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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23567

Mr SOMLYAY (10:49 AM) —The Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 is about safety—the safety of our people and of our economy. We all know that aviation transport is an integral part of Australia's infrastructure and that it is essential to many regional areas and to a variety of business sectors. For Australian businesses to prosper and for our economy to grow, we must ensure that our aviation industry is both safe and reliable. In fact, we have to do more than that. The government and the industry working together have to ensure that people can be confident in the safety and reliability of the industry.

Since September 11, 2001, governments throughout the world have been working with the aviation sector to find ways to make security controls more effective—a focus which was intensified by the Bali bombings. We saw downturns occur with airlines throughout the world as people stopped flying. People became fearful of hijack and sabotage. Many did not want to expose themselves to the possibility or the threat of terrorist acts or expose their families to the worry of their travelling; so many simply stopped flying. The Howard government is committed to safeguarding Australia and responding to the changed security environment in the best possible way. This legislation is part of that commitment. It is aimed at protecting our airports, the aviation industry and our economy; but, more importantly, it is aimed at protecting the people of Australia—at keeping them safe and at helping them to feel confident in that safety.

A secure aviation environment requires regulations that prevent incidents of unlawful interference, such as hijack or sabotage. This bill is therefore aimed at the deterrence, the detection and the prevention of such attempted hijack or sabotage. It aims to do so—that is, deter, detect and prevent—as safely as possible for airline and airport workers as well as for the travelling public. The current aviation security regulatory framework is spread across a number of legislative tools, which has resulted in unnecessary complications in administering those laws and ensuring compliance. These difficulties not only inhibit accountability and transparency but also, worse than that, endanger our security.

The Australian National Audit Office tabled a report on 16 January 2003 which clearly states that government action is needed to consolidate and simplify aviation security. The Howard government has responded. We have before us a bill which not only replaces and simplifies the current range of legislative tools but also incorporates a range of ANAO recommendations to overcome what the ANAO saw as problems or loopholes in security systems. At the same time, this bill brings Australia into line with international standards of aviation security by including measures outlined in annex 17 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the Chicago convention. The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit picked up that report of the Auditor-General, which was tabled in parliament in January, and is currently carrying out an inquiry into aviation security. It is probably not proper for me to comment on the progress of that inquiry until the chairman reports to the parliament, but many of the concerns expressed by other speakers about security at regional airports are being addressed by that inquiry. That committee will report to parliament.

You cannot have an aviation industry separate from the rest of the world. Australians cannot say, `This is our country. We don't care what laws operate in other countries,' because our airports are connected to the rest of the world by multiple flights every day. It is therefore impossible to have aviation security without international agreements regarding the security of airports, passengers, cargo and luggage. These international standards for aviation security are framed in the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the Chicago convention, of which Australia is a founding member. This bill recognises the global importance of aviation security and ensures that our standards align with the international aviation security standards outlined in annex 17 of the Chicago convention. This bill conveys the message that aviation security is everyone's responsibility, that everyone has an obligation to comply with security measures so that that security is not compromised. The responsibility does not lie solely with the security guards, the airlines, the airport management or even—despite what some people may think—the government. It belongs to all those groups—the government and members of the industry—as well as members of the public.

This legislation will clarify the roles and responsibilities of the different parties and enhance the capacity of the government to monitor and improve compliance with industry standards. Its provisions reflect the aviation industry's primary role in delivering security outcomes and the Commonwealth's role in regulating for those outcomes, monitoring compliance and encouraging their achievement. This bill aims to ensure a consolidated, consistent, modern and transparent framework for aviation security. We have looked at why we need this legislation, but before I move on to the specific measures and safeguards contained in the bill I would like to quickly list those reasons again, because they are important. We need this bill in order to provide security standards that will protect both the aviation industry and our people; to provide standards that align with agreed international standards; to provide a single legislative framework for those security standards instead of a jumble of parts of different acts; to ensure legislation that can be quickly modified to meet any evolving security threat; to ensure that members of the industry know what their role is in delivering security outcomes; and to ensure public confidence in industry compliance, and therefore in aviation security and safety.

Airports have been categorised by the department according to the potential risk of unlawful interference being committed at that airport. For instance, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne are all category 1—the highest risk—while Maroochydore, in my electorate, is category 4 and Weipa, in Far North Queensland on Cape York, is category 5. Many small airports have not been included in any category but can be categorised if their potential risk changes. The allocated category determines the airport's security requirements, with category 1 requiring a more robust and comprehensive mix than category 5 requires. This allows much more flexibility than having the same security requirements for all—for example, having the same requirements for Sydney airport as for the airport at Longreach.

Within those security controlled airports, designated by the secretary, there will be gazetted airside and landside areas. Within each of these areas, one or more security zones can be established, which therefore allows security regulation appropriate to the need in a number of different areas of the airport. This means that the more stringent measures can be applied in key areas, with lesser, more appropriate, measures in other areas. This allows for flexibility and commonsense without detriment to security. The government is aware that being categorised as a security controlled airport has a significant effect on the business of an airport operator. However, it has tried to balance the need for security—the need to prevent unlawful interference with aviation—with the need for commercial efficiency and cost-effective services to regional Australia. The term `unlawful interference with aviation' comes from the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Perhaps we should take a serious look at what it means; how it is defined in this bill and in the accompanying explanatory memorandum. Let us look at exactly what this bill is aimed at preventing.

The list covers hijacking, sabotage, planting or detonating a bomb, interfering with air navigation aids such as beacons or signals, or doing anything on board that puts the safety of the aircraft or its passengers at risk. Let me repeat some of those—hijacking, sabotage, planting a bomb, deliberately causing a plane crash by interfering with navigation aids. These are not minor offences. They are real dangers—potential disasters in both human and economic terms. Unfortunately, we have seen in recent events that there are forces of evil who are willing and eager to perpetrate these offences.

These bills therefore requires that, in order to operate their business, certain aviation industry participants need to have a security program that demonstrates both their understanding of their roles and responsibilities regarding aviation security, and their ability to meet those security obligations. Although this currently only applies to operators of security controlled airports and operators of a prescribed air service, clause 12(c) of the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 allows, if necessary, for regulation to be made regarding other specific participants, thereby allowing flexibility to react quickly to a new security threat.

More specific security measures already familiar to air travellers—such as the screening of passengers and luggage and the carrying of weapons or prohibited items—are dealt with in part 4 of the bill. This part also allows for regulations to be made to the management of passengers in the cabin, pre-flight checks on the cabin and other parts of the aircraft, and the security of baggage before and during loading. It provides regulations for the security of persons in custody at airports or on an aircraft, and permits the pilot, in some circumstances, to refuse to allow such persons on board.

Part 5 of this bill ensures that people who are integral to the security of our airports, planes and people—aviation security inspectors, law enforcement officers, airport security guards and screening officers—have the necessary authority with which to do their job. For instance, screening officers can ask a person to remove items of clothing, or a law enforcement officer can stop and search a person or a vehicle in particular areas.

Because this government is about balance—between responsibility and accountability; between authority and responsibility—there is balance in these bills. While the bills quite rightly and reasonably endow authority, they also rightly and reasonably establish restrictions on that authority. For instance, on the one hand, a person who obstructs an aviation security inspector commits an offence; on the other hand, an inspector `must not subject a person to greater indignity than is necessary and reasonable' in performing his or her duties. Let me give you another example. Under this legislation, a law enforcement officer can stop and search people or vehicles in particular areas of an airport, but the officer must then identify himself or herself, tell the person why they are being stopped and why they are being searched. That is only fair. But, in the pursuit of fairness and balance, we should not lose sight of what we are trying to achieve here—the safety of our people and of Australian aviation. Some of the offences dealt with, therefore, are criminal offences; however these bills also provide enforcement flexibility by allowing a range of options such as infringement notices, enforcement orders, injunctions and a demerit point system.

I do not believe that the Labor Party can genuinely argue against the need for aviation security or against these bills, which are designed to meet that security need. But I would like to touch on why the government should be doing all the regulating—why the industry cannot be self-regulating. Ensuring aviation security is like building a rock wall with a range of materials from large boulders down to small rocks. The range of rocks, big and small, must be fitted firmly together to ensure the overall strength of the structure because any breach, any weak area, in the wall threatens the whole secured area. In the aviation industry there is a diverse range of participants and, even with consulting processes, the power differentials among participants could be to the detriment of parity and universal compliance.

The only way to ensure a complete framework of regulation and universal compliance with that regulation is for the government to grasp the responsibility. Lack of compliance, like a weak spot or hole in the wall, may lead to a breaching of the wall. It is too important to leave to self-regulation within the industry. These bills will provide the industry with required outcomes—minimum security requirements—but will still allow those industry members discretion in how they meet the prescribed standards in the most cost-effective manner. True, there will be some cost to industry in meeting the standards. But those standards minimise the risk of a significant aviation security incident—do not forget that we are talking of sabotage, hijacking or bombing—which would cost the industry much more.

These bills address shortcomings, ambiguities, loopholes and omissions in the existing range of acts, providing a legislative framework for aviation security that will enhance certainty and transparency. They provide the framework for government and industry to work together to provide safety, security and confidence in the Australian aviation industry. I commend the bills to the House.