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Transport Minister discusses aviation security; and national airspace reform.

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Media Release John Anderson Deputy Prime Minister • Leader of The Nationals Minister for Transport and Regional Services


2UE, 2nd December 2003

Subjects: Aviation Security; National Airspace Reform

JOHN ANDERSON: Good morning.

PRESENTER (MIKE CARLTON): Can we talk about country airport security first of all? That makes sense. It seems logical, doesn’t it, that security is lax out there?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: The problem is that there is an awful lot of them, and the smallest commercial airport carries one hundred and eight passengers a year. So, any security arrangements put in place would of course outweigh the cost of its total passenger numbers.

But, I would want to reassure your listeners on two points. The first is that our intelligence agencies in this country recently completed a major overview of aviation security across the board, but with a particular emphasis on the regional side of it.

CARLTON: Who was this? ASIO or somebody or what? The Federal Police?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Yes, ASIO and with back up from the other federal agencies. The good news is that broadly speaking, they did not, if you like, buy this line that these airports are a launching pad for terrorism. Apart from anything else, they say that there is just no evidence anywhere in the world that little planes, as opposed to big jet liners full of fuel, have been targeted or are being targeted by terrorists for inflicting great damage.

Now, having said that, what I can tell you is that some time over the next two to three days, I’ll be announcing the government’s very wide ranging response to the recommendations made, and it will address a lot of the issues that you have been talking about.

CARLTON: All right. But it is not just little planes, surely? It’s not just little planes and black stump airports. It’s quite big regional airports, I would think, like, Wagga, Tamworth and so on, where the security precautions are nothing like what you would get at Mascot, but where it would be still quite possible to carry a weapon on board a plane.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’re graded. And you’re right. A Wagga or a Tamworth sits somewhere between a Charleville and a Mascot… and they’re graduated. But we will be upgrading that graduation, if you like. I do want to assure you of that.

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CARLTON: And will there be security inspections and metal detectors and so on at these places eventually?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Based on what our intelligence agencies tell us is necessary, but there will be considerably upgraded security, yes.

CARLTON: When you say considerably upgraded though, will there be metal detectors to stop you carrying a knife on board, for example?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER At some. At others, there will be such things as trace detection equipment, to pick up explosive materials, sniffers - that sort of thing.

CARLTON: All right. And will this be sort of a random thing?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It will be very random. And if you think I’m being guarded it’s because one thing we do know about the terrorists is that they’re probing for what might be called predictability. They’re trying to find out what is done, when, where, what the timetable is. So, I’m deliberately evasive on that.

CARLTON: All right. But you will be announcing quite some package, in coming days, will you?


CARLTON: I mean, a lot of money throwing at it or what?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Yes. A considerable amount of money. It will involve a lot more compliance, quite frankly, a lot more inspectors, apart from anything else because there’s so many of these airports, and, of course, we want them to be safe. Interestingly, one of the problems is that in this day and age you get a few lunatics doing stupid and illegal and attention-seeking things, rather than them being actually terrorists. We have got to deal with them as well.

CARLTON: The trouble is, we’re the largest island continent, and we have airports scattered here, there and everywhere, and not a great deal of resources to deal with them. I mean, we’re wide open in that sense aren’t we?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I don’t pretend it’s easy. But I should say to you that our intelligence agencies are very, very competent people. And they’re well resourced. We have made sure of that. And they are saying to us, there’s not equivalency of risk, if you like.

CARLTON: The CIA and the FBI were well resourced too, and then we got nine-eleven, didn’t we? So, it’s not foolproof.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I have a lot of confidence in our Aussie operators. No, they’re not perfect. They’re human. They’re like you and me. They never get it right, one hundred per cent of the time.

CARLTON: Minister, surely.

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DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: That’s a confession from a minister.

CARLTON: Good heavens. The other concerns - the new airspace rules. There appear to have been twenty breaches of the rules already, and this thing has only been in since last Thursday.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: That’s the air traffic controllers.

CARLTON: Well, they might be a bit worried then, mightn’t they?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, hang on, the twenty breaches, that’s not terribly much out of the ordinary. We get two to five a day normally. Incidents which are, if you like, significant enough to be noted and to be subject to assessment by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Of those twenty, only five related to the new airspace arrangements, I’m advised.

CARLTON: Well, that’s surely that’s five too many.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Any change in the traffic rules will always involve some people adjusting to them. The new system will be safer.

CARLTON: Were they close though? Were they dangerous? Were they risky?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Oh, no. None of them that I’ve been advised of were in any way what you’d call near miss, put anybody in danger, anything like that. One particularly outrageous claim centred on Canberra Airport and it was very naughty of the air traffic controllers actually, Mike, because they immediately jumped on the bandwagon and said, oh, shock horror, here was a near miss. (a), I’m advised it wasn’t a near miss and (b), it couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with the new airspace arrangements because nothing had changed.

CARLTON: Oh, right, okay. I hope you’re right about that because the pilots and the controllers are still saying that a mid-air collision is inevitable.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that is highly irresponsible of them. It’s always a tragedy when you have a mid-air collision, but I heard them say we’d never had one in Australia. We’ve tragically had thirty-six since 1961.

Now, these new arrangements ought to be safer. Remember these are based on the American model where there are a lot more aeroplanes flying than there are in Australia, a country about the same size, worse weather, worse topography, and generally considered to be a safer system which is why we’re moving to it.