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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23557

Mr SECKER (10:09 AM) —I thank the member for New England for giving prior notice of his brevity—although I do not think his speech was quite as brief as some of us were expecting. I rise today to add my support for the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003, which is before us in this chamber for debate today. I note one very specific comment that the member for New England made—and I took very clear note of it. He said, `We should have security at all our airports.'

Mr Windsor —Regional airports.

Mr SECKER —The words were—and I think if you check Hansard you will see this—`We should have security at all our airports.' The member for New England may then qualify that by saying `All our regional airports,' but does that mean that Keith airport or airstrip—

Mr Windsor —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Barker knows full well that I was referring to regional airports.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—The honourable member for New England will resume his seat.

Mr SECKER —That is something I cannot agree with. I would suggest that, if the member for New England spoke to my constituents or to his constituents, he would find that most of them do not want their regional airports to have the same security as major city airports. Perhaps I can use this analogy: if you are going to your local shop in a small country village, you do not have the same security there that you would have in a large shopping centre in the city. I do not know what it is like in New South Wales but I can say that, when I drive my car in one of the local towns in country South Australia, I do not lock my car. But if I am in a large city like Adelaide or Melbourne I certainly do lock the car. So you have different ways of handling things depending on the size of the place and the security risk.

I happen to like flying out of Mt Gambier and Kingscote in my electorate—what would be termed fairly large regional centres; probably servicing 40,000 or 50,000 people at Mt Gambier—where there are something like 70,000 or 80,000 flights a year. I think most of my constituents happen to like the fact that they can roll up there in a typical country manner, 10 or 15 minutes before they have to leave, and they do not have to worry about security. But, when they arrive at a major airport like Adelaide or Melbourne—to which there are regular flights from Mt Gambier—the security checks occur. People are quite happy with that and they certainly tell me that they do not actually want the same sorts of security arrangements that they have in major city airports. They like their relaxed way of life and want to keep it as long as they can. I do not think regional airports need the same sort of security that they have in a major city airport. Some people might say that that is putting my constituents at great risk, but I do not think that is the case. You will never have a zero risk situation, but surely the chances of a terrorist coming from a country regional airport are far less than their coming from a city airport. And you have to look at what it is going to cost.

Traditionally, Australia has remained largely unaffected by world events, and we in the country happen to like it that way. We are quite proudly known around the world for our status as the lucky country and the safe country. Tourists could travel around our shores without great fear of major aeroplane crashes and without major fear for their personal safety. In many instances, the thought of a terrorist attack would not even have entered their minds. Unfortunately, times have changed. I agree with the previous speaker, the member for New England: times have changed. September 11 and Bali have certainly taught us that we can no longer be complacent about our security and we can no longer assume that international events will not be directed at us or not affect us. But you have to put it in perspective. The perspective is that we need this security for major city airports, but the country people I speak to certainly do not expect the same sort of security arrangements at their local country airport that a major city airport would have.

Only recently we paid tribute to those who lost their lives as a result of that despicable act by persons who think that violence is the only way to get their message across. These heartless people took away friends and loved ones from many people in Australia. September 11, 2001 and, in particular, 12 October 2002 changed the way that we as a nation viewed ourselves and our activities in the international sphere. In the travel realm, these tragic events have forced us to give great consideration to the political and social environments of our destinations and the way in which we view our arrangements to travel there has changed as well. That is not to say that we have become fearful, but we certainly have become more aware of the potential risks which in some cases may be associated with travelling.

While we should be aware of the possible risks, there is no way that we should be awed in fear. At all times the Australian government, like the governments of our allies—and I would suggest that even if the opposition were in government, God help us, they would have the same view—has maintained that it will not give in to these threats made by the extremists, who believe that violence is the answer to all their perceived problems, because they cannot win the argument on logic.

Australia has an outstanding aviation safety record, but September 11 brought home to us just how much more vigilant we need to be at our major city airports. In keeping with this, the federal government has given much consideration to how we can make our aviation services less penetrable by people wanting to cause harm. We have made a commitment to ensuring a safe and secure aviation environment and through comprehensive policy reviews have identified a number of measures which will help to strengthen an already robust regulatory framework. The Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 seeks to implement these measures.

Having recently travelled overseas, I can vouch that Australia's security measures are amongst the best in the world. Whilst not intrusive of passengers, the security arrangements that we have here already allow for proper security checks of passengers and their baggage.

Mr Windsor —Not in regional airports, they don't.

Mr SECKER —I totally agree with the member for New England and, as I said, I do not lock my car in a small country town and I do not expect to have the same sorts of security arrangements in a regional airport, because the risks are not anywhere near as high as they would in be a major city airport. Security arrangements are in place when people arrive at a major city airport. Whilst it is not intrusive of passengers, we do have proper security checks of passengers and their baggage.

Every time I get on a plane to come to parliament, I am comfortable with the travel arrangements—whether I come from Kangaroo Island or Mount Gambier in my electorate of Barker and go via Adelaide or Melbourne to Canberra—knowing that the airline companies have made all the proper checks to ensure the safety of our passengers. Notwithstanding that, the Howard government are always conscious that vigilance must be maintained and, as such, are always looking at ways we can improve our already superior systems.

As a founding member of the Chicago convention, Australia must ensure that we comply with the aviation security standards outlined under annex 17 of the convention, which understandably since September 11 has had a number of amendments made to it. In fact, even prior to September 11, the Department of Transport and Regional Services—DOTARS, as many of us know it—were working continually to revise the legislative framework for aviation security. In 1998 the Australian National Audit Office—the ANAO—released the Aviation Security in Australia report, stating that the department had:

established a regulatory regime which ensures Australia's compliance with the standards embodied in Annex 17—

of the 1994 Convention on International Civil Aviation, or the so-called Chicago convention. The report also stated that, while this was the case, there were further actions which could be undertaken in order to strengthen the security regime even further. Following September 11, amendments identifying additional areas of concern, clarifying aviation security objectives in a changing environment and recommending changes to authority delegation, information sharing and response mechanisms have all been made to annex 17, and the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 reflects these amendments.

Partly as a result of the ANAO report, DOTARS have already started a revision of most of the legislative framework for aviation security along with associated regulations, including regulations regarding the screening of passengers and baggage, the reporting requirements for unlawful interference and aviation airport security arrangements. However, following September 11 and the International Civil Aviation Organisation's examination of ways to further improve aviation security, Australia is now looking at ways it can incorporate regulations which represent the requirements of the aviation security plan of action as endorsed at ministerial level by the ICAO in February 2002.

In the current security environment it is necessary that this government ensures not only that it meets its international obligations but also that it provides Australians and international travellers with the safest possible travel environment by way of a reasonable and adequate response. The action plan looks at measures such as: regular, mandatory, systematic and harmonised audits to enable evaluation of aviation security in place in all member states of the ICAO; identification, analysis and development of an effective global response to new and emerging threats; integrating timely measures to be taken in specific fields including airports, aircraft and air traffic control systems; strengthening of the security related provisions in the annexes to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, using expedited procedures where warranted and subject to overall safety considerations, notably providing for the protection of the flight crew; and international cooperation relating to threat information—to name a few. It is very important that we note that the action plan talks about using procedures where warranted. That is where the difference is between the security required at an airport that might fly a few planes a week and the security required at a busy city airport, which obviously has a greater risk and a greater amount of traffic.

This piece of legislation acknowledges not only that but also that the responsibility for a safe aviation environment lies with all participants within the aviation industry. It seeks to clarify the role of the government and the role of the different industry players, particularly with regard to emergency and contingency arrangements. However, it is not simply a matter for the regulations to be tightened with no consideration for the broader impact that these regulations will have on the industry.

The government recognises the difficulties that participants within the aviation industry may face in trying to meet security obligations, and for this reason the government, through this bill, has sought to allow the industry greater flexibility in achieving security outcomes. We are not simply laying down a black-and-white law that says, `You must take this exact action to comply with the regulations or there will be trouble'; rather, we are setting guidelines and offering the industry the flexibility to determine for themselves the best way in which their own specific business can comply with these regulations and ensure their passenger and airline safety.

What we must remember is that while these companies are commercial operations and while the operators will at all times be looking to make them viable operations, we should never underestimate the dedication of these operators to the safety of their passengers and the safety of their staff. The imperative is there; they want security and safety for their passengers because they know that if they do not have it they will not continue to be an airline. For this reason we are offering them various options as to how they comply with the security regulations. We know that they will take the responsibility and meet the regulations in the best possible way to continue the viability of their operations. There is no point in going out there and saying, `You're going to have all these things,' if they cannot actually afford to fly. We will not have airlines if we do not have this flexibility.

This legislation has been well researched and well thought out. It aims to improve the structure of the aviation security regulatory framework and provide adequate flexibility in order to reflect a rapidly changing threat environment. It allows for future amendments to be made and allows for it to be extended to other transport sectors in need. This is a very important point: it is very important that this legislation remains flexible and that we continue to work to have dynamic legislation which can change in keeping with the security needs of the times we find ourselves in.

Most importantly, however, it addresses the issues raised in the Australian National Audit Office report, which was tabled earlier this year, and provides for more focused auditing, increased compliance across all players in the aviation industry and a greater range of enforcement tools. To start with this bill contains a flexibility to require additional persons, such as cargo agents, airport tenants and key security controllers, to hold and maintain a security program, if considered necessary—and that is the important point—in keeping with the recognition that aviation security is the responsibility of all industry participants. Section 9 of this legislation defines the term `aviation industry participant' as those listed previously plus:

(a) an airport operator; or

... ... ...

(d) a person who occupies or controls an area of an airport ...

(e) a person (other than an aviation security inspector) appointed by the Secretary under this Act to perform a security function; or

(f) a contractor who provides services to a person mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (e).

By doing this, it gives a very clear indication of who this legislation intends to affect and how. It also provides for an obligation to comply with, and not hinder compliance with, another person's aviation security program.

In addition the bill provides for an extended geographical jurisdiction so that if an offence occurs outside of Australia, as long as there is some Australian connection, these regulations may be applied to the offence. Should the offence be committed by an Australian citizen, resident or company, or be committed on or involve an Australian aircraft, this amendment would mean that these regulations could be applied to this offence even though the offence may not, under previous laws, have been committed where Australian jurisdiction applies. Australia still requires all international airlines to operate under the Australian security program when operating within Australia and these regulations will apply accordingly.

This legislation also defines the meaning of `unlawful interference with aviation'. Integral to the understanding and application of this bill, the definition clearly sets out what is considered to be unlawful interference with aviation, in what situations an act may be considered to be unlawful interference and why. Previously, unlawful interference pretty much started and stopped with what was defined as taking control of an aircraft by force, threat of force or by any other intimidation. In short, regulations pretty much started and stopped with hijacking. In the current security climate there is obviously still a real concern that this kind of unlawful interference may well take place; but this legislation broadens the definition of what is considered unlawful interference, as there are many other ways that the safety of an aircraft may be jeopardised.

Notwithstanding that, as I have said, this government will endeavour to provide the most dynamic and effective aviation security laws possible. Being a frequent flyer I have witnessed the many changes and improvements in airports, including regional airports, and aircraft security and I have to say I feel more comfortable for them. What many people consider to be an inconvenience, many more consider to be a necessity in order to prevent the likes of September 11 2001 from happening again. I take this opportunity to commend this bill to the House.