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MUA believes new measures to improve waterfront security do not go far enough.

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Tuesday 20 July 2004

MUA believes new measures to improve waterfront security do not go far enough


MARK COLVIN: A hundred million dollars sounds like a lot of money but wh en it's spread over four years and all Australia's many ports, will it really do enough to improve this country's maritime security? 


The Port Security Scheme has come under fire today for allegedly taking too long to implement and being too much about one aspect of security - the x-raying of shipping containers. 


For years, it's been pointed out that only a small proportion of the shipping containers that come into this country's ports are actually checked. The Prime Minister now says the Government aims to x-ray many more containers. 


The Maritime Union says the flaw in the plan is that containers listed as empty are not checked at all. 


Louise Yaxley reports. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Ports have been seen as the weak link in the national security chain. 


This morning in Brisbane the Prime Minister announced a strengthening maritime security plan. It includes $48-million over four years to help Customs examine more shipping containers at their facilities in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle. 


There will be closed circuit television networks on 63 ports - up from 32 and more Customs officers boarding vessels when they arrive in Australia, including random checks. 


The Prime Minister calls it a major announcement and says it follows a threat assessment from ASIO that al-Qaeda and associated groups continue to have a capacity to carry out terrorist attacks including against maritime interests. 


JOHN HOWARD: This has been an area of priority for the Government and for industry, as we have worked together as part of an overall international effort to enhance maritime security.  


LOUISE YAXLEY: But the Maritime Union says there are some big holes in this plan. 


The Union's National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin, says empty shipping containers which come into Australia are not checked. 


PADDY CRUMLIN: And if you are a terrorist you'd put your explosive device or other thing in an empty container, not a full container because they sit around Australia's ports waiting to be transhipped out again. That is where the real dangers or that's one of the significant risks. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: While the Maritime Union says many containers, especially empty ones, go unchecked, a spokeswoman for Customs says all containers entering Australia are screened and Customs x-rays and physically examines containers as appropriate. 


The Maritime Union's other main complaint is about the Government's plan for background checks on waterfront workers. 


Paddy Crumlin says the union's been pushing for a register but it hasn't happened. 


PADDY CRUMLIN: Well a register would have clearly defined criteria. It would identity a worker as a person who works consistently on the waterfront, is the person they say they are. They don't want to register because basically that moves against their whole policy of casualising the waterfront.  


I mean they got this curious contradiction going in their approach to security. They talk about security in our ports and our ships and yet they'll give single voyage permits and continuos voyage permits so a Panamanian or a Monrovian vessel can operate fulltime on the Australian coast with a crew of Indonesians or Filipinos, without any background checks, without any ability to check them.  


LOUISE YAXLEY: Patty Crumlin says the United States has a much tougher approach to waterfront security and empty shipping containers are carefully checked in the US. 


PADDY CRUMLIN: Where they came from, you know, there is a visual surveillance. You know, they are seen to be a high-risk area and that they are clearly identified as such. Exactly the same as their coastal shipping - is fully regulated only for US residents and US flag because that protects the ability of moving cargo between American ports and not having the risk that comes along with foreign shipping.  


LOUISE YAXLEY: The Federal Opposition's attacked the Government's plan for coming too long after September the 11th, 2001. 


The Labor leader Mark Latham says it's a shame that this announcement's come in the shadow of the election campaign. 


MARK LATHAM: So this has been three years in the making. It has taken way too long for the Government to act on port security and I understand it will take another four years to fully implement their plans. So we are not going to have world standard port security in Australia for a period seven years after September 11. 


MARK COLVIN: Mark Latham ending Louise Yaxley's report.