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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 29

Senator MARK BISHOP (11:53 AM) —Aviation security has always been a significant management and policy matter in Australia. Aircraft have always been susceptible to safety threats from passengers and also, as is clear from recent events, from ground based interference. Unlike for most other forms of transport, operational failure for airborne craft is catastrophic. Just as mechanical safety is highly regulated for safety reasons, so is operational safety in flight regulated. The point is that the demand for the higher standard of aviation safety is nothing new; indeed, it has been the entire basis for aviation regulation in this country. That is why any debate on the issue is so often charged with strong feelings. In the final analysis, as we have seen publicly in recent weeks, the public interest must always come first. One reason we in Australia have had such an excellent safety record is the very risk averse attitude of the public. Government simply reflects that view. We would be foolish to think this matter has its origins in the events of September 11, 2001. If anything, those events simply reminded us that there is no room for complacency. Any security regime can always be improved. As the old adage goes, `Where there's a will, there's a way.' The job of regulators is to make sure that all of the known ways are eliminated.

In Australia there is, justifiably, a strong public expectation that the government will provide a stringent aviation security regime. It can therefore be said that we on this side support any improvements to aviation security, but of course not uncritically. In that context we support the Aviation Security Amendment Bill 2004. But, as we know, it is just another in a long series of bills presented in an almost ad hoc fashion. In fact, this bill is simply a bandaid to existing legislation and it has all the hallmarks of having been drafted on the run. This bill represents more of the work in progress approach we have come to expect from the Howard government when it comes to post September 2001 security environment matters. This bill does little for aviation safety—little, that is, which should not have been done before. The Howard government has been aware of the need to upgrade the country's aviation security regime for some time. Back in 1998, the Australian National Audit Office, ANAO, released a report entitled Aviation security in Australia. This report concluded that, while Australia complies with international standards, more needs to be done. These standards are embodied in annex 17 of the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation, commonly known as the Chicago convention.

Following the horrendous terror attacks on the United States in September 2001, the need for an updated aviation security system became paramount. Those events fundamentally changed the way in which the world thinks about aviation security. Those events also highlighted just how an aircraft can become a very deadly weapon. Yet, unbelievably, it has taken the Howard government in excess of 2½ years after September 11 to attend to our air security legislation. It was not until almost 30 months after those terrible acts that aviation security legislation was finally passed. This bill can therefore really be characterised as a work in progress. At every given opportunity, the government like to remind Australians that they take issues of national security quite seriously; yet we have another bandaid to cover yet another crack in the Howard government's security arrangements.

This bill has two parts. The first amends the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 and the Civil Aviation Act 1988. These amendments will allow background checking for persons who have access to security restricted areas at airports but who are not required to hold an Aviation Security Identification Card, ASIC. That is how the crack is now being fixed—belatedly. But here is a question the minister might answer: does this apply only to future applicants and, if so, what is to be done retrospectively? ASICs cannot be issued to a person who, amongst other things: has an adverse criminal record; would be considered by the secretary to `constitute a threat to aviation security' if he or she held an ASIC; or is an unlawful noncitizen. Such persons will include pilots and trainee pilots who do not have access to officially designated security restricted areas at airports. The rationale of the government is probably one of, `Oops, we forgot about them in the past and now we will fix it,' otherwise described as a `drafting oversight'. Madam Acting Deputy President Knowles, wouldn't you think that after the events of September 11, 2001 pilots and pilots-in-training would be the first place to start in any security checking regime? Yet the Howard government has missed them until now—three years after that event.

There is, though, a more important change which also has the signs of adhocery. For the first time CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, will have a role in aviation security rather than just aviation safety. There is no explanation for this in the bill or the explanatory memorandum. However, it does seem logical for the appointed safety regulator to have an involvement in this role. But why is it only now that CASA is being given the opportunity to undertake this role? Other questions remain. What has been the relationship between CASA and the department of transport in formulating aviation security regulations? More to the point, when will that legislation actually come into operation? Why, after three years, do we have this patchwork of legislation and regulation, with different authorities with different powers? To the uninitiated, it is one big bureaucratic mess. To those used to observing the Howard government, it is business as usual.

The second part of the bill amends the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 to include contractors of Airservices Australia as aviation industry participants. It also amends the Aviation Transport Security (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Act 2004 to allow certain programs under the Air Navigation Act 1920 to continue as programs under the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004. We are advised that this will enable existing programs to be gradually transitioned to the new requirements under the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004. Otherwise, existing programs would terminate on the day the substantive provisions of the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 commence. That sounds to us like, `Oops, we forgot about continuity' or another drafting oversight.

In essence what we have here is another piece being sewn into the patchwork quilt of aviation security legislation. But almost three years down the track we are yet to see much of the legislation in effect. We are still awaiting the drafting of regulations under the Aviation Transport Security Act, and now we have empowerment for still more regulations to be created. Until we see that drafting done, it is impossible to say whether in fact we have a tougher security regime or, more importantly, a more effective aviation security regime at all. There is simply much not done. We have a maze of overlapping legislation and powers to regulate, with little guidance as to what is to be regulated—not to mention the overall attitude of, `Trust us, we're the government.' Frankly, the opposition has the view that this is becoming a farce. Three years after September 11, 2001, we actually have very little in place and being given effect to at all. The jury is still out, and it is probably reasonable to expect that we will get more of this ad hoc legislation as more gaps open up and become apparent. When will it end, and when will we get in place a security regime that is clear, transparent and effective?

In debating this bill, it is also opportune to set out Labor's attitude to aviation security. Labor know that aviation security is a top priority for the travelling public in and around Australia. This extends not just to those travelling from major airports and on international flights, but also to regional travellers. From 1 January next year it will be a requirement for all checked baggage at all major airport terminals for international flights to be X-ray screened. This will apply to major domestic flights only by 2007. The Howard government has introduced only limited security measures for regional airports. Labor believe that the government should be investing more to improve security at all 146 regional airports. The government's measures to improve security at regional airports, we believe, do not go far enough. Many of these airports clearly remain vulnerable, including airports in major regional centres such as Albury, Burnie, Devonport, Lismore, Bundaberg and Gladstone. Every day flights leave these airports for major regional centres and capital cities, without passengers being screened. We say that is unacceptable. The public expectation is that aviation security in Australia is robust and strong. However, these expectations are not being met by the Howard government's approach to regional airport safety.

With these comments, the opposition's view is clear. We do support this legislation, but we are critical of the fact that it has been a long time coming. It has been poorly explained. We believe that the government's policy on regional airports, particularly on screening, safety and security, is simply inadequate. Deficiencies exist, particularly with respect to screening of passengers and baggage at some of the aforementioned regional airports. In closing, Labor support this legislation and the need for a safe and secure aviation industry.