited from time to time, because we are in a changing world and there are circumstances which may require the government to act again. I apologise to the member for Fadden; I had not realised, when I stood, that he was in front of me, and I was not trying to interlope.

There are issues which apply particularly to security at regional airports which are not included in these bills which I believe should be. I am encouraged, from discussions I have had, that the government is contemplating further changes down the track. I have mentioned security at regional airports a number of times over the last six to nine months. The member for Braddon has raised concerns he has, particularly in relation to Devonport airport but also in relation to Burnie airport and other regional airports in Tasmania. Other members of parliament are also concerned about security issues at major regional airports.

I have a number of airports in my electorate, the two major ones being at Tamworth and Armidale. At the moment, if you board a 50-seat Dash 8 aircraft out of Tamworth, for instance, there is absolutely no security at all. I think that is common to many regional centres, including Dubbo and Wagga. I am not certain about Albury but I think it is also the case there. At regional airports in Tasmania and in other states there is no security at all.

I have made some inquiries about this from time to time, and the minister's officers and officers of the department say that over the years there have been different approaches to different airports and that the security assessments are based on risk assessments. In answer to a question in this parliament about six months ago, the Minister for Transport and Regional Services—or it may even have even been the Prime Minister—said that a copy of the risk assessment report for Tamworth airport could be made available so that I could have discussions with various people as to how the risks for Tamworth and district commuters had been assessed and how the conclusion was reached that no security was required at that particular airport.

I have been unable to see that risk assessment. To be quite honest, I do not think there really is a proper risk assessment. How can you assess the risk of terrorism? Do you base it on the experiences of the past 20 years? Do you base it on the size of the aircraft or the number of years of experience the captain has? What sort of assessment process would be valid? What sort of assessment process would suggest that a 50-seat aircraft leaving Tamworth or Wagga to travel to Sydney, for instance, has a lesser risk than the very same aircraft travelling between Sydney and Canberra? I have travelled on such aircraft in my normal arrangements for getting from Tamworth to Canberra. Why should I be treated differently in Sydney from the way I am when I leave the Tamworth airport?

I do not think these questions have been answered. The government uses a mythical risk assessment, based on some historical arrangement the minister hides behind. The government says that, if regional airports believe they are in some way insecure—even though they do not have access to the risk assessment that has been done by these shadowy figures—and they want to look after their citizenry to a greater extent, this has to be done at the cost of local government. Local government has to bear the cost if there needs to be any upgrade to the security of regional airports.

This bill is before the House now because of the change to global circumstances. What the government seem to have concentrated on addressing are the international circumstances and some of the rules and regulations that have worked effectively internationally. The government have been looking very much at major airports and international flights. It is almost as if the process for assessing the risk of terrorism is based on how big a plane's fuel tank is or how many passengers are on the plane. In my view that really has very little to do with the amount of damage that can be done—or is a person in a 50-seat aircraft worth less than a person in a 300-seat aircraft? These are the questions that need to be answered.

Obviously, all governments have problems with costs and to impose a wider security net to cover the range of commercial airports across Australia would cost a lot of money, but my argument is essentially about equity. If there is a risk of terrorism at our airports in Australia, let us secure all our airports and let us do it as part of our defence process. We keep hearing from the Prime Minister and others that the globe has changed, that it is not like it used to be when you sent the troops up the beach with a .303; this is a new world we are fighting in. We have to be secure, our borders have to be secure, we have to be wary. Our fridge doors have to be tightened up so that we are protected from the evils that may well get inside!

That is the message that the government is giving the Australian people, but when it comes to the practicalities regional airports are ignored. It is almost assumed that regional airports are not at risk and that terrorists when they come to Australia are urban people who would not like to visit the country. They mostly cannot drive cars because they would not be able to drive from Sydney to Tamworth or from Sydney to Wagga to access an aeroplane. So they are urban creatures who will do everything possible to get through the security screening arrangements at the major metropolitan airports to get access to a potential weapon. If that is not the case, we should have equity in security for all our airports. If terrorism is not a problem, if our airports are safe anyway, why have any security? I think it is the inequity of the process that disturbs a lot of country people.

Only a few days ago Southern Cross, an independent aviation group, released a report which voiced a number of concerns about the security at regional airports. Their concerns were about not only perimeter security and screening passengers boarding aircraft at those particular airports but also the security in the car parks and the location of car parks near fuel facilities et cetera. These are various targets that I would have thought the government would have been looking at very closely—for example, the fuel used at airports is highly explosive, there are large quantities of it and there is the issue of the security of the aircraft overnight and whether people have access to it. These are the sorts of things that the bill was looking at, but they are international arrangements and the issues are not being addressed at the regional level. I guess the government will always retreat behind, `We've had this system in place. Airports are rated differently. We have a risk assessment process. Trust us.' I am sure any terrorist will take that on board and use that as part of his defining parameters when looking for potential weapons!

But it is not just the country people who travel in those aircraft who are at risk—and this is where I think the government is letting the nation down—it is also the people on the ground, if in fact we believe that there is a terrorist threat to some of our airports. It could be the people in this very building. If terrorists gained access to a 50-seat Dash 8 aircraft, heaven forbid, at some regional airport and were determined to do something to this place, not only the members but also the other people who work in this building could be under threat. It could be the people on the Harbour Bridge, for instance. It could be people in any number of circumstances, and I think that is something that the government really does need to look at in its future security arrangements for regional airports. The member for Fadden raised that issue. I thought he spoke quite well, and he obviously has a lot of background in this area. But the government is going to have to further investigate security matters at our airports.

The government listened to the concerns that were raised in the parliament—and I thank them for that—some months ago now, and put in place the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit review of aviation security. To date I do not think the report of the committee has been released, but there has been commentary given from time to time. Hopefully, that report will come out with something a bit more constructive on the issue that I am talking about. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport and Regional Services has also made some recommendations recently; I think there were 28 recommendations. One of them was based on this very issue, relating to security at airports with over 30,000 users, or it may have been communities with a population of over 30,000. The important thing is that it made a recommendation that identified the inequities out there, and the government should at least be looking at those issues.

In conclusion, the government has said—and I agree with the government on this issue—that we are living in a new world and we are not going to be fighting conflicts in the way in which we have in the past. That suggests to me that we have to identify the areas where we are at threat and where, heaven forbid, some madman might like to access destructive weapons. It has been identified internationally—and this bill before the parliament acknowledges this—that aircraft and airports are high-risk areas. I believe that, in that sense, the government really has to address this problem as a defence issue and stop talking about the past assessment process and then leap into the future—the politics in this place—and frighten people about terrorism. The government has to make up its mind: if there is a risk of aircraft being used by terrorists, all areas should be treated the same—even though that may mean a cost.

The Prime Minister as recently as yesterday, and even this morning, said that the key issue from his perspective as leader of the nation is the stability of the nation in an economic sense and the security of the nation, whether that be border protection or internal security. This is a key issue that the government needs to address. It should not be addressed after something terrible happens. It is something that has been identified. It has been identified in a number of reports. The Southern Cross report made it very plain that what a lot of people have been saying is out there, looking at us. If there are people out there who have ill intent in their minds—they are not fools either—they will be looking at it as well.

I urge the government to look very closely at removing the responsibility for the minor regional airports—if I could put it in that sense—from local government and view this as a defence matter for not only the people who fly within those aircraft but also the people who might be at threat if the aircraft were used in some untoward way.