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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3371


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (10:33): The bill before the House makes two unrelated amendments to the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004, the bill which governs our aviation security arrangements in Australia. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 the former coalition government took action to improve aviation security regulations in Australia. The coalition announced a complete restructure of the aviation security system in December 2002 and over time we implemented further amendments to modernise the act to better respond to emerging threats and new technologies. Developments in aviation security have largely received bipartisan support and the coalition has previously supported sensible changes to aviation security arrangements proposed by this government. The current bill is no exception and will receive the coalition's support.

Turning to the amendments contained within the bill, the bill makes two different changes, one to correct a drafting error and one substantive change designed to strengthen our aviation security regulatory arrangements and to supervise their operation. To deal firstly with the technical amendment, the drafting error, the bill before the House corrects a drafting error contained within a 2011 amendment to the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004. This earlier bill incorrectly amended paragraph 65(3)(b) of the act instead of paragraph 65(3)(c).

The more substantive amendment contained within the bill will introduce provisions to allow the minister through disallowable instrument to prohibit the carriage of certain types of cargo into Australia on aircraft. This change will enhance Australia's ability to respond to ongoing threats in aviation security. In October 2010, terrorists operating from Yemen concealed improvised explosive devices inside printers and sent them as air cargo consignments to the USA. Thankfully, intelligence information led to the successful interception of the packages in the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, and they never reached their intended recipient.

In Australia, the government responded by increasing security requirements for cargo from Yemen and Somalia using a special security direction issued to regulated air cargo agents. This required the screening of all inbound air cargo arriving from the Middle East. Later, special security directions were used to ban the carriage of cargo from Yemen and Somalia altogether. However, special security directions were designed as a measure to deal quickly and efficiently with new security threats. They were not intended as a means by which the government could address the longer term, ongoing threats to Australia's security. For this reason, special security directions have a maximum duration of six months.

Under current arrangements, the ongoing prohibition of air cargo consignments from Yemen and Somalia has required all aircraft operators to amend their transport security programs. This entailed each aircraft operator manually amending their security documentation, which was then assessed and individually approved by the department. This is a cumbersome task and not suited to a timely or cohesive response to a serious ongoing national security threat.

To address this concern, the bill will introduce a new mechanism whereby the minister can propose a disallowable instrument to prohibit the carriage of certain types of cargo into Australia. The instrument may be so broad as to prohibit all air cargo entering Australian territory or be limited to a particular type of cargo or types of cargoes, depending on the nature of the threat proposed. As the minister noted in his second reading speech, the disallowable instrument could cover cargo originating from a particular country or countries, cargo packaged in a particular way or cargo weighing between particular amounts.

The bill also creates a strict liability offence for failing to comply with an instrument made by the minister under this mechanism and imposes a penalty of $17,000 for individuals and $34,000 for aircraft operators. As a general principle, I am concerned that the current government has developed a propensity to introduce strict liability offences in aviation and I do not consider this to be best policy. But I have come to the view that, even though I have some concerns about that from a philosophical perspective, to delay the bill and to seek a better way to deal with any breaches of the legislation would in fact delay it unnecessarily. This amendment will ensure that current and future governments are able to respond appropriately to emerging but also ongoing security threats and would reduce the administrative burden on industry. For these reasons, the coalition will support the bill.