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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2015

Mr LLOYD (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) (9:55 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

It may be regrettable, but it is an unavoidable reality that national security remains a very high priority for this government. It is also a reflection on our times that it is essential for us to continue to protect our transport system and its passengers against very real threats. It is in this context that I present this bill for the parliament's consideration.

Aviation security is kept under constant review to ensure that measures remain appropriate to current intelligence on threats to Australian aviation. Most recently, there was a comprehensive review of aviation security following a revised threat assessment issued by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in July 2003.

As a result of this review, the government announced a major expansion of the nation's aviation security regime on 4 December 2003. As a part of the expansion, background checking has been extended to a larger part of the aviation industry in recognition of the nature and level of the threat. The threat assessment has highlighted pilot identification as an important issue that must be addressed as part of aviation security requirements in Australia. Ensuring that pilots and trainee pilots are subject to security checking will reduce the likelihood of persons who might pose a threat to aviation gaining access to aircraft through legitimate means.

I acknowledge that some might see the need for such scrutiny of all our pilots as an unwelcome imposition on an innocent group within our community and a sad surrender of a basic freedom. On the other hand, we must move with our changing times, in which an aircraft in the wrong hands has become a lethal weapon.

Currently there are legislative impediments to the most efficient implementation of the government's decision in relation to background checking of flight crew and trainee flight crew. The most efficient process is to fully integrate background checking into the licensing process so that we can all be assured that all holders of a pilot's licence have withstood rigorous, if confidential, scrutiny of their background.

The legislative impediments are broadly the absence of a head of power in the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004, which enables the background checking of pilots, and subsection 9(5) of the Civil Aviation Act 1988, which prevents CASA from having responsibility for aviation security.

This bill will remove those legislative impediments and provide a background checking process that is both effective and efficient.

This bill has two parts. The first part deals with the issue of background checking of flight crew, while the second part deals with minor amendments mainly of a transitional nature.

I will not dwell on the minor amendments, which deal primarily with transitional arrangements for programs approved under the Air Navigation Act after the commencement of the Aviation Transport Security Act, but I will instead focus on the changes to the background checking provisions.

The bill inserts division 9 `Security Status Checking' into the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004.

New section 74G will allow the Secretary of the Department of Transport and Regional Services to determine that a person has an adverse security status. The effect of such a declaration will be that the person is precluded from holding a security designated authorisation. A security designated authorisation will be defined in the regulations, but will include, but not be limited to, all flight crew and trainee flight crew licences. This is intended to provide a mechanism preventing would-be pilots assessed as having an unacceptable security history from obtaining or retaining a pilot's licence.

The procedure by which the Secretary of the Department of Transport and Regional Services will come to such a decision, and the kinds of factors which will have to be considered by the secretary in making such a decision, will be set out in the regulations. These provisions have been included in acknowledgement that denying a licence is a most significant decision that has to be seen to be based on valid security concerns rather than any form of arbitrary decision making.

It is envisaged that these procedures will include considering the results of a check of the person's criminal history, their immigration status, and the results of a security assessment conducted by ASIO in relation to the person. This is similar to the checks undertaken on other aviation industry employees with access to aircraft and the secure areas of airports when they apply for an aviation security identification card (ASIC).

In addition, the bill will remove the impediment to CASA having responsibility for aviation security. This is not intended to make CASA a security agency, but rather to ensure that CASA is not unnecessarily precluded from contributing to the government's desired security outcomes through the exercise of its functions. This is a further sign of our troubled times and the extent to which `security is everybody's business': all government agencies, whether they are used to seeing themselves in such terms or not, have a contribution to make to our national security. This government is doing everything it can to ensure that all of our agencies work together in `joining the dots' in our quest for national security.

The changes contained in this bill are part of a broader government strategy of ensuring that sensitive transport infrastructure and the public at large are protected from acts of unlawful interference with transportation. They will complement the ASIC regime which applies at airports and the maritime security identification card system which will apply at ports.

I present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Cox) adjourned.