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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6594

Mr DREYFUS (3:01 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Home Affairs. How is the government making airports and air travel in Australia safer for passengers and staff?

Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR (Minister for Home Affairs) —I thank the member for Isaacs for his question and his interest in ensuring we maintain the security and safety of our airports and our aircraft. That is why this government is proposing tougher laws for aviation related crime. Under the proposal of the government there will be maximum penalties for aviation related crimes. Penalties will increase as a result of the consultations that we have had with the airline industry, the major airports and the state and territory governments. We have also spoken with the representatives of the employees, the workforce in those places.

We have to do everything we possibly can to make sure that our airports are safe and our aircraft are safe. It is for that reason I would also ask that the opposition quite genuinely consider supporting the regulations that have been proposed by the Minister for Transport on the capacity to enter cockpits. That is also very important and incidental to this very important initiative. We would increase jail terms for serious hoax offences—such as calling an airline and saying a bomb is on a plane or threatening to bomb an airport—to up to 10 years jail. This currently carries a two-year maximum jail term. It is the view of the government—and I think the view of the opposition, having seen their comments—that this is not a significant enough penalty for such a serious offence. For that reason, we are looking to increase the threshold to make it more similar to penalties for other types of hoaxes. For example, where people might say they have contaminated goods in supermarkets, which could endanger the community, there are currently penalties of up to 10 years. This would match that type of penalty.

There are 14-year jail sentences proposed for offences against aircraft or aviation environments, such as damaging a runway or air traffic control facilities at a major airport, which currently carry a maximum jail term of seven years and 10 years respectively—we look to lift that—and 20-year jail sentences for very serious offences that pose danger or cause harm to groups of people, such assaulting a pilot or endangering an aircraft while in flight. These offences currently carry maximum jail terms of seven, 14 or 15 years. It is the view of the state and territory governments, the sector and others that we increase that penalty. There will remain, of course, life in jail for those who would commit offences such as hijacking or destroying an aircraft and being reckless as to causing death. The increase in penalties will provide greater consistency with other criminal legislation and will provide greater safety and greater deterrence to commit such offences.

These measures build upon the significant achievements of this government in aviation security. The government announced in February this year a $200 million package to enhance our aviation security. That was a very important initiative. These laws, if enacted, will complement those initiatives and will also complement the announcement, made in December last year, that we will go from the unified police model at our major airports to an all-in model which, in effect, means we will have the Australian Federal Police undertaking the security of our major airports. It will probably take three to five years for the transition to occur. We are working very closely with our state counterparts to ensure we do that as seamlessly as possible and to make sure we provide security at our airports as we bring about that very important initiative.

These are very important penalties. They are enclosed within legislation before the House and we would call upon the opposition to support them, in order to ensure that our airports are safe and our aircraft are safe for Australians and for visitors to this country.