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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3372

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (10:38): The Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Inbound Cargo Security Enhancement) Bill 2013 makes two different amendments to the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004, the bill which governs aviation security in Australia. After the terrible terrorists attacks of 9/11, the Howard-Anderson coalition government took the necessary and prompt action to strengthen aviation security regulations in Australia. The coalition announced a complete restructure of the aviation security system in December 2002. Over the course of time, the government has implemented further amendments to modernise the act to respond faster and more effectively to new technologies and emerging threats. Developments in aviation security have generally received bipartisan support, as they should, and the coalition has previously supported very necessary changes to aviation security proposed by the Labor government. The current bill is no exception to that. As you have just heard from the shadow transport minister, this will also receive coalition support. The bill makes two unrelated changes: to correct a drafting error and a substantive alteration which is meant to strengthen our aviation security regulatory arrangements.

To deal with the technical amendment initially, the bill before the House remedies a drafting error which was contained within a 2011 amendment to the Aviation Transport Security Act as you just heard from the Nationals leader. The earlier bill incorrectly amended subsection 65(3)(b) of the act instead of 65(3)(c), so it is obviously necessary to alter that. The other more substantive amendment contained within the bill will introduce provisions to allow the minister of the day, through disallowable instrument, to stop the carriage of certain types of cargo into Australia on aircraft. This is obviously very necessary because of emerging technologies and because of the ever present danger as there are many mad and bad people out there who would threaten the security and peace of Australian society.

In October 2010, terrorist operating from Yemen concealed improvised explosive devices inside printers. There is no stopping these people. They sent them as a cargo consignments to the United States of America. Fortunately, intelligence information led to the successful interception of these packages in Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates, and they never reached their intended destinations, their targets. They were meant to maim and kill people and it was necessary to stop them, and fortunately that did happen. In Australia, the government responded by increasing security requirements for cargo from Somalia and Yemen using a special security direction issued to regulated air cargo agents. This was absolutely essential. 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 Somalia and Yemen altogether. However, special security directions were formulated as a measure to deal efficiently with new security threats and, as we know, they are ever present. They were not meant to be a way by which the government could address longer-term ongoing threats to Australian security, because the special security directions have a maximum time frame of just six months. Under present arrangements, the ongoing prohibition of air cargo consignments from Somalia and Yemen has required all aircraft operators to amend transport security programs. This entails aircraft operators to manually amend security documentation to be assessed and individually approved by the department. This is an onerous task and it is not suited to a timely or fast response to a serious ongoing national security threat which obviously needs to be nipped in the bud instantly.

To address this concern, the bill will introduce a new provision whereby the minister can propose a disallowable instrument to prohibit the carriage of certain types of cargo into our country, and obviously our security is paramount. 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 cargo depending on the nature of the posed threat. 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 particular amounts. The bill also creates a strict liability offence, as we heard from the member for Wide Bay, 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.

This amendment will ensure that current and future governments are able to respond appropriately and necessarily to emerging but ongoing security threats and will reduce the administrative burden on industry, and therefore they are supported by the coalition. Airport security in regional areas is also obviously of paramount importance.

If you fly from Wagga Wagga on a Rex plane, you do not go through security measures but if you fly Qantas then you do. This has caused a bit of a problem for the Griffith community, which has lost its connection to Melbourne. The President of the Griffith Business Chamber, Paul Pierotti, has hit out at Dubbo City Council's decision to charge all users of the regional airport security screening fees, describing it as short sighted in the extreme. Mr Pierotti said Griffith was desperate to get a Melbourne flight link after Rex closed its service in June. He said Rex flew between 60,000 and 90,000 passengers a year to Sydney but closed its Melbourne service because of cost pressures within the company. It was unfortunate to lose the service because many people in Griffith need to fly to Melbourne for business and other purposes. Hopefully, a resolution can be forged between the Griffith and Dubbo councils and hopefully that will be soon. It does concern airport security. It is a necessary thing for the people of Griffith and I urge the minister to do whatever he can to help that process along.