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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15837

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (9:10 PM) —The recent tragic hijacking incident on Qantas flight 1737 has again highlighted the issue of aviation security in this country. More relevant to my electorate was the concern for what may have happened if this flight had originated from my home airports of Devonport or Burnie. There could have been no impediments to what was taken on board. Clearly the alleged hijacker was deliberate about the nature of the weapons chosen to inflict harm, and this was probably done in the light of the passenger screening processes in Melbourne. This individual would have had no such inhibitions if he had flown out of my local airports. I do not want a tragic incident like this to occur before the government decides that some form of passenger security screening needs to be introduced at my local airports. I want members on the government side in particular to realise that my local airports, with some 200,000 passenger movements per year using Rex and Qantas Link airlines and servicing a population area of about 90,000 citizens, do not have any passenger and luggage screening procedures at all—none, zilch, zero, nought.

But let us make it publicly clear for the record: the federal government has the means but not the will to financially assist regional airports to introduce basic passenger screening. Until it does, regional Australians can rightly feel that they are treated as second-class citizens and that their security is regarded as secondary to that of travellers flying out of metropolitan airports. In question time on Monday the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mr John Anderson, in response to a question on airport security, said that the government:

... had moved to improve security in a number of wide-ranging ways ...

These include actions such as:

... tighter passenger and carry-on bag screening, the very substantial and ongoing upgrading of equipment and the extension of security arrangements to more airports.

It would appear that the minister's so-called wide-ranging ways do not extend to many airports throughout regional Australia, and certainly not to my airports of Burnie and Devonport, nor to the member for New England's airport at Tamworth.

Mr Snowdon —Or to Katherine.

Mr SIDEBOTTOM —Or Katherine. I am staggered that no member on the other side has raised the fact that many of their airports have no security at all. Why is this? Have none of their regional populations raised the issue of the lack of security? I cannot believe that they have not. No amount of stonewalling by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister should prevent regional Australia from receiving basic security at its airports.

The federal government says that its security assessments are such that there is no perceived threat in regional Australia. Result: no security arrangements at all at airports like Burnie and Devonport. Of course, it is the opposite in the major city airports. There the threat is deemed to be much greater. The result is a vast range of equipment and personnel to secure passengers, baggage and property. How is this paid for? By critical mass of passenger movements both by persons originating at the major airport and other itinerant travellers, including those from regional Australia and including my home airports of Devonport and Burnie. In effect, regional Australia subsidises the security of the major airports of Australia but does not receive reciprocal security arrangements. And if it does demand something like equal access to basic passenger and hand luggage screening it has to pay for it.

In relative terms it is obvious these communities do not have the passenger turnover or throughput to pay for this equipment, yet this is the very requirement made on these communities by the federal government. The reality is that there are first- and second-class citizens when it comes to airport and aviation security. The real criteria are based on population and passenger numbers and aircraft size. If you are big enough then you are worthy of security. As I have pointed out many times in this House, smaller regional airports not only do without the most basic security, such as hand luggage screening and electronic person-screening, but the citizens of regional Australia are required to pay for security arrangements in the larger metropolitan airports.

The travelling public of the north-west coast of Tasmania and many other parts of regional Australia are asked to rest easy on this issue. The federal minister for transport has said in parliament that these airports have individual security plans but these do not involve rudimentary passenger and hand luggage screening. So what do they include? Regional Australians have reason to be sceptical about the federal government's reasoning on this issue. Is it really about comprehensive security for all Australians and comprehensive security assessments, or is it all about cost? Regional Australia does not count for this government. Regional Australia needs assistance on security; it needs to be treated as an equal citizen, not a second-class citizen.