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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23562


Mr DANBY (10:29 AM) —Before I focus on my formal remarks on the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003, I will react to some of the remarks just made by the member for Barker. He talked about the relaxed atmosphere at regional airports and how it is difficult to imagine that terrorists would threaten his constituents. The recent incident at Sydney Airport, when it was closed down as a result of people flying in from Tamworth and entering a sterile area of the airport, even though they had not had a security threat, surely should indicate to the member for Barker and people in this House that this is a very serious issue that affects all Australians.

People living in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere in regional Australia, like the member for Barker, have to imagine that they are linked into the security problems that affect all Australians, especially at the major airports. We should remember that the greatest terrorist incident in modern times, September 11, began in Portland, Maine, where we all saw the grainy pictures from the security cameras of Mohammed Atta and his confederate boarding a plane unchecked by security that enabled them to then get into transit at Logan Airport in Boston and commence their evil work. The suggestion that people in regional Australia cannot imagine or do not want strong security measures is something that I cannot believe, and this matter needs to be addressed.

The Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 brings the framework for aviation security up to date. It has been revised continually by the Department of Transport and Regional Services over the past four years. This has become a more vital process in light of the increased security threat to aviation since 2001. Despite the need for this bill, there are some important changes that Labor believes need to be further incorporated in it. We need to reassure the travelling public that they are not risking their lives by travelling on aircraft. This must be done through ensuring that the legislation surrounding aviation transport security is consistent and removes all foreseeable risks. Unfortunately, the current legislation fails somewhat in consistency and fails to protect passengers travelling from regional airports and on charter aircraft. This needs to be looked at.

In its present form, the bill provides extensive powers to the departmental secretary to work with and, if necessary, direct the aviation industry in Australia regarding aviation security. Much of the secretary's powers are already in delegated legislation—the air navigation regulations. We are proposing an amendment that the new powers go to the minister, not to the departmental secretary. They should go to an elected representative who can be held accountable to the parliament for the decisions they make. However, the bill incorporates some important additions, such as the special security directions covered in the new sections 66-74. They are designed to allow the government to respond quickly to threats of unlawful interference with aviation where the current standards or measures are insufficient, inappropriate or do not adequately address an emerging situation or technology. There are no equivalent provisions in either the Air Navigation Act 1920 or the Air Navigation Regulations 1947.

The power to issue special security directions lies with the secretary of the department. They can only be issued according to new paragraphs 67(1)(a) and (b) where `a specific threat of unlawful interference is made or exists or is a change in the nature of an existing general threat of unlawful interference with aviation'. Presumably the decision about where these circumstances exist lies with the secretary. There is no requirement for the decision to be made on reasonable grounds. There needs to be some form of criteria stipulating what circumstances give the secretary or the minister the grounds to issue such special security directions. We need to ensure that we balance the need for increasing security with civil rights. The departmental secretary should not have the power to issue special security directions; this should lie with the minister, as I have said.

In some cases the bill sets out very substantial powers for aviation security personnel, accompanied by prison terms for hindering the exercise of these powers—particularly new sections 84-85. The extent to which such additions are strictly necessary to implement Australia's obligations under the Chicago convention is probably open to debate, but there is little doubt that there is a public expectation of stringent control of aviation security post September 11 2001.

The stop and search power may be exercised in relation to both people and vehicles in airside areas if the officer `reasonably believes that it is necessary to do so for the purposes of safeguarding against unlawful interference in aviation'. The search of a person may be an ordinary search or a frisk search. These searches can only be done on persons or vehicles that have stopped in an airside area. The officer must identify themselves and inform the person why they are being stopped or searched. A person who hinders or obstructs—including by failing to do something—an officer in exercising their stop and search power is subject to imprisonment for up to two years. For such an offence to have occurred, the person must have intended to engage in hindering or obstructing conduct and been reckless as to its effect on the ability of the officer to stop and search.

There is no stop and search power in the existing Air Navigation Act 1920 or the Air Navigation Regulations 1947. Indeed the power to conduct a search of a person without the need by the relevant officer to reasonably believe that the person has committed or is committing an offence is unusual. Even the proposed `stop and search' section 18B of the Australian Protective Service Amendment Bill 2003 has the requirement of the `likely ... commission of an offence'. The effect of the key phrase `purposes of safeguarding against unlawful interference in aviation' in new subsection 84(1) of the bill is potentially rather broad, given the comments made earlier in the digest about the definition of `unlawful interference in aviation'. The explanatory memorandum states:

...this power is required is required because [airside areas] are high risk in terms of potential unlawful interference with aviation.

The most important element of the Aviation Transport Security (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2003 is item 2 of schedule 2, which is an expansion of Australian Protective Services officers' power to arrest without warrant. Item 2 also acts to import other significant new law enforcement powers proposed under the Australian Protective Service Amendment Bill 2003. Again, increased powers of searching and arrest without warrant need to be balanced with the civil rights of individuals in Australia. Standards and regulations need to be put in place across the country ensuring security staff are trained consistently and have clear a understanding of what are reasonable grounds for exercising these increased powers. We have proposed a second reading amendment, which the member for Batman has discussed in this House, which:

(7) calls on the Government to require that the regulator consult formally with aviation industrial organisations—

such as the LHMU—

on an ongoing basis in respect of security matters ...

It also:

(1) condemns the Government for the unnecessary confusion that will be caused by its insistence on using a whole new terminology in its legislation instead of using and building on the terminology already used in the industry and recognised inter-nationally;

(2) calls on the Government to ensure that the regulations spell out agreed, clear and consistent roles and respons-ibilities for land-side security between the different operators and authorities;

(3) calls on the Government to improve the accountability and transparency of the aviation security rule making, compliance and incident investigation governance arrangements;

(4) calls on the Government to discuss with industry appropriate ways to close the security gap caused by the ability of unscreened service personnel and unchecked vehicles to access aircraft;

(5) calls on the Government to impose stricter controls, cross-checking and audit arrangements on who is using ASIC passes, to minimise the number of missing passes;

(6) calls on the Government to use the proceeds from the Ansett `ticket tax' to have screening equipment and related physical infrastructure provided in respect of the airports at;

(a) Burnie;

(b) Devonport;

(c) Dubbo;

(d) Albury;

(e) Wagga Wagga;

(f) Gladstone

(g) Port Lincoln;

(h) Tamworth;

(i) Port Macquarie; and

(j) Kingscote

if requested by the relevant airport managers ...

Surely the incident that I outlined with Tamworth and Sydney airport indicates the necessity for this. Further, the amendment:

(8) calls on the Minister to ask the House Transport and Regional Services Committee to conduct a post-implementation review of the new security arrange-ments within 12 months of the bills commencement”.

These seven changes should be incorporated to ensure we have an optimal aviation transport security system. In 1998, prior to September 11, when the extent of the threat posed to passenger aircraft became apparent, the Australian National Audit Office released a report entitled Aviation security in Australia. The report found that, although aircraft security was satisfactory and ensured Australia's compliance with the standards embodied in the Convention on International Civil Aviation, there were areas where Australia's aviation security regime could be strengthened, including the screening of passengers and baggage. Five years after this report and two years after the devastating use of passenger aircraft in the September 11 attacks, there are still some areas of weakness in passenger aviation security in Australia. This bill goes some way in addressing these issues, but in my view it does not go far enough.

The continuing threat to passenger aircraft, even with the increased security since September 11, is evident in the spate of incidents in Australian domestic airports and with domestic airliners. For instance, in June this year a Sydney man wielding a Stanley knife got on board a Virgin flight from Sydney to Cairns. On 29 May, a man armed with two sharpened wooden stakes allegedly tried to hijack a Qantas jet between Melbourne and Launceston. Recently, I read of a newspaper reporter and a photographer who just strolled on to the tarmac at Bundaberg Airport. The reporter said: `I cannot comment on other regional airports throughout the state, but Bundaberg security appeared relatively easy to breach. Surely there would be a bigger chance of someone wanting to get on a flight from Bundaberg to Brisbane, rather than the other way around.' That is precisely the point. The reporter had gone through all of the security at Sydney airport and come back to Bundaberg, but flying the other way he had exactly the same experiences as Mohamed Atta had—no security. He was able to get on at a regional airport with very little security and come to a major airport without having been checked properly.

Another example of this kind of threat is what Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, did on a Paris-Miami flight. According to the FBI, he packed in the soles of his shoes enough high explosives to blow a hole in the fuselage of the aircraft, which would have caused the aircraft to explode, killing all of the 197 people on board. Luckily, he was overpowered by passengers. I remember an extraordinary report that noted that 37 men donated their belts to restrain him and he was sedated by an onboard doctor until the flight was diverted to Logan, where he was arrested. Although Reid was initially assumed to be operating independently using an Internet bomb recipe, it was later discovered that he had receiving training in Afghanistan by al-Qaeda. The bomb inside his shoe was sophisticated. In fact, it turned out to be a favourite of European al-Qaeda operatives. This case illustrates how security systems can be infiltrated and what the continuing risks that we are facing are, even with more advanced security.

It is essential that legislation relating to aviation transport security is not just satisfactory but optimal. That is why I found the remarks of the member for Barker a little too relaxed and comfortable. We cannot allow risks such as these to remain. We need to ensure that assessments of the security situation are undertaken at overseas airports used by Australian carriers. This presents a risk to Australian aircraft travellers and to domestic targets. For example, in June this year a Qantas flight from Perth to Singapore had a security scare where a knife believed to be a box cutter—the same type as used in the September 11 hijackings—was found on board. A spokesman for transport minister Anderson said he believed the knife was smuggled on in Jakarta, where Australian Qantas staff have no control over screening procedures.

I have drawn the attention of the Australian people to the possible need to include on civilian aircraft military style anti-missile devices, which have been used and are being successfully developed by our Defence Science and Technology Organisation for the equivalent of 737s. This is another area that links in very carefully with the potential threat in South-East Asia, particularly in Jakarta, Bangkok and Denpasar, where Qantas aircraft are at risk from the increased activities of al-Qaeda's local franchise, Jemaah Islamiah. The Air Navigation Act 1920 stipulates that the screening of passengers applies to regular domestic public transport aircraft and charter aircraft that are fitted to carry 100 passengers or more. However, a plane carrying fewer than 100 people is still capable of doing a great deal of damage. The lives of 99 people deserve as a stringent passenger screening as the lives of people at the artificial figure of 100. This cut-off point means that charter planes taking off at the moment from large cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, as well as from smaller cities, could become easy targets.

In February this year the hijacking of a light plane occurred in Central Queensland. A man forced a pilot to fly a Cessna 210 from Hedlow airfield near Rockhampton to Mackay. Small planes obviously have the ability to cause damage. Remember that in early 2002 a 15-year-old American student committed suicide by flying a light plane into a high-rise building in Florida. Real risks are still present. Even charter planes with international destinations are only required to screen passengers when they are fitted to carry 38 passengers or more. Again, in my view, this presents a real threat to travellers and targets not only domestic but also international.

As planes only require passenger screening where they are fitted to carry 100 passenger or more, a number of regional airports do not have passenger or carry-on-baggage screening. This includes destinations such as Burnie, Devonport and Wagga. According to the Department of Transport and Regional Services, 161 regional airports Australia-wide handle commercial flights without regulated security screening. There are approximately 200,000 passenger movements per year using Rex and Qantas Link aircraft and servicing a population area of 90,000 citizens. These do not have any passenger or luggage screening procedures at all; this is before taking into consideration passenger movements of smaller aircraft such as Airnorth and charter aircraft companies. In my view, this is a real and present danger.

An independent review conducted by the Southern Cross group found that regional airports presented a real risk of terrorist attacks against capital cities because of poor security, staffing and resources. It was found that commercial passenger aircraft were being left unguarded overnight on regional airstrips. The safety of regional airports is something that needs to be addressed more consistently by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. The Australian National Audit Office's report said that there were limitations in terms of monitoring the current security arrangements. In January 2003 the ANAO released a report on aviation security. The report, which was relatively narrow in scope, examined the progress of the Department of Transport and Regional Services against key recommendations of the 1998 audit. This 2003 report concluded:

As the body with regulatory responsibilities, DOTARS could show more pro-active leadership to effectively engage the various organisations and people involved in delivering aviation security, particularly as security relies on everyone playing their part to ensure an effective outcome ... DOTARS can demonstrate stronger leadership by setting, monitoring and reviewing performance targets for industry, and by using a wider range of management strategies to encourage industry to achieve them. In this context, progress in implementing the recommendations from the 1998 audit has been limited. Instead, DOTARS efforts have been focused on modernising the aviation security regulatory framework.

The Australian government is not providing any funding for increased security measures, and the airlines are responsible for funding the new requirements the government is putting into place. Qantas has been installing enhanced security doors to cockpits in its aircraft at a cost running to millions. The Australian government is the only Western government not contributing directly to the increased costs of airline security. This places airlines in Australia at a competitive disadvantage—particularly Qantas, which competes internationally.

I will conclude by saying that I think the Australian government and the minister for transport are being too relaxed and comfortable about the measures as a whole, particularly in relation to regional airport security. The shadow minister for transport, the member for Batman, has focused on this area forensically and it ought to be taken far more seriously in understanding the pattern of how these regional airports have been used by terrorists such as al-Qaeda. We have the clear example of what they did in Portland, Maine; it was from there they took the aircraft, which they got onto at Logan in Boston, by which they were able to commit their evil deed. I am not saying that the same thing will be repeated in Australia, but that is why the issue of regional aircraft security should be taken very seriously.

Similarly, I believe that the possibility of Australian aircraft being damaged or attacked in South-East Asia has to be taken very seriously by this government. The issue of anti-missile devices for key Qantas aircraft, provided that they are affordable, ought to be looked into. It perhaps should not be the sole responsibility of airlines to look into these matters. The Australian government should follow and do what has been done by the US Congress. (Time expired)