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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1304

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (10:02): I would like to speak on this very important piece of legislation—the Transport Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2016. It is probably widely known to, particularly, representatives in this chamber who move through airports on a regular basis—internationally and domestically—how important transport security is. Maintaining a modern system of transport security is a critical function of any government. Recent history illustrates the need for ongoing vigilance, especially in the aviation and airport sector. Labor has a very strong view that aviation security must always come before partisan politics. This legislation provides some simple but necessary changes that will ensure Australia is up to date with the modern system of transport security.

Australia is a signatory to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, which governs international aviation. Recently, ICAO—the body which is established under the Chicago Convention—increased standards for screening of persons, goods and vehicles in security controlled zones and airports, and there is a need for Australian legislation to be updated to reflect this higher standard. The important point is the increased security in cleared zones.

In a previous life plus one, I actually worked at an airport for over a decade, and I have to tell you that the security in those days was hit-and-miss and problematic, but we lived in a much more benign environment. It has improved strongly since the seventies. The introduction of the aviation security industry card was a very positive step, but what happened alongside the growth of the airline industry was the introduction of a much more competitive framework which meant that employment standards for people in the aviation industry changed—or, arguably, at least their take-home pay dropped. So you had much more part-time employment, much more casual employment and much more competition in the catering sector that supplied airlines. You had competition introduced into the baggage-handling sector of supply of airlines and competition introduced into the freight-forwarding sector. So a plane gets off the ground with a full complement of passengers sitting in seats, and below deck there is an enormous amount of cargo, mail and the like.

There are a number of disparate sectors that combine, if you like, to make that efficiency happen in the economy. Naturally enough, through a free and open market economy, competition to provide those services has increased, and, arguably, it has increased the number of people accessing secure zones at airports. In fact, that is not an argument—that is a fact. The number of people accessing secure zones at every airport in Australia has increased. What has not increased, in my view, is the level of scrutiny and insurance. To be perfectly frank, in the old days it was a great job and you did not stuff it up. These days, it is much more of a part-time—indeed even casual—type of employment. Unfortunately, that degree of competitive pressure increases the potential for risk.

I can remember when the ASIC was introduced. I can remember an actual case with an Australian soldier. He served in the Australian Army working for a freight-forwarding company. He had been working for the company for three years. He could not get an ASIC. It took an inordinate amount of time for him to get an ASIC clearance, and the reason, quite simply, was his surname. His surname was one that attracted the attention of the authorities who approved the ASICs, and they took an inordinate amount of time to approve it. In that time he was virtually denied the opportunity to work at the airport and in the secure areas.

This legislation will authorise the screening of persons, vehicles and goods which are already in the security zone at an airport. So you will have a card to say you are okay to access an airport, but on a regular basis you may well be scrutinised throughout the course of your duties. At the moment, if people leave Adelaide Airport to go for a break they go through a security section and they do not come back that way. So they take their boots off, go through screeners and, if they have gone outside for a medical appointment or to access the car park, they come back through a secure screening point. All visitors are obviously screened. These are critical functions undertaken very well.

At the moment when you are on the job around the airport unloading, loading, moving baggage and freight, and being a security officer you are not subject to scrutiny inside the airport. Recent events, including the bombing of a Metrojet flight in Egypt in October in 2015 and the attempted bombing of a Daallo Airlines flight in Somalia in February last year, underscore the potential threat. I think Australia is at of the same level of risk as anywhere else, but it would be prudent, given the discovery and prosecution of people who have smuggled drugs into Australia, to make the obvious conclusion that criminal activity may not be just related to those. There have been occasions around the airports of Australia where there has been inside knowledge and inside assistance, and people have been prosecuted for assisting in various nefarious activities—the smuggling in of drugs and the like. So obviously there is a need to increase and authorise the screening of persons.

How each airport will use this authority will be a matter between the airport and the Office of Transport Security. Security plans are approved for each airport, so naturally enough the office will go and have a look at the potential risk and they will come up with a security plan. That security plan will then be put in application. The government has indicated that these new arrangements will apply at nine airports—mainland capitals plus the Gold Coast and Cairns. So obviously someone has done a risk assessment of those airports and security plans will be put in place.

The legislation sits alongside enhanced security awareness training for employees and contractors who work in security zones. That training and awareness is probably where most of the good work that we do can be done—deterrence, deterrence, deterrence. People need to be aware that they need to be approved for entrance into an airport and that they need to qualify for their aviation security identification card. They then need to be absolutely aware that whatever facet of their employment they are undertaking in that secured area can also be security checked. I think this is useful and good legislation.

It is important to note, given developments in the current world environment, that the explanatory memorandum to this bill includes the following commitment in a formal statement of compatibility with human rights. On equality and nondiscrimination it says all people have the right to be treated equally and, in keeping with Australia’s egalitarian screening regime applied to aviation passengers, selection of airline or airport workers, visitors and contractors for screening inside the security restricted areas of airports will be purely random. Individuals will not be selected according to their race, religion, gender or other personal characteristics.

As I said earlier, I was aware of one particular case where a person did not get their ASIC for an inordinate period of time. It impacted on his employment. The person was Muslim. He had served in the Australian Army creditably. He was in the transport industry and when the initial ASIC came in he made representations. We were none the wiser. It was over a six-month period that he was seeking his clearance. No clearance was forthcoming. His job was under jeopardy and pressure.

It is extremely important that when this security checking is undertaken of security cleared people in an airport we do not have any stereotyping searches and we do not have anybody doing anything but introducing it purely at random. It should go across all categories, including management. Mine sites do this particularly well with their drug and alcohol policies. Their staff report to work on a day and if their number comes up they go and do the random relevant drug and alcohol testing. As a bit of advice to people: if you do it on a purely random basis it has an immense deterrent effect. No-one who works in that area can be sure that they are not going to be called up and security checked on that day. So a random basis is robust and effective. Labor is strongly of the view that random testing free of any focus on race, religion, gender or personal characteristics will underpin a much more secure Australian airport environment.

On privacy in a case where a frisk research is necessary, an individual may request that the procedure occur in a private room or within a screened area. A frisk search will always be undertaken by someone of the same gender as the person being searched. Airports and governments need to ensure that arrangements exist for this to occur on those occasions. Given our knowledge of various airports around the world, I am sure the facilities exist to be able to undertake those activities.

This bill, the Transport Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, also authorises greater delegation of powers under aviation and maritime security legislation, such as powers to approve security plans and variations to these plans. This will permit quicker responses—and I think this is absolutely to the heart of security, that we need to be able to respond efficiently, effectively and quickly. The last thing that operators of airports need is to know the challenge exists and not be able to deal with it quickly. This bill will authorise the greater delegation of powers and permit quicker responses.

While some of the language from the government is around removal of regulatory constraints—red tape removal—Labor believes that transport security is too important to be a mere exercise in extending light-handed regulation. While regulatory settings should always be reviewed, Labor supports this legislation first and foremost because it updates security measures to be consistent with world standards, and because it includes an additional and sensible option that enhances the object of removing threats to aviation security.

In Australia we have an enviable safety record. It is a credit to our existing system of regulation. It is a credit to our workforce in the aviation sector—diligent, hardworking, loyal, alert and aware participants in a vital sector of the economy. Having been a worker in that sector, I can attest to the fact that people are smart, they are alert, they are aware, they do look after their environment, and they do look after their industry as best as they possibly can. This legislation will simply build on that existing record. With more than 150 million passengers flying through Australians skies each year, Labor will always support sensible measures that protect Australian citizens and continue the nation's reputation for airline safety. I know in my own home port of Adelaide that we have seen the introduction of international carriers—I suppose the only nagging concern I have there is that the only international that does not fly out of Adelaide is Qantas: they do not take an international route out of Adelaide. But we know now that we are getting China Southern, and we have Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines. It is one of life's great mysteries why the great name Qantas is not in that space, but perhaps that will fix itself over time.

We believe this bill is sensible, effective, efficient legislation, and we strongly support it. It is vital to the safety of the 150 million passengers flying through Australians skies each year. The legislation builds on what we believe is Labor's strong track record in aviation and airport security. When Labor was in government, we oversaw the strengthening of the security regime applying to air cargo, committing $54.2 million to install X-ray screening technology at freight depots. That is probably paying off as we speak, with the introduction of a lot of the new Middle Eastern carriers who are sourcing fresh fruit, meat and other produce out of Australia. That X-ray facility is probably eliminating a lot of red tape and a lot of hurdles to export for our primary producers. I have certainly seen and heard in the Middle East that they are very satisfied with some of the produce that they are able to airfreight out of our airports.

Labor invested an additional $200 million in the nation's aviation security funding which facilitated the introduction of the new and improved technologies at the airport, including the latest body scanners. Those are in effect at all of our airports—and I am not sure which came first, Australia or overseas, but I certainly had to pass through some scanners on a recent trip overseas. The next generation of multi-view X-ray machines and bottle scanners are capable of detecting liquid-based explosives. If we were able to get away without the 'take out your water bottle'—and we all know the case of someone who is in the queue in front of us, who happens to have transgressed most of the advice that they got before they got to the airport, and they go to the scanner with a bottle of water or oversized liquid containers—perhaps if we did have a proper X-ray proposal that picked up the dangerous things that we are looking for, there would be a couple of benefits there: we would get through the line more quickly, and there would be less waste at the various airports.

In relation to increased policing around airports—as we travel around Australia and the world and we see the additional presence at airports—it is an unfortunate necessity. It is not pretty to see people standing with guns at airports but, unfortunately, it seems to be the way of the world, as we speak. Improved security at regional airports is one area where we probably need to be very vigilant. The size of aircraft operating to some of our regional areas now is not insignificant; I know if they are over 30 tonnes, we need to have security facilities in place. If people are truly looking for a weakness in our system, then it probably is in our regional airports—and probably quite properly, given there have been no incidents and the number of passengers is relatively low. It could be an area of concern, but I am sure that those who own the airports will know to put in place good plans. I am sure that the workforces in those areas will recognise the need for those plans and, provided they are introduced with consultation and cooperation, I am sure that those security plans will be very good. They will continue to protect the 150-odd million passengers that are transported by our aviation industry. I support the legislation before the chamber.