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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 6269

Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR (Minister for Home Affairs) (10:14 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Rudd government is committed to a strong and effective aviation security regime for Australia.

Before turning to the legal reforms contained in this bill, I would like to place them in context.

On 18 December 2009, the government announced major reforms and a new model for the policing of Australia’s 11 major airports, to be led by the Australian Federal Police. This will involve a three- to five-year transition period and will strengthen major airport policing in Australia.

Under these changes, the Australian Federal Police will take full control of the community policing role at these 11 airports, replacing the current hybrid model involving AFP and state/territory police. The AFP will also move to a ‘fully sworn’ presence so that all AFP personnel deployed at the airport will have the same training and powers.

Having sworn AFP members policing these airports will maximise responsiveness and ensure our airports receive the highest quality policing.

There will still be close collaboration and intelligence sharing between Commonwealth agencies and state/territory police through joint aviation investigation teams and joint aviation intelligence groups.

We will be consulting the states and territories closely in implementing these reforms.

On 9 February this year, the Prime Minister announced a series of measures to strengthen international and domestic aviation security totalling $200 million over four years.

The government will provide $17.8 million to increase the number of firearms and explosive detection dogs at major international airports by 50 per cent.

The government will provide $12.3 million in 2010-11 to maintain the AFP presence at major airports.

$24.9 million will be provided to Customs and Border Protection to undertake a further phase of the Enhanced Passenger Assessment and Clearance (EPAC) Program. This will enable Customs to assess a larger number of passengers earlier and faster and share relevant data with intelligence, border management and law enforcement agencies in relation to visa applications and passenger risk assessment and response.

$11.4 million is to be provided for advanced data analysis and risk profiling to better identify and alert intelligence agencies of visa applicants who may present a national security risk.

A total of $54.2 million is being provided to assist industry to install cargo X-ray screening and explosive trace detection at selected locations; and $32 million is being provided to bring forward screening at a number of regional airports.

The government will provide $28.5 million to assist the industry to introduce a range of new screening technologies at passenger screening points.

It will also provide $18.2 million to strengthen engagement and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

As well as this series of measures, the government announced in this year’s federal budget it will provide $759.4 million for policing at Australian airports over four years.

The funding supports the AFP presence at Australia’s 11 major airports, intelligence gathering and investigation capability, the AFP’s regional rapid deployment capacity and the air security officer program.

Legal framework

The Aviation Crimes and Policing Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 builds on these initiatives by modernising the laws relevant to aviation and airports, to provide necessary deterrence, penalties and powers.

Clear, effective and strong laws are a key element of airport security.

These laws apply to a critical sector of our society and our economy. Last year, for example, 33 million passengers moved through Sydney airport—where thousands of people work—and more than 24 million people passed through Tullamarine airport in Melbourne.

The Australian Federal Police and other agencies continue to meet complex challenges and threats within the aviation environment. To do their work effectively, the AFP need to be supported by appropriate laws that provide deterrence and recognise the gravity of aviation-related crimes.

The Aviation Crimes and Policing Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 has three components.

First, increased penalties are proposed for a number of offences in the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991. Second, the bill creates three new aviation related offences and an associated updating of a definition. Third, amendments are proposed to ensure that existing policing powers are available in the airport environment.

I will detail each of these components in turn.

Aviation Crimes—Increased penalties

The first component of the bill concerns penalties.

Earlier this year the Attorney General’s Department reviewed the Crimes (Aviation) Act, which is now 19 years old. The act contains offences directed against aircraft and airports.

It became clear that there are a number of penalties in the act that do not reflect the seriousness of these offences.

For example, under the Criminal Code, a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment could apply to a person who is found guilty of making threats to contaminate goods. In comparison, under the existing provisions in the Crimes (Aviation) Act, a person who makes a bomb threat could only be imprisoned for a maximum of two years.

This is a very low penalty, given the very serious disruption and potential danger that such hoaxes can create, for example, if a flight is redirected as a result or if an airport has to be evacuated.

Under the amendments in this bill, the penalties in the act will now fall within four tiers. The severity of the penalty in each tier corresponds with the type of offence falling within each tier.

Life imprisonment (tier 1), the most severe maximum penalty, will continue to apply to offences such as hijacking or destroying an aircraft while it is in flight. The attempted terrorist bombing of the American flight NW253 would have fallen within this tier if it had occurred on an Australian interstate or overseas flight.

A maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment (tier 2) will apply to very serious offences that pose danger or cause harm to whole groups of people, such as endangering an aircraft while in flight. The offences in this tier have had their maximum penalties raised from either seven, 14 or 15 years.

For example, assaulting a pilot, thereby impairing the operation of an aircraft, will now carry a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, rather than the 14 years it currently carries. Endangering the safety of an aircraft on an interstate flight, for example, by attempting to seize control of the aircraft, would carry a 20-year penalty, not seven years.

A maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment (tier 3) would apply to offences that are generally against aircraft or aviation environments, such as disrupting a major airport or destroying its facilities, which currently carry maximum penalties of seven or 10 years.

For example, damaging the runway or air traffic control facilities at Sydney airport would carry a maximum 14 years imprisonment rather than the current seven or 10 depending on the circumstances.

Imprisonment for up to 10 years (tier 4) would apply to offences such as hoaxes and taking control of an aircraft which currently carry maximum penalties of two and 10 years respectively. For example, making a bomb threat to an airport would constitute an offence that would carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Determination of the proposed penalty for each offence has been undertaken in line with considerations spelt out in the Guide to Framing Commonwealth Offences, Civil Penalties and Enforcement Powers.

Details of the relevant benchmarks against which each penalty in the act have been set are in the explanatory memorandum to the bill.

The second component of the bill concerns new offences and definitions. The bill inserts three new offences into the Crimes (Aviation) Act. These new offences are designed to cover gaps that existed in the coverage of the existing offences.

There will be a new offence of assaulting an aircraft crew member. This offence will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

While there is already an offence in the act directed against the assault of a crew member, it can only be applied if the prosecution can prove that the assault has impeded the operation of the aircraft. The new offence provision will not require this.

This offence has been particularly welcomed by the aviation sector during consultations with them.

There will be a new offence directed against the reckless endangerment of the safety of an aircraft which is likely to cause death or serious harm. This offence will carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

This offence builds on the existing offence contained in the act of endangering an aircraft. The new offence, however, deals with more serious actions, and where the effect of the act in question is a likelihood of causing death or serious harm. Firing a weapon on board an aircraft would come within this offence, even if no-one was hit.

The final new offence concerns possessing dangerous goods on board an aircraft which are likely to endanger life or cause serious harm. There is currently an offence concerning dangerous goods but not one where the effect is likely to endanger life or cause serious harm. The penalty for this offence is consistent with other provisions where the risk of serious harm can be shown.

The bill also updates the definition of ‘Commonwealth aerodrome’ in the Crimes (Aviation) Act to replace a repealed cross-reference and to make clear the airports to which these offences in the act apply.

Consultations have been held with key stakeholders on the amendments to the Crimes (Aviation) Act, including airlines, airports, state and territory governments, the Law Council of Australia and unions representing employees in the sector. The responses that have been received have been overwhelmingly supportive and welcoming of these measures that they are seen as an improvement to our existing aviation security regime.

On 18 December 2009 the government announced a decision to accept the ‘Federal Audit of Police Capabilities’ recommendation to move to an ‘all-in’ policing model at Australia’s eleven major airports.

Under the ‘all-in’ model, the AFP will become responsible for airport policing and security at 11 major airports, subject to the retention of mechanisms for close cooperation with state and territory police including joint airport investigation teams and joint airport intelligence groups.

This new model will be implemented over a three- to five-year period in close consultation and cooperation with the states and territories.

An ‘all-in’ model led by the Australian Federal Police will provide a nationally integrated airport-policing service and a continued counter-terrorism first-response capability at our major airports.

This bill contains amendments that support the move towards an ‘all-in’ policing and security model. It amends two acts—the Commonwealth Places (Application of Laws) Act 1970 and the Australian Federal Police Act 1979—that impact on the powers of AFP members to investigate offences when committed at certain airports.

The amendments to the Commonwealth Places (Application of Laws) Act overcome a technical anomaly in the act that prevented the AFP from using some of their standard arrest and search powers for state offences that occur at the airports that are classified as Commonwealth places.

For example, if a murder, assault or theft occurs at Sydney or Melbourne airport, this is a state offence that applies as Commonwealth law because these are Commonwealth places. These amendments will ensure standard AFP powers—such as arrest and search—are available in response. Handling of these cases is also governed by protocols between the Australian Federal Police and state and territory police.

The amendment to the AFP Act removes doubt as to the legal basis for AFP members to be appointed as members or special constables of state and territory police forces. The bill also makes clear the legal basis for AFP members to be appointed as members of police forces or other law enforcement agencies of foreign countries.

Conferral of special constable status is an important tool for cooperation between police forces, and gives a member of a force the powers of another police force, subject to appropriate controls and accountabilities. The amendments make clear that AFP members can participate in these arrangements.

Special arrangements will be required for Cairns airport, which is not a Commonwealth place, and this has been raised with the Queensland government. One aspect of these arrangements will be the continued capacity for AFP members to be sworn in as special constables of Queensland Police—which the proposed AFP Act amendments will support. A possible second element of these arrangements would be for Queensland to legislate for AFP members to be able to access relevant powers—the government has written to the Queensland government to progress this idea.

The government has moved to strengthen aviation security in Australia through changes to the arrangements that are in place, through the funding that is provided, and through cooperation with other countries, states and territories and the private sector.

This bill represents a further strengthening of Australia’s aviation security regime and will ensure that Australia’s law enforcement agencies are supported in their work to meet the complex challenges of policing in the airport and aviation environment. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Anthony Smith) adjourned.