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Joint Public Accounts and Audit Committee examines threat to aviation from missiles.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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PM

 

Thursday 4 September 2003

Joint Public Accounts and Audit Committee examines threat to aviation from missiles

 

MARK COLVIN: Since the September the 11th attacks, hijacking has been at the forefront of the flying public's fears, but it's another danger that seems to be worrying the experts more. 

 

At today's Parliamentary inquiry into aviation safety, it's been the possibility of shoulder-fired missiles being used against Australian aircraft that's come up again and again. 

 

The committee is investigating all aspects of air security, from how it's regulated to the problems posed by new technologies. 

 

It's been told that Australia is monitoring closely the danger posed by shoulder-fired missiles. 

 

Louise Yaxley reports. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: The chance that a single terrorist could bring down an aircraft with a shoulder-fired missile prompted a series of questions from the committee. 

 

It was kicked along when the Prime Minister said this morning that was more likely than a hijacking. 

 

Andrew Tongue from the aviation security section of the Transport Department says it is being watched closely. 

 

ANDREW TONGUE: The intense question is does al-Qaeda, JI, their associates, have the intent to get these weapons and that's really a question for the intelligence agencies, and we're in constant contact with ASIO, and they're then in contact with their associates overseas, dealing with that question. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Tongue played down the chance of such weapons being successfully used saying it is not as easy as is widely believed. 

 

The committee Chairman, Bob Charles, raised the shoulder fired weapons issue again this afternoon with the Department of Defence's Margot McCarthy. 

 

MARGOT MCCARTHY: The comments on the threat situation are very much the province of our colleagues of ASIO. In terms of… 

 

BOB CHARLES: They are military weapons. 

 

MARGOT MCCARTHY: That they are. That they are. Our joint responsibilities are for the security of Defence assets and establishments, so we can certainly tell you about how Defence assets are protected. 

 

BOB CHARLES: Have you lost any? 

 

MARGOT MCCARTHY: None of the kind that you've just been referring to, to my knowledge Mr Charles. 

 

BOB CHARLES: That was the next question. 

 

I understand that your accounts are being qualified by the Auditor-General and probably again this year and next year because of inability to accurately value inventory, but I would hope that doesn't include losing a strategic missiles. 

 

MARGOT MCCARTHY: Certainly not, Mr Charles. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: The Air Commodore Mark Lax told the committee today one of the weaknesses found in the major examination conducted since September the 11th is the Tindal Air Base in the Northern Territory, which is home to some of the Air Force’s fighter jets. 

 

He says the fence is far too flimsy. 

 

MARK LAX: Essentially, it's a cyclone fence, it's got a lot of rust and problems with it, maintenance is very high and expensive. 

 

We subsequently raised a building submission and it was put through the Public Works Committee of this Parliament last month, they are yet to table their reports. 

 

However, I have read the tabling submission. They've recommended we proceed with a new perimeter fence to be constructed once the wet season next year is completed, for completion approximately October ‘04, which will enhance the entire security around the base. 

 

It will also affect the civil airline terminal, in that it no longer will be within the base perimeter. It will be on the outside of the fence and civilian passengers and other persons will need to get access through the normal airport controls. 

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Defence has also revealed it is still working through a backlog of around 25,000 of its staff who are yet to have their security clearances approved or upgraded. 

 

There's another day of the public inquiry tomorrow, but many of the key questions won't be answered in open sessions. 

 

The truth about where the weaknesses are in Australia's aviation security will be examined in private hearings where the experts can reveal where security is thin and what they’re doing to strengthen it. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Louise Yaxley in Canberra.