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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23576

Mr NEVILLE (11:25 AM) —It is a sobering thought to realise that we have just marked the second anniversary of the September 11 atrocities, which claimed the lives of approximately 3,000 people in New York and Washington and on a lonely Pennsylvanian field. In a series of well-planned, deliberate, reprehensible and abominable acts, jet aircraft were transformed into flying missiles and used against an unsuspecting, unprepared and undeserving public. Nations such as ours, which abhor all forms of terrorist activity and oppose them in every way, can still be labelled as undeserving of such atrocities but no longer can it be said that Australia or any like-minded nation is either unsuspecting or unprepared.

The legislation before the House deals specifically with issues which have arisen since the atrocious events of September 11, as well as with more overarching concerns about domestic aviation security. The government has introduced a raft of legislation to strengthen our border security, build on our intelligence capabilities and protect our citizens from terrorist outrages. The Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 and the Aviation Transport Security (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2003 add to those measures.

I am sure those on the opposition benches appreciate the efforts of the government, and I trust we will see a measure of bipartisanship on this legislation. Airport and aviation security has been something of a bugbear for some time, even to the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union. On 30 May this year, the National Secretary of the LHMU Airport Security Union, Jeff Lawrence, called on the Australian government to provide:

... consistent standards across Australia at all airports—which demands a new commitment to resources from the Federal Government, from airlines, from airport operators and from security companies.

This legislation delivers those standards, and its capacity to strengthen national aviation security is indicated by the 10 separate parts which make up this bill. The bill comprehensively addresses issues such as airport security programs, special secure zones within or around Australian airports, the powers of various officials overseeing airport security, reporting and information-gathering activities central to aviation security, and the enforcement of all aspects of the bill. In a nutshell, the bill replaces parts 3 and 3A of the Air Navigation Act 1920, simplifying the aviation regulatory regime and clarifying the responsibilities and accountability of all industry participants so both government and industry can act quickly and proactively in matters of aviation security.

As everyone in this building knows, Australia's aviation sector has undergone a rigorous, thorough and uncompromising series of security upgrades following the events of September 11. In no small way, this bill will build on those. But, even before the introduction of those new measures, Australia's history of airport and aircraft security has been quite remarkable, with only six major incidents occurring since commercial flights began in Australia.

To ensure that we maintain this exemplary record, I believe it is necessary to recognise three key points behind the government's introduction of the bill. First, we cannot and will not compromise on the security of the general public, and the sheer scale and scope of these regulations necessitates federal legislative measures. Second, the aviation industry is a pivotal player in the global economy, both as a contributor to and facilitator of economic activity. The aviation sector depends on consistent patronage to maintain cost-efficient international and domestic services, and any significant negative impact virtually guarantees unsustainable cost increases and a decline in market operations. Of course, this has a flow-on effect on almost every other industry and the market in general. Third, the only way to combat the ever-present threat of domestic and international terrorism is through a concerted multilateral effort, from government down to all parts of the nation, involving all peace-loving participants.

We all have a role to play in ensuring aviation security—everyone from the largest airport operator down to the individual passenger. This is one situation where the weakest link in the chain could result in the death of thousands. I had a security incident myself when I went to visit my son who manages resorts in the Caribbean. We could not take our full complement of luggage to the small island where he lived so we had to leave some of it at the major airport of Grand Cayman. When we came back, my luggage was just sitting to one side of the airport. I do not know how long it had been there. Although it was locked, one of the catches was up, which concerned me a bit, so I insisted the airport authorities go through my luggage with me just to make sure that it had not been tampered with. I think we all have to take that sort of responsibility, although I concede that that situation would be most unlikely to occur in Australia.

Earlier this year, aviation security consultant and former head of security for the British Airport Authority, Norman Shanks, raised this very issue while in Australia. In his professional opinion, a measured approach is the only way to craft a stricter and suitably appropriate security regime, even though Australian airports and planes are no more vulnerable than most airports around the world. His precise words were:

We have to look at this in terms of a) what is the real risk, b) how can we address that risk, and c) put measures in which are relative to that risk.

This legislation has been crafted around those concerns. Australia has always played a responsible role in international aviation security. We are a founding member of the Chicago convention, which goes back to 1944—a convention that frames global standards, including benchmarks and practices, in international aviation. This convention is amended and updated in a timely fashion to take into account changing technology, political environments et cetera, and these practices are even more important in the wake of that dreadful September 11 attack. As a signatory to the convention Australia is obliged to keep pace with these amendments, and this bill will bring our own legislation into line with those global amendments.

One of the most important and highly visible steps in this process is the tightening of security in and around our major domestic and international airports. This bill and its amendments will allow for further tightening of our aviation security regime by building on the existing powers of airport security officers in relation to passenger and check-in bag screening. It will also give aviation security inspectors the power to control the movements of aircraft in flight or on the ground and to compel other aviation industry participants to establish their own security programs.

The move to introduce both airside and landside security zones is one which I wholly endorse, particularly the creation of landside security zones, which will allow security-controlled airport operators to have greater control over the movement of people, vehicles and goods within public areas of airports. I think this is a most pertinent aspect of the bill; after all, many thousands of people walk into and out of major domestic airport terminals on a daily basis without receiving so much as a cursory glance. If a terrorist chose to attack a check-in line rather than a planeload of passengers, the end result would be the same: the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, and chaos within the aviation sector. So bringing some security measures to the landside of airports is entirely justified in this day and age. Such measures are proposed for categorised airports, which are the 38 Australian airports, ranging in size from Sydney's Kingsford Smith through to Burnie in Tasmania, and which are already required to have a security program in place.

Mr Sidebottom —Do they?

Mr NEVILLE —That is what it says.

Mr Sidebottom —I know what it says!

Mr NEVILLE —Passenger screening is also required at 29 of those 38 airports that handle jet aircraft, with another three airports in the process of being added to the list. Those airports with a throughput of fewer than 30,000 passengers a year which are not serviced by jet aircraft—a couple in my electorate come under that category—will not be affected by this piece of legislation. But I do hope that, as the minister has said to me, there will be a continuing pattern of risk assessment and prioritisation that will filter down to smaller airports.

There has been a lot of comment in recent days about indemnifying our smaller, regional airports against the effects of this legislation. I have heard comments about the lack of security screening at some regional Queensland airports—words to the effect that a small twin-propeller aircraft which had been tampered with could pose a significant security risk once it landed at a larger, categorised airport. I can see the legitimacy of this argument, but I come back to the point that we must look at this issue realistically. Our security agencies have found absolutely no evidence that small aircraft have been or will be targeted by terrorists.

Having said that, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, in its current review of aviation security in Australia, has already heard some concerns about security practices at our small regional airports as well as the costs associated with implementing improved security protocols. The inquiry is looking into matters of security regulation and compliance by airport operators and airlines, the impact of overseas security requirements on Australian aviation security, the cost of security upgrades and privacy implications, and opportunities for improvement afforded by new technology.

To date, the inquiry has received 70 submissions. One of the key areas of concerns is the cost associated with the implementation of a new security regime at categorised airports. With respect to Bundaberg and Gladstone airports in my electorate of Hinkler, responsibility for implementing and maintaining security matters falls primarily to the local government authorities. I have no doubt that each of them would face tremendous difficulties in funding such high-level security measures if they were to be included under the umbrella of this legislation.

As chairman of the government's inquiry into commercial regional aviation services in Australia and transport links to major populated islands, I have had the privilege of insight into the issues and problems facing our domestic airline services. Our committee—the report for which we tabled on Monday—received more than 190 submissions, heard from 111 witnesses, had 33 exhibits and 14 days of public hearings. We looked into many aspects of what was impeding regional aviation. This is not the forum to go into those in detail, but I will touch on the issue of security.

One of the recommendations in the report was that, for cities with a population of fewer than 30,000—and that is not to be confused with an earlier part of my speech where I talked about throughput of 30,000—it was our view that it would be very difficult for councils to continue to maintain the standard of airports, especially runways, tarmacs and essential maintenance, without some form of Commonwealth assistance. We recommended a 50 per cent subsidy for those airports—perhaps a hub airport being run by a small council—where there is not a rate base to look after that. Where there were less frequent RPT services but perhaps major charter, crop-dusting or aerial ambulance, we recommended a subsidy of 33 per cent.

We went on in our recommendations to say that when the joint standing committee's report on aviation security comes down, if it is deemed that security should be put in place in those airports, for cities with a population of fewer than 30,000, consistent with the recommendations about the essential maintenance and the upgrading of runways and tarmac areas, we believe that the Commonwealth should help the councils or airport boards that are running those airports. If we are forced to implement the same security standards in those smaller airports, we could find a funding crisis within the ranks of local government. Many of them are already subsidising their airports and many councils see this as a cost shifting to them.

At this stage, the bill is relevant only to Australia's categorised airports. I am sure all members understand the need for flexibility in updating security practices at Australian airports—it is simply to stay one step ahead of those who would seek to use aircraft or airports as weapons against the wider community. Legislation must reflect the needs and expectations of a nation. To that end, the bill today also includes a number of amendments which add to and enhance Australia's current aviation security regime. Through these amendments, the government will achieve a comprehensive aviation security network which addresses both on-the-ground safety measures and security in the air.

The `powers of officials' amendment will give screening officers further powers when it comes to screening people at airports. Screening officers will have the right to conduct limited frisk searches of individuals—with their consent—if they are unable to be security cleared by normal practices, such as passing through a metal detector. It will also allow for an individual to undergo a frisk search should they prefer not to be screened electronically. People with, for example, pacemakers may prefer not to go through those devices, and this will allow them to have an alternative practice.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: security officers cannot conduct frisk searches without an individual's consent, and this bill does not stipulate that frisk searches are mandatory. This government are well aware of the privacy implications that may be raised by these practices, but we are serious about people's security. In the event of an individual refusing to be frisked—and presumably not going through a screening device—they will not be allowed entry to the security controlled section of an airport, let alone an aircraft.

On 29 May this year, we saw a man try to hijack a jet flying from Melbourne to Launceston in Tasmania. Members of the House would be aware of this incident. He was armed with two wooden stakes, and managed to stab two flight attendants and injure two passengers before he was subdued and taken into custody after an emergency landing at Melbourne airport. The man in question had passed through metal detectors prior to boarding the aircraft—and of course the metal detector failed to pick up the wooden stakes. By codifying the power of screening officers to request frisk searches and to prevent the further passage of an individual who might refuse, we will, to the best of human ability, prevent such incidents occurring in the future.

An incident at Sydney's domestic terminal early last November, where airline staff were detected using their own passes to admit passengers to a terminal, demonstrated the effectiveness of the security and screening procedures already in place. The department of transport's First Assistant Secretary, Transport Security Regulation, Andrew Tongue, told a recent Senate estimates hearing that the airport's response—the evacuation and closure of the terminal and the re-screening of all passengers—was according to the book. So we are already seeing our security regime working, even in an overt incident like that.

I think there will be general consensus that the bill contains measures that are sensible and responsible. They underscore the government's commitment to the safest possible aviation environment for Australians—within their own country, going overseas and coming back into their own country. I have no hesitation in commending this bill to the House.