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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5201


Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (18:29): I rise to speak on the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012. This is yet another example of a positive agenda where the coalition and the government can come to an agreement on something that is definitely to the benefit of the Australian nation, especially in areas relying on security. This bill will introduce body scanning technology to provide additional security at our international airports. I have just got back from the United States and this was standard fare at every airport as you went through. There is nothing too startling about it: you go into a box, you put your arms up, they scan your body and off you go.

Three legislative changes have come in response to the much publicised breach of aviation security in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 which drastically focused attention on how the world must consider aviation security, including here in Australia. On that day a passenger of Northwest Airlines flight 253 attempted to detonate an improvised device as the flight descended to Detroit airport. The man had successfully concealed the device in his underwear through the screening in both Amsterdam and Yemen: the metal detectors he had walked through had not picked up the non-metallic explosives he was carrying. Since that event three years ago, body scanning technology has been introduced in the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. A component of the cost was dedicated to trials last year. The new technology was tested over a period of three weeks at Sydney and Melbourne airports, with 23,577 scans undertaken.

Under this bill, if a person is randomly chosen for a body scan there is no chance to opt out for an alternative screening procedure. If the person refuses a scan they will be unable to pass through the screening point, they will not be able to board their flight or enter an area of security control at an airport. As a result, this bill will repeal section 95A, the opt-out rule, which currently allows for the choice of a frisk search over another screening procedure. Mr Deputy President, while in the United States I went both through the scanning booth and was frisked, and I tell you right now I would prefer the scanning booth—the frisking is quite an experience. Interestingly, the United Kingdom also has a no-opt-out policy and, of the 1.5 million scans conducted, there have only been 12 occasions of passengers refusing to undergo a scan.

The greatest concern about this bill is the potential for body scanning technology to invade personal privacy. I can understand that completely, but the bill includes protection on this issue. First, any image produced by a body scanner must be gender neutral. Also, the person cannot be identified and no physical elements of that person can be revealed. The scans are made based on energy reflected by a passenger's body or any object inside clothing. The unit's software technology compares images with standard profiles and then superimposes the anomalies on a generic human image that is displayed for analysis by screening staff. In addition, the technology that the government specifies does not have the capacity to store or transmit information or data. The scanner has a short electromagnetic scanning field of less than two seconds.

The wave scans are within the limits set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. The assessment by the US Transport Security Administration confirms that the technology emits 10,000 times less radiofrequency energy than the average mobile phone call. The exposure is also much lower than passengers experience routinely during a flight. Outside a scanner, the exposure for aviation security screeners is very small. Importantly, the scanner can detect both metallic and non-metallic items such as those which caused the 2009 Detroit security breach and made us all think much more deeply about the wider threats to airline security. Unlike walk-through metal detectors, the low power level of the body scanner technology means it will not detect internal medical devices such as pacemakers. I am advised there are no known safety concerns in relation to people with these devices undergoing these types of scans.

In other words, the scanner can detect items that are either difficult or impossible to detect by alternative means. The only alternative method to achieve the same outcome would be an extensive frisk search, which is one that officially would not meet Australian community standards. On this note of detection, it is worth reflecting on the results of the trials undertaken last year. The trials showed few had difficulty with the process but there was, however, a higher alarm rate than that for the walk-through metal detectors caused by money, hair clips, watches and the like.

The coalition will support these measures as it generally has done on aviation security measures in the past, such as those that emerged from the Wheeler review of aviation security which was completed by the former coalition government in 2005. The coalition in government had a strong record of securing Australia's borders by strengthening aviation security. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the coalition redesigned Australia's aviation security regulations to match the greater risk posed by the barbaric terrorism that had been unleashed by mediaeval religious fundamentalists. We substantially upgraded the quarantine service, more than doubling it in one budget alone. We also increased inspections at airports and made sure that almost 100 per cent of passengers coming into Australia went through a proper customs and quarantine check.

That record stands in stark contrast to the record of this government. Last year the government let tuberculosis clinics close in the Torres Strait due to a lack of funds. This is despite the government's chief adviser on infectious lung disease, Julian Waring, warning that closing these centres had Australia being exposed to a more virulent form of tuberculosis, including the drug resistant XDR-TB strain.

Senator McLucas: You don't know what you're talking about.

Senator JOYCE: It is a shame that Senator McLucas does not understand what we are talking about, because we currently have a case of drug resistant tuberculosis present in the Cairns Base Hospital, but of course she would not know about that, would she, because she does not pay much attention to what happens in the part of the state which she sometimes visits.

The Torres Strait Island Regional Council Mayor, Fred Gela, has said of this government:

I thought the Australian government would be a bit smarter than that. You can't close down and hope for the best. We know that the services are non-existent in the Western Province side.

Last year the Australian reported on this almost negligent lack of foresight. According to their reports, a young, desperately ill girl from PNG, Papua New Guinea, was brought to one of the previously operating clinics on the Torres Strait Islands. The four-year-old girl weighed only nine kilograms and was unconscious, suffering from cerebral TB. She had been receiving ineffectual treatment for several months in PNG's Western Province. As a last resort, her mother brought her to the Australian clinic, but it was too late. After she was transported to Cairns, a scan confirmed that she was brain dead. Graham Simpson, a Cairns based respiratory specialist, had to tell the girl's mother to take her daughter home to die. He said that had she been presented to the clinics that we used to have operating in the Torres Strait Islands before the Labor Party closed them down, she would have had a fighting chance. According to a colleague of Dr Simpson's, it only takes one case of XDR-TB to get into the Torres Straits to be a public health disaster. By the time that patient was picked up she may have infected 15 to 20 other people. It should be noted that the capacity and the prevalence of this disease has spread especially around people who are lying out, long-grass people, those in the Indigenous community of the north. The total cost of running the Torres Strait clinics is—or was—$22 million a year. Previously the Queensland government had contributed $18 million and the federal government $4 million. The clinics have closed because the Gillard government refuses to increase its contribution.

The introduction of body scanning technology is estimated to cost $29 million. This would seem to be a reasonable investment of money for the extra security that it will deliver, and the coalition will not oppose these measures. The coalition will support measures which will provide benefits greater than their costs. It will support bills that come into this place after detailed consideration and review. What the coalition does not support is excessive uncosted and wasteful examples of government spending. This government has given us many examples of public extravagance—the school halls, the NBN.

On the NBN, it is worth reflecting on the update of the figures that were announced last weekend in the updated NBN Co. 2012-2015 corporate plan. As expected, the corporate plan reveals the NBN, which is the next budget nightmare, is taking longer and costing us more to roll out than the government claimed when it initiated the project. It is also attracting fewer customers and earning less revenue. Labor still claim that the NBN will be finished by 2021, but every deadline so far has been missed. In 2007 they were claiming that the NBN would require a total of $4.7 billion—

Senator McEwen: Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. My point of order is that the discussion that Senator Joyce has now entered into has absolutely nothing to do with the bill before the chamber, which is the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Joyce, I will remind you of the bill that is before the chair at the moment.

Senator JOYCE: Thank you very much, Mr Deputy President. I was pointing out the costs that we have for this measure. It is pertinent to understand comparative costs and where the government has its priorities. The overall cost of the NBN, when we take up operating costs and lease costs and capital costs, will be over $60 billion. They seem to be able to find money for a telephone company but they cannot find money to stop tuberculosis coming into the northern part of Australia or to prevent the deaths tuberculosis causes. They cannot find money for that but they can find money for another telephone company, which at this point in time looks like going bad before it has even grown.

What we have seen is that prudent expenditure on such things as these protection mechanisms is extremely important because it maintains the safety of the travelling public. We have had an example of this technology placed outside the members' dining room. I rarely go there; in fact I do not think that I have ever been into the members' dining room without a guest in the time that I have been in this parliament, except maybe twice. One of these body scanning operations was placed outside there for everybody to go and have a look at and to be part of. It gave an example of how this was to be tested.

I also note that since the time of the introduction of this form of technology, we have not, fortunately, had any separate occurrences of people causing any problems after they have been through it. Nothing is ever going to get us completely in front of the terrorists and their desire to take us back to a form of life that would be appropriate for the Middle Ages, but anything that can keep us travelling safely is to be supported.

In closing, while the whole thing stitches together and expenditure such as this keeps people safe and is all about saving people's lives as they travel on international flights, we should also look at it as an example in a comparative analysis of the way this government has completely lost its priorities. Apparently protecting people's lives in the northern part of our nation by maintaining vital TB clinics in the face of growing risk is a less important priority. We know that in the southern parts of Papua New Guinea there is a high prevalence of TB, yet a government that can apparently find $60 billion in funding all up for a telephone company cannot find the money to maintain a tuberculosis clinic in the Torres Straits. This manifestly expresses the loss of priorities in a government that is confused and out of its depth, a government that does not know what it is doing, a government whose representatives are not really at the wheel. They have basically lost sight of the issues that are important or lack the muscle or the push to try to drive agendas to make sure that we protect people of the Torres Straits from tuberculosis. Unfortunately we lack people with a capacity inside the political sphere to be able to drive these agendas, and people suffer as a result. So I commend this bill to the Senate and note the coalition's support. I also note that there will be amendments coming up and I will approach them as they come.