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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 31

Senator ALLISON (12:05 PM) —The Aviation Security Amendment Bill 2004 introduces provisions to require pilots to undergo ASIO screenings every two years when renewing their licences. This is part of a raft of increased security measures in the area of aviation following the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States. Whilst the Democrats agree with the need to protect Australians, the travelling public and the public more broadly from potential terrorist attacks, we are concerned about the cost-shifting to pilots in this bill and the direction in which this government's antiterrorism legislation is going in terms of chipping away at our civil liberties and the presumption of innocence in the public at large.

The Democrats agree that ASIO has a central role to play in gathering intelligence and identifying potential terrorist threats. This legislation proposes that pilots be subject to ASIO screening, as I said. It also proposes that CASA be allowed to impose fees, requiring pilots to bear the cost of those background checks. Pilots will be required to pay what is currently proposed to be $200 every two years. We say that, instead of pilots being charged, ASIO should be properly resourced to perform its function in protecting Australians from terrorism and that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that ASIO is properly resourced.

This legislation does not just affect pilots flying the large commercial jets; it applies to thousands upon thousands of other pilots, ranging from hobby pilots flying gliders and ultralights to emergency service personnel and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It will affect pastoralists and graziers in remote regions of the country, who often use aircraft to travel vast distances, and will affect the hundreds of pilots flying the so-called milk runs delivering mail and other goods in places such as Cape York Peninsula while clocking up hours in the hope of one day getting a job on a Dash 8 or a 737 for a major airline. Despite the high costs involved in acquiring a pilots licence, many of these pilots are not wealthy and would earn far less than one might expect.

I guess more important than the $200 is the fact that, while this legislation may go some way to identifying potential security threats which may or may not exist, it will not identify all of the security threats. If anything, these measures will focus on only the lesser of any potential risks posed by pilots of aircraft. It should be noted that—and I draw the attention of the government in particular to this—as was the case with the events of September 11 in the US, a person need only be skilled in flying an aircraft to hijack a plane and fly into the side of a building; that person does not necessarily need to be licensed. In fact, it was reported following the events of September 11 that the hijackers of planes involved in those attacks took lessons in flying aircraft only and were not interested in landing them. I do not know whether that media report was accurate, but it does demonstrate the point that a person does not necessarily need to go through the processes of being licensed. Similarly, a person may not necessarily need to have had flight training in Australia. It is entirely conceivable that a person obtained their licence or even pilot training without obtaining a licence in another country and travelled to Australia as either a pilot or a passenger in an aircraft, or by other means, before attempting to commit a terrorist act.

ASIO, as I am sure the government is aware, obviously cannot rely solely on this method of intelligence gathering to identify aviation security risks. It is important to note that these measures will play only a minor role in augmenting much broader intelligence gathering in this area. We feel that it is important that the government reviews and reports on the effectiveness of the provisions of this bill and that these provisions be reviewed after a period of time. We want to know how many suspected terrorists are identified through these searches; how many licences are revoked, suspended or denied to applicants; whether there were any appeals and how many of those were successful; and so on. I will therefore be moving amendments to insert a sunset clause so that the legislation can be reviewed in four years time and the parliament can at that time decide whether the provisions of the bill are justified.

The move to automatically screening every pilot as a matter of course raises some serious questions about the start of the slippery slope or the thin end of the wedge—however you might like to describe it—when it comes to civil liberties. The parliament has passed over 20 security and antiterrorism laws in recent years, and the Labor Party has been far too eager in my view to embrace these without asking some of those serious questions. Already in the 40th parliament we have passed laws so that all employees working at airports undergo ASIO checks when applying for an ASIC, as they are called. Just this week parliament is to consider laws that will not only allow ASIO to conduct checks on those people who use dangerous substances, such as ammonium nitrate, but also enable the government to make regulations for checks to be conducted on people who use a thing prescribed by the government. Earlier this week the government, with the help of the Labor Party, passed laws allowing agencies to intercept SMS messages and emails without a warrant. The Democrats moved 33 very simple amendments which we believe were reasonable to protect basic civil liberties, but these were not even considered. One has to ask: where is the debate in this place from the opposition on these issues?

The government wants to blanket screen all pilots, and blind Freddy could see where this is going to lead us. Flight attendants are already covered by the provisions for all ASIC holders to be screened. Next, the government might be telling us that anybody in the country holding a truck licence will need to be screened because trucks can be used as lethal terrorist weapons. Why stop at trucks? Perhaps anybody holding a bus drivers licence could also be checked, as could doctors, chemists, biologists and other scientists who also might be able to produce biological or chemical weapons. Perhaps we should slap them with a $200 ASIO screening tax as well. Better still, why not slap any university student who applies for entry to a science degree with a $200 ASIO tax? At what point, I would ask, do we stop? These may be ludicrous suggestions or they may not be.

Will we at some point find ourselves with `Australia cards' and subject to automatic ASIO checks every two years? Will we all have to pay a $200 tax for the privilege of this? Is this the price that we pay for being citizens in this country or for being truck drivers, bus drivers, flight attendants or pilots? In the light of the potential damage, destruction and loss of life which can be caused by the use of an aircraft as a terrorist weapon, we are prepared to accept that on balance it is reasonable to ask pilots to undergo an ASIO check when applying for a licence. But we do not accept that pilots should have to contribute to meeting the cost of that. We will remain vigilant and, with the prospect of a government controlled Senate next year, we ask government senators to also remain vigilant and ensure that our civil liberties are not encroached upon by similar types of legislation into the future.