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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Mr HATTON (11:45 AM) —I agree with the comments the member for Banks just made about outsourcing. We should have trained public servants in our airports and our ports rather than outsourcing for contracted workers. But he was too kind about past and current problems. As is my wont, I will go much further than the member for Banks and say there are people who are still conducting criminal activity at Kingsford Smith airport. They have been doing it for decades. They have been doing it in such a way, across a series of areas, that they have been undetected. They will not be broken up unless we have an activist Australian government willing to go into Sydney Airport and the other major airports and break the cabals that have been operating without proper scrutiny for years now. There has been so much movement of illegal drugs Australia-wide, undiscovered through major airports. Certain people have not been pinged because we do not have a dedicated police force.

The general approach has been that the state police force and state detectives should not be involved in our major airports. I think they should be, because the Australian Protective Service, no matter how good a job it does, is not made up of professional policemen trained in this area to pick up criminal activity and chase it down. Police should be involved, as long as we have got the normal regulation and control to ensure that there is not a corruption of those officers working in this area. The money is so great because of the amount and value of the drugs and other contraband that are moved through there that we need a dedicated force that will go in practically and crack the back of this. This is because there is also another fundamental connection here in our ports and our airports that the state police, the Federal Police and our security agencies are concerned about. What this bill is striving to do by getting a better picture of it and a better hang on it with the AusCheck proposal—which I am fully in favour of—is to underline the fact that we need to look at the deadly combination of criminality and terrorism.

We have already seen that there have been people with active terrorist contacts working in Sydney Airport. One of the first people taken out of the place was a baggage handler at Sydney Airport. In terms of the potential for terrorist activity in Australia, you could not get a much more vulnerable situation than having people inside, working in the baggage area. We know from the terror plots that have been discovered so far that there has been a concentration on aviation. The undiscovered areas are maritime and rail, as we had with Madrid. But we also know that what has been done so far to try to crack the problems, particularly at KSA, is not enough. And we are trying to drive the government harder and faster to address these problems, because there is not that much time. You cannot step back and do it in a fashion where you just expect that things will go your way. You cannot just take partial measures here.

I know the normal response is to look at something and say: ‘Well, there might be a few problems here. You know, it’ll be blown up in the media; it’ll be blown up whether it’s in print, radio, TV or whatever else.’ But the member for Lowe—who sits next to me in this House and has an adjacent electorate—has, by working day in and day out asking questions to ministers, pinned down exactly what the situation was with security cameras in Kingsford Smith airport. One security camera was out of focus, and another was turned against the wall. They just happened to be in those areas that were most vulnerable.

You need an active Customs Service and an active Australian Protective Service, and I think we need to engage in this area with the state police. We need a state police presence, with people who are experienced in detective work, to really go in and clean out these areas so they will not be as vulnerable as they are.

I will say here again, as I have said previously on questions of security at Kingsford Smith airport—and I know that the Attorney takes these matters very seriously—that there are significant problems that have not yet been got at. And the reason they have not is the nature of the whole process. The member for Banks alluded to this when he spoke about the outsourcing. I know outsourcing is the flavour of the decade: walking away from government responsibilities and deciding that we will not have government staff do the work and that we will not have all of the on-cost involved in that. That has happened at federal, state and council levels. People have made all sorts of savings—big savings—and efficiencies.

But I can only say that in the most capitalist country on the planet, the United States of America, you will not find them outsourcing their security service, their baggage-handling service, their customs service or their protective services. There is a whole range of fundamental security mechanisms that are in place in the baggage and cargo checking and handling. You will not find local, private security companies involved. You will not find Wackenhut involved in this.

Prior to September 11, 2001, that might have been a bit of the flavour of the US. It may have made some inroads. I do not really think so, though, because the culture in the United States is that—whilst they are entirely capitalist and in some cases have untrammelled capitalism at its greatest, as we saw in the 1860s and the 1890s—they have a strong sense of government responsibility and a strong sense that the government is there to protect the people of the United States of America. That is its chief task, and it will not be assured that if it gives the job to other people it is really going to be done.

I have been through the United States. I have been through the upgraded checking at their airports. Years before, I went through Los Angeles or Kennedy airport in the United States and I discovered that before there was any evident or extant problem with terrorism there was a really significant process for getting into the country. US citizens were in one line and whole queues of aliens were in another. That was the first time I found out that I was an alien but they still tend to treat people in that way—rather brusquely.

Mr Ruddock —You are not an alien here, I hope?

Mr HATTON —I hope not, Philip. I may be considered an alien by some but I hope not. Sometimes I think I might be.

The checking was so intense that the person who got through quickest was a nun who was about 40 or so. She got through in 15 minutes. I do not have a problem with that, and I do not have a problem with officials dealing with it in the way that we have Australian Customs officials dealing with it. I actually think it is really important.

Here I would put to the Attorney-General that we should have a complete change of culture at our airports and ports. I am speaking about the changes with security cards, including the maritime security identification card and, as I have spoken of before, the aviation security identification card. The Attorney will have been apprised of the fact that our amendments go to the manner in which they were rolled out, although that did not occur during his time as Attorney. I will trust that the demerits in that roll-out will be fixed by Mr Ruddock as Attorney-General, because this is fundamentally important. Slow, careful, detailed work in this area is critical. Why?—because we have had plenty of examples, at Kingsford Smith airport in particular, where the process for the security identification cards has not been right. It has not been adequate or complete, and that has left us very vulnerable.

It is difficult to understand this at the contracting-out level because people generally think of contracts in terms of cleaning contracts, where companies like Spotless, Totalcare or someone else take the head contract. They have employees and they have control of those employees, and you would pretty much be able to determine, if something went wrong, what was happening. It is in the nature of the security industry in Sydney in particular—I know this is Australia-wide but my experience is in Sydney—at Kingsford Smith airport and elsewhere, that you are not dealing just with a head contractor. The head contractor subcontracts, that subcontractor subcontracts and that subcontractor subcontracts. In a country where we have contractors for just about everything—there are no employees left in this area—you have people contracting right down at the bottom. The control over those people—a casualised workforce with people moving in and out—is not what it should be.

It has not been envisaged by the Attorney-General or by the government—it has been envisaged by me previously, by the member for Banks now and more generally by Labor—that the whole lot should be cleared out. I would get rid of Wackenhut, SNP and all the rest of them. Clear them all out. Let us, in this instance, follow the lead of the United States government and put Australian government employees—as we have in Customs and APS—into the key roles where we check baggage and cargo, because it is vitally important.

Our amendments are significant in terms of the security identification cards in the aviation and maritime areas because unless this system works adequately we will not have the kind of protections we have had. In his second reading speech on this bill the minister indicated that the government has moved in a series of areas where we have pressed hard—such as the hardening of cockpit doors—and circumstances have also pressed hard so that we have passenger screening for all regular passenger jet flights, upgraded closed circuit television and monitoring capability. As the member for Lowe has pointed out time and again, you have to make sure that it works. Although there is monitoring, it may be turned off, allowing terrible things to happen, and our security may be trammelled because processes are not undertaken properly because we have not got to the core of the problem.

The government have taken a series of other measures that I have spoken on recently with regard to maritime security. This area really needs to be got to the bottom of. This system has to work, and it has to work well. That is why I support what is being fundamentally done in AusCheck—because bringing together the disparate elements of this into one approach under AusCheck, under the Attorney-General, is the right way to do it. Other members have indicated that there are some areas where it may be rolled out and extended later. The shadow minister and the member for Banks have underlined those areas. I will leave my comments with regard to that at that.

There are areas that need to be answered in that regard, but in terms of the broader area—we have spoken about this in other circumstances, but it is fundamental—permitting foreign flag-of-convenience ships to carry dangerous goods on coastal shipping routes without appropriate security checks is a recipe for absolute disaster. And, where the crew and cargo details of ships are not available 48 hours before arrival, this is a significant area of danger for Australia—particularly with major ships carrying ammonium nitrate from one end of the planet to the other—unless you pin this down very finely.

There is a danger to our ports and to a place like Sydney. When you have a load of ammonium nitrate in a boat you could blow the whole of the CBD up. That is fundamental and critical but the government have not taken those steps; we recommend they give serious consideration to it. We are committed to doing it because we think it is important. Likewise, we urge the government—and also give them a whack over the back of the hand—because they have failed to X-ray or inspect 90 per cent of containers. They promised to provide security in this area but they have been lax in this regard, and we do not think that they should be—it is too important.

Something that the government will not do is provide for an Australian coastguard—to establish it and properly fund it. They have relied upon the Navy exclusively. Let us use the example of the United States and its coastguard. It has not destroyed that country to have an independent coastguard as an adjunct to its naval capacity and activities. I have been on the Fremantle class boats and I have also inspected the Armidale class boats as the deputy chair of the defence committee. These boats are being used to do splendid intervention work in Northern Australia and off the coasts of Western Australia and Queensland. They are doing fantastic work, and we need to support them as much as we can. Their job is so immense that we need to support them with an interleaved capacity. This can be achieved by having an adjunct whereby a group is dedicated to the work but other people assist them in doing it.

The United States is not afraid of such a facility. It too is continental. It too has the kinds of challenges we have. We argue that that kind of facility should be brought to bear here and that we should establish a department of homeland security to better coordinate security in Australia. This is not something that the government wishes to take on but something that we have underlined. Attorney, we propose the establishment of a department of homeland security to better coordinate security in Australia—but, interestingly, what is AusCheck doing? It is better coordinating security checking in Australia under one aegis. That is the operative in this bill. It is the core of what it is about: to bring all the disparate elements together so that we can have a better view and better control of them. We think that is a smart thing and an intelligent thing to do.

Where is a department of homeland security—I think I have heard of that before—operating? It operates in the United States. They understand the gravity of the situation. They understand that there is a particular utility in focusing on one area. Generally, the Australian government has been against that idea, because it is our idea and it is natural for governments not to appreciate the ideas of oppositions—

Mr Ruddock interjecting

Mr HATTON —It is our idea to pick up ideas from elsewhere. Arch Bevis, the member for Brisbane, has strongly pushed this case time and time again. In the Australian context, it is our idea to utilise the coastguard model that has worked so successfully in the United States. There is another model, Attorney, which you might be more inclined to look at—but the outsourcing must go. This is not popular in the Australian context, but there is a benefit in having public servants dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of their fellow citizens. This is demonstrated at every port, airport and railway in the United States. To use the Public Service in this way, I think, provides us with exactly the kind of protection we need to ensure that criminality and, in particular, terrorism do not put us in a situation where, despite the checks done through AusCheck—however deep we can go, whoever we pin on this and whatever safety we provide here—we do not reach its ongoing core. We still have not fixed that area. That is why I support this bill.

We are not at the point where I can be assured and where I can assure all of the constituents in my current electorate as well as my new electorate, the redistributed electorate—and that is the same for every member in New South Wales—that their safety while travelling is as secure as it can be. The model is for our own people to work for the federal government. They would be in charge of the security in cargo handling, in X-raying and in security checks. They would be directly responsible to their superiors in the Australian Public Service, to the secretary of the department and, ultimately, to the minister. I know it is unfashionable to have government involvement, but this is a critical area.

Attorney, you have previously given clear thought, in a whole range of areas in which you have been involved, as to what the fundamental or core areas of need are. I urge you to look at this closely. A major attack at either our ports or our airports could be prevented if we take this major step and change the way that we are organising this. England and, more particularly, the United States are our best examples. A department of homeland security to better coordinate security in Australia mirrors the smaller step in this legislation of an AusCheck. It will look at security identification in a more coordinated, centralised and smarter way so that you get all of the elements, and not much is left out.

With so many containers arriving at our major sea ports and containers going through our airports, security is vital. We have already seen—and we have been lucky to pick up—a series of different materials that could have caused great danger to our population. We need to go the whole way to ensure that there is proper screening at the major regional airports and that we have better security at places like Bankstown Airport. It is so close to KSA, and there could be an impingement. I support the bill. I urge the Attorney to give close consideration to what I have argued in relation to the bill. It has merit in its importance for securing the future for every travelling Australian.