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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23571

Ms KING (11:05 AM) —I rise to speak on the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 and the Aviation Transport Security (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2003, which update the regulatory framework under which aviation security is conducted. They seek to align Australia with international civil aviation standards and respond to the changed threat environment which the aviation industry now operates within. These bills, as we have heard from many of the speakers in this House on this debate, are important, and I will be supporting them, alongside the amendments that the shadow minister will be moving.

In Australia we have been pretty complacent about security. We often think that security incidents will not happen to us personally and that they cannot happen here in this country that is so lucky. We have had a pretty happy-go-lucky approach to the world; it is part of our charm as we travel around as international tourists and as international tourists travel to our country. To some extent, that complacency is part of our charm. But, since September 11 and Bali, we have had our eyes opened to the reality of terrorism and to the reality that the world we live in is full of conflicts and hatreds that we now have to understand and know a lot more about. That means that we have to get real about security and to minimise, as far as is humanly possible, the risk to our people.

We have been incredibly fortunate in this country that the aviation security incidents that have occurred have not been related to terrorism. They have on the whole occurred due to domestic grievances. That does not make them any less serious in their possible consequences, but we have not, to date, faced on our shores a direct terrorist threat to aviation security. Our job as parliamentarians is not, however, to just sit back and say, `We have been pretty fortunate; isn't that terrific'. Our job is to assess the risk of what might happen and to, as far as we can, introduce systems and procedures that will prevent threats to aviation security.

One approach to law-making that has grown exponentially under this government is the development of regulations, the number of which has exploded. In effect, the government has been moving away from the complex content of decisions coming from parliament, and they have come far more from the bureaucracy. I know that this does allow for greater flexibility and speed in changing regulatory regimes—and that is an important factor, particularly in a changed security context—but it also often leaves the opposition and minor parties in the difficult situation of having to consider complex legislation without having seen the regulations. This happens time and time again to us, and it is a procedure that the government has increasingly used. The principles of the legislation are often things that we support, but I think that most people know that the devil is in the detail and that is the problem for the people on whom the regulations impact the most—often the people we represent, particularly in regional seats such as mine.

The regulations underpinning the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 have been provided, which I guess is at least something, but they have been provided pretty late in the day. As a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit inquiry into aviation security, I have yet to have a good look at them. The Senate has been unable to scrutinise them in the context of debating this bill, and the latest version of the regulations is not, as I understand it, being distributed particularly widely.

I want to turn to some of the parts of the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003. The bill is constructed in 10 parts, The preliminary part looks at the objects of the bill, its application both inside and outside Australia, and definitions. I will not go into the details of those; they are broadly supported. But the issue of the detailed definition of `unlawful interference with aviation' is intended to provide greater clarity within the bill. There have been some concerns raised about what it means in terms of industrial action that has been taken on airport sites, and I hope that there is going to be some clarity provided in the minister's response to the speeches on the second reading of this bill about the impact of industrial action and the definition of `unlawful interference'—if there is going to be any conflict between those two.

The other parts of the bill relate to transport security programs. This part requires various aviation industry participants to develop and comply with a transport security program. These programs will regulate the operation of all persons performing a security function on behalf of the program holder. Regulations will provide additional detail on the content and form of the transport security programs. The programs will be approved by the secretary of the department if they are adequate, they may be cancelled by the secretary in certain circumstances, and they will be reviewed over time to maintain relevance.

Part 3 looks at airport areas and zones; part 4 deals with other security measures; part 5 looks at the powers of officials; part 6 is about reporting aviation security incidents—and I want to talk a bit more about some concerns I have in relation to those; information gathering is contained within part 7; part 8 looks at the whole issue of enforcement; part 9 deals with review of decisions; and part 10 has a range of miscellaneous items that I will not go into detail about.

As I have said previously, the legislation is a vital part of our security system within Australia, but it has been a long time coming. The bill has had a long period of gestation, and the fine details of the regulations underpinning the bill are still, as we debate them, being discussed and massaged into shape. The Australian National Audit Office first recommended improvements to aviation regulation in 1998. A bill was introduced in 2001 but was not passed before the proroguing of the last parliament. The bill was reintroduced in the same form in 2002 but then replaced after a rethink, on the government's part, on the policy direction. The follow-up Audit Office report, which was released earlier this year, found that while the Department of Transport and Regional Services had responded effectively to the events of September 11, the department had not acted on the recommendations in the 1998 report.

The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit is now undertaking an inquiry into aviation security, and we have taken over 70 submissions and had hours of public hearings. Our report is currently being drafted and, whilst it is inappropriate to pre-empt the committee's recommendations and the chairman's report from that inquiry, there are some clear themes that have emerged during the submissions and public hearings that I want to reflect upon. They include concern about lack of screening at regional airports and other security measures. Of course, we have also heard evidence about the cost of introducing those measures and the need for a balance but, if our primary concern is improving aviation security, we have to look very seriously at what is happening at our regional airports.

We also heard evidence about concern over the integrity of the ASIC pass system, particularly for those people who have left employment in the aviation sector. We also heard evidence about the ease with which ASIC passes could be forged. There was also concern over the non-ASIC passholder system—for example, what is happening with relation to casual staff and visitors to airports who are making deliveries. We also heard evidence in relation to the action, or lack of action, taken when breaches have occurred; evidence about the lack of action on implementation of security on aircraft, particularly in relation to cockpit security; and evidence on the lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities in aviation security and the interaction with aviation safety.

We have also had evidence presented to us about breaches of security at Customs and DOTARS that attracted some publicity. Whilst we are advised that the breaches have not resulted in a risk to aviation security, they have led many of us to question whether the culture of security in our own government departments is adequate. These departments are now part of the whole aviation system; as such, any regulatory regime must apply equally to their part of the system. This leads me to raise an issue I have, not with the legislation itself, but with the policy idea underpinning it. That is about the investigation of security breaches. Currently, DOTARS writes the aviation regulations, monitors and audits their compliance, and investigates security breaches or breakdowns. From a policy point of view, this is not good process. It means that there is little transparency or accountability in these investigations.

DOTARS is not an independent regulator in the aviation security system. It is now very much a part of that system and, in my view, should not be responsible for investigating incidents. The system that operates in aviation safety would seem to me to be a far more transparent and appropriate process. There are several other areas where the bills should be enhanced and improved in looking at trying to separate the investigation of incidents out from DOTARS.

The first is in relation to consultation. The most valuable evidence that the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit has received in its aviation security inquiry has been from workers within the aviation sector. We have heard from ground staff, both permanent and casual, and a range of other staff who have spent a lot of their working lives in airports. Rather than glossy sanitised presentations that have been full of acronyms and bland assurances, we have heard from workers on the daily workings of airports and the large contrast between what management says is happening and what is actually happening.

For that reason alone I want to encourage the government and the department to consult with workers and their representatives in the trade union movement. There is a real danger that, with people within DOTARS and senior management in the aviation industry often far removed from the realities of the daily workings of airports, that we will end up creating a system of regulation for aviation security that looks pretty good on paper but in reality is not worth much more than that.

It is really important for the government and the department to understand that often it is the workers—who in their daily working lives are being asked to implement these regulations—who have the best ideas about how these regulations might be formed. I understand the Flight Attendants Association and also Air Services Australia have asked to be formally included as industry participants for consultation with these regulations.

One of the other aspects that has been hard for us to sort through as we inquire into aviation security is the complex array of relationships between state and federal police, Customs, aviation safety and aviation security operators, various industry bodies and the various sections of government departments. The relationships are complex. Of great concern to me is that the responsibilities of each are often not very clear. This has been exacerbated in the bills because they introduce a whole new set of terminology that is not necessarily built on the current known set of terminology that operates within the aviation industry. It is really important that within the regulations there is a strong emphasis on the clarity of responsibilities and roles.

I have spoken previously about the issue of regional airports. Of the aviation security incidents that have occurred this year, we heard evidence at the inquiry that three of these involved people arriving from regional airports that were previously not categorised by DOTARS. One of these incidents in particular resulted in a major metropolitan airport being shut down. Again, it is incumbent upon the government to look seriously at the issue of regional airports. We have regional airports at Burnie, Devonport, Dubbo, Albury, Wagga Wagga, Gladstone, Port Lincoln, Tamworth, Port Macquarie and Kingscote which, to my understanding, currently do not have baggage screening. Many of these airports carry over 75,000 passengers each year.

Another issue that we have heard a lot of evidence about concerns ASIC passes and non-ASIC pass holders. There needs to be a much clearer understanding of this issue in the regulations and a much clearer government responsibility for what happens to the ASIC pass system, particularly when workers finish within the industry. Also, I would like to see a much clearer understanding of the ease with which those passes can be forged. I also want to know a little bit more about how they are updated and how people's security clearances are updated. I would like to see the government take far more responsibility for that.

Another complex issue is that airports are incredibly busy places, as most people who have flown anywhere in this country or driven around airports would know. There are people coming and going not just to take flights but to make deliveries every day. There are a large amount of goods and services moved through our airports and also a large amount of goods that are delivered to airports that are utilised there, either in the catering services or other businesses. Many goods need to be delivered to the shops within airports.

Part of the evidence that we have heard is that there are real concerns about visitors to airport. That is particularly in relation to those visitors who can potentially have access to airplanes or secure or sterile areas. I do not think that issue has been adequately addressed within what I have heard so far about the regulations. It is certainly not addressed enough within this bill. We need a stronger system in relation to the ASIC passes.

Another issue that I have spoken about is in relation to DOTARS investigating security incidents. I want to talk a little bit about some of the evidence that we heard about the slowness of response to incidents. I want to highlight why it is important that we have a better system of incident investigation and incident reporting. Being on this inquiry has been a real eye-opener, I would have to say, to the sorts of incidents that have occurred.

I know that in the media we tend to highlight or worry far more about terrorist threats. Obviously, they are the prime concern that we all have. But the reality is that there have been a number of other incidents, 19 of which have occurred this year. While they have resulted generally from a domestic grievance—where someone has had something happen to them personally and has seen fit to try and do something on an airplane—the possible consequences of those are very serious. These regulations have to look at the whole spectrum of incidents that can possibly occur in aviation security.

We heard evidence from one of the ground staff about an incident that happened in July of this year. It is on the Hansard in the committee's hearings but I want to reflect on some of the things that were said. We heard from Mr Lipman about an incident that happened on 27 July. He said that security really is only as good as your last or most recent incident. This last incident involved a passenger who was travelling on a foreign airline and managed to get through three security doors in the international terminal and down onto the tarmac. He reportedly hopped into a vehicle and possibly drove it around the airport. Mr Lipman was not sure whether that happened; no-one actually saw the person driving the vehicle but some people said that they thought the vehicle had been moved.

The passenger was finally noticed by one of the ground transport workers. They are not 100 per cent sure how much time he spent on the tarmac, but he had certainly managed to get through three security doors to get there. He was brought to the attention of Mr Lipman and his colleagues working in the crewing office, which is at a fairly remote area of the Melbourne airport. When they asked who he was and how he got there, he refused to speak. My understanding is that, once they notified security, it took some 15 minutes and two calls before anyone came and took the man away so they could get some work done.

The concerning thing is that neither Mr Lipman nor his colleagues were involved in the debriefing about that incident. These were the people who actually apprehended the person; they saw what happened and where the security breach was. After collectively working for 32 years in the aviation industry, they would have some pretty good ideas about what happened and what might prevent it happening again, and yet they were not involved. They were not involved in the debriefing, they were not involved in the incident reporting and they were not involved in asking, `How might we prevent this ever happening again?' Apart from the trauma that happened to them—and I think they were offered counselling a bit later—you would hope that, in incidents such as this, management would consult with the workers about what happened and how this breach could be prevented from happening again. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Mr Lipman said that there were other issues. Part of the problem the police had in attending the incident was that they could not find the area. It was a fairly remote area, but the map of the airport was far too complex. Mr Lipman said there were no emergency or duress buttons available for them to use, so phoning was really their only option. As I said, it took two calls and some 15 minutes before anybody came, and at the same time there were 30 to 40 other alarms going off within the airport.

I only know about the incident, which was not widely reported in the media, because Mr Lipman had the courage to come and give some pretty strong evidence to our committee. To me, that shows we really need a much stronger and more competent system for the investigation of incidents. If, as Mr Lipman said, your security is only as good as your last or most recent incident, then we have to learn from such incidents to improve security. From the evidence we have heard so far regarding the incident on 27 July, it does not appear that we learnt very much from it at all.

I certainly hope we do not see another such incident. It seems to me that, in this age of heightened security, for someone to be able to get onto the tarmac of the international airport in Melbourne midway through this year is really not good enough. That is one of the things we have to look at. You can have all the regulations in the world but, if you do not involve and actively engage with the workers who are policing and working in the aviation field every day, then you are really not going to get very far. I want to again highlight how important the opposition see the issue of aviation security as being. We have been very complacent about aviation security in this country, and I hope we can work together. (Time expired)