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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15496

Mr SERCOMBE (4:48 PM) —Last Friday I visited the Melbourne Airmail Transit Centre, fairly close to Melbourne airport, in company with John Brown, the state secretary of the Postal and Telecommunications branch of the CEPU. This is a facility jointly operated by Australia Post, AQIS and Customs. It is a facility that deals with very large volumes of overseas mail items—packages and the like. Given the new emphasis that we as a society need to give to issues such as security and safety from imported products that will not be to the welfare of the Australian community, it is clear that this is a very vital function indeed. I have to say, having visited the facility, it is simply inadequate for the task that it carries out: it is overcrowded and there are difficult working conditions. Frankly, it is only by the goodwill of the work force there that it continues to operate. The claim is made that it successfully screens 100 per cent of items presently coming through, but that is simply not sustainable into the future.

By way of illustration of the sorts of items that come through periodically, I am told that over the last month there have been two incidents where explosives have been detected and a live grenade was detected. There are situations where fake—fortunately—anthrax comes through the system. I am told around two such items a month are detected these days, but there were somewhat more in the past. There is a range of items like spiders, millipedes and snakes that are periodically detected.

The working environment, as I said, is extremely difficult. A purpose-built facility is required where a threat, having been identified, can be sealed off and properly dealt with. That does not exist at the present time. In the current situation staff are crowded into a relatively small area where there is continuous conflict between vehicles—particularly trucks and forklifts—moving in and around the facility, people and dogs. A hazardous waste bin sits at the door. I believe there are serious animal welfare issues because the dogs, which are such an important part of the AQIS and Customs services, are housed in extremely cramped conditions in the back of a van or are put in a kennel outside where they are exposed to all the elements. The fact that this facility is offsite from Melbourne airport is a problem, because it means potentially dangerous items have to be transported through a residential area in order to get them to the screening facility for testing.

Why is it that this situation is allowed to continue in an environment where we, as a society, are all much more security aware and much more aware of safety issues? The federal government has, in fact, announced and made provision in budgets for funds to create a purpose-built facility on the Melbourne airport site itself to handle the large volumes of items that are coming into Melbourne. However, the process is being derailed by the ideological zealotry of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. The minister apparently claims that the preferred company to construct the purpose-built facility has a building agreement that does not comply with the national code of building practice. Apparently, the sin of the building agreement that the minister objects to is that it makes adequate provision for allowances, superannuation, redundancy and safety for building workers. The minister obviously does not like that, because he is prepared to put in jeopardy the safety and security of Australians, at this difficult time, by refusing to allow work to proceed on a purpose-built facility to address these problems. Frankly, as I said, the facility is at the moment inadequate: it is crowded and it is inefficient because items need to be double handled. The minister ought to wake up to himself and put the interests of Australians first rather than his own ideological crusade.

The SPEAKER —I have sought the leave of the duty minister, the member for McEwen, and with the permission therefore of the House I will recognise the member for Shortland.