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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23508

Mr WILKIE (8:17 PM) —I wish to speak on the Aviation Transport Security (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2003 and, in particular, support the second reading amendment moved by the shadow minister, the member for Batman. The Australian National Audit Office released a report in 1998 called Aviation security in Australia. The conclusion of the report was essentially that security for Australian aviation needed to be strengthened. The response to that report was to revise the Air Navigation Act and to look at, amongst other things, the screening of passengers and their baggage and the reporting requirements for unlawful interference with aircraft and airport security programs. The outcome of all this was the Aviation Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2001 being introduced into the parliament. This bill was never debated and, as a result, lapsed. The bill was then reintroduced the following year as the Aviation Legislation Amendment Bill 2002.

I find it very interesting that we are debating the Aviation Transport Security Bill 2003 when only last week there were new civil aviation rules introduced that are a massive threat to aviation security. The new airspace rules that came into effect last Thursday, where light planes are allowed into areas used by commercial airlines, are a definite concern in relation to security and safety in the skies. I am particularly concerned, given that Perth international airport is in my electorate. This airport is a principal international, domestic and regional gateway to Western Australia for commercial aircraft and airfreight. Of course, Perth airport is not the only airport in the area. Pearce air base, whilst not in my electorate, is certainly close by. It is less than 30 kilometres away. This is a military air base with many take-offs and landings. It is also used as a training facility. Aircraft originating there occasionally fly into Perth airport to take on fuel or cargo. Other airports close by are Northam and York to the east and Jandakot to the south.

Jandakot is one of the busiest airports in Australia. This airport services light aircraft, including the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Jandakot is also the home base for a number of flight schools and the Royal Aero Club, of which I am a past member. Jandakot is in what was a semirural area but it is rapidly becoming part of suburban Perth. Perth international airport ranks fourth in passenger traffic volume in Australia. The airport has facilities for international and domestic air passenger operations, airfreight and general aviation. The airport operates year round, curfew free, 24 hours a day. In 200203, there were 1,027,069 passenger movements at Perth international airport. In the same period, 2,157,051 passengers went through the domestic airport facility. That is a total, between the two terminals, of 3,184,120 movements. This equates to an average of nearly 9,000 passengers per day. The Perth international and domestic airports are located close to the suburbs of Kewdale and Belmont. These are densely populated areas and are both industrial and residential. These areas have schools, childcare centres and recreational facilities and boast a number of large shopping centres, hospitals and, obviously, houses.

Under the new aviation rules, light aircraft operating above 3,000 metres must now use transponders. These are radar devices which make aircraft visible to air traffic controllers and other commercial aircraft. There appears to be a big problem here. Air traffic controllers are reporting that many light aircraft are operating without working transponders. They are also saying that these light aircraft without working transponders are straying into what should be tightly controlled airspace. These aircraft are straying into international and domestic capital city flight paths. It seems to me that this is a disaster waiting to happen—one which the Minister for Transport and Regional Services is ignoring, to the peril of the public. The president of the air traffic controllers union, Civil Air, was reported in yesterday's Australian as saying that controllers in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne were reporting about four transponder failures an hour. This is absolutely unacceptable. If the technology is faulty then it should not have been introduced in the first place.

I also read with interest that the Prime Minister is suggesting that local governments, which own many of the smaller airports in Australia, should become more responsible for managing aviation security, even going so far as to suggest that they use local police. I do not know where the Prime Minister has been recently but obviously it was not to any of the smaller regional airports, because if he had been to some of those he would realise what a stupid suggestion that is. Local authorities responsible for regional airports in places such as Esperance, Kalgoorlie or Port Hedland in Western Australia already struggle to support the airports out of ratepayers' funds. The local police resources in these areas are stretched as tightly as possible. There is nothing left over to put into what is and should be a federal government responsibility.

If this government is serious about airport security, it needs to get serious about shouldering some of the cost. While screening machines cost in the region of $1 million each, the imposts on local residents near to the airports I have mentioned are huge. If ratepayers do not pay for this suggested increase in security, the alternative is that tourists are charged a levy. This is not an option that most local authorities want to take up. Tourism has been greatly affected by the threat of terrorism and the effect of SARS. Many smaller communities depend upon tourism to keep their economies viable. Airlines are also bearing the costs of increasing security and are passing them on to their customers. The government has refused to fund any of the cost apart from updating screening equipment at some of its own facilities at the airports of Cocos and Christmas islands.

I believe that the government should use part of the profit from the Ansett ticket tax to fund aviation security, especially in the regions. The member for Herbert rightly referred to what the government is continually calling the `Ansett ticket levy' as a tax—and, of course, it is a tax. It has raised more money than is needed to fund the obligations for Ansett workers; therefore, that money should go into regional aviation security. Clearly it is a tax; it is returning a profit to the government, and it should be put back into aviation.

I will return to talking about the Perth airport. That airport is used by the military, which raises yet more issues in relation to security. As I am sure the Perth airport is not the only passenger airport in the country used for military purposes, the issues I raise in relation to it are not isolated; rather, they are issues that we should be aware of and respond to in an appropriate manner. I am advised by representatives from both the Department of Transport and Regional Services and the Westralia Airports Corporation that security for military operations is the responsibility of the Department of Defence. However, I have not been able to ascertain what the Department of Defence is doing in relation to security arrangements at airports—and, indeed, at sea ports.

It has been suggested that some private security might have been contracted to assist with guarding and patrolling planes and their cargo whilst they are on the ground, but I am unable to confirm this. This is particularly relevant when we consider that during the Gulf conflict we had Antonov and Ilyushin aircraft coming into Pearce air base, loading up with a military payload and being protected by military personnel, armed guards and dogs to ensure that noone could access those aircraft while they were on the ground. But, because they were civilian aircraft, they would then fly down to Perth airport to refuel. Carrying rocket launchers, grenades, machine guns, ammunition and explosives, they would sit on the tarmac at the Perth airport while being refuelled, with no security whatsoever. I find this absolutely unacceptable. The reason they had no security after leaving the Pearce Air Force base was that they were then on a commercial flight. So they went on into Perth; obviously, the authorities knew what those planes were carrying, but no additional security was put in place to guard them. I just find this to be ridiculous.

The 200102 annual report of the Westralia Airports Corporation sets out the additional security measures implemented at Perth international airport following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Parking is now prohibited in the vicinity of any airport terminal other than in the allocated spaces of the public car parks. Airside access restrictions have been strengthened. There has been an increase in the Australian Protective Service's presence, with 31 new staff being posted to the airport. This may sound impressive but, frankly, this is nowhere near enough. These measures will not deter anyone with a serious intention to cause disruption. This was proven recently when a person on a motorbike managed to drive into the passenger booking area through the front windows of the airport. If this person had been a terrorist, there could have been a major disaster.

In reality, there has been little increase in security. What increases there have been seem to do more to irritate passengers than to protect them. Taking nail clippers and nail files off passengers prior to their going into lounges to await their flights, and making women take off their shoes for a rescanning, when everyone knows that the pieces of support metal in them set off the machines, is not really a viable increase to the security of passengers, especially when those passengers can then purchase drinks served in glass containers and various other items that could be used as weapons once they are inside the security umbrella. All that these types of security measures do is stress people and make them angry when they are often tired and stressed already. This is not good enough.

Like every other person in this House, I am a regular air traveller, as are many other people in the population. It is incumbent upon this government to take this issue seriously and not to use tactics that, due to their visibility, appear to be appropriate whilst really offering only a bandaid solution. To date, the measures that I have seen and experienced appear little more than, as I said, a bandaid to give people the impression that they are safer whilst not actually providing any additional security. I fail to see how employing a private security company to screen passengers after they have checked in their luggage, most of which is not screened at all, helps to protect passengers on domestic and international flights. Surely, if we are serious at all about security, we would be screening everything that is loaded onto aircraft and not taking a haphazard approach where at some airports luggage screening is done and at others it is not.

The story is much the same with sky marshals. Apparently, around 100 people are doing this job but they are only present on 10 per cent of domestic flights. I wonder who makes the call as to which flights need them and which flights do not. Is there some magic formula? Perhaps there is some form of intelligence collecting going on. What is more likely is that, once again, an arbitrary system of cost against chance is taking place. It is my opinion that the present security at airports is appalling and dangerous; it does not instil any confidence at all.

I have spoken about issues in relation to passenger handling, but what about cargo in aircraft? As I see it, there are still issues in relation to the people who are allowed into sterile and security restricted areas. There have to be stricter controls on who is using airport or aviation security identification card passes. There must also be much tighter controls on unscreened service personnel and unchecked vehicles having access to sterile and security restricted areas. This bill and the draft regulations do not require the screening of all individual baggage handlers, cleaners, drivers or others as they go airside. As a result, unscreened personnel have access to aircraft. This is clearly unacceptable. Either we are serious about security or we are not. If we are, then this has to be addressed.

If that is not enough to be concerned about, it goes further in that there is also a problem with unchecked vehicles being allowed to go airside. That the drivers of these vehicles have aviation security identification card passes is not enough. There is always the possibility that people can unintentionally be involved in the carriage of illicit or illegal items. There is also the possibility that these passes have been obtained illegally. It is therefore necessary for all people, whether in possession of an aviation security identification card pass or not, to be subject to checks and searches where necessary. I speak from experience, having spent many years working in a secure environment—in fact, it was a prison, where you do not really want things to go in or out on a willy-nilly basis. I know also that people can be either used willingly or coerced to do things that they would not ordinarily do. I am not suggesting for one moment that we treat everybody as a criminal but, rather, I am suggesting that we protect people by making security such that it has fewer gaps for people to slide through.

This bill will cause the implementation of wide-ranging and fundamental changes to aviation security. Given these huge changes, I agree with my colleague's suggestion that it would be appropriate to pursue a review of the framework 12 months after its commencement. Therefore, I would agree with the recommendation that the minister for transport require within 12 months that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport and Regional Services conduct a post-implementation review of the new aviation security framework. Given that proviso and the second reading amendment moved by the member for Batman, I commend the bill to the House.