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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5324

Mrs ELLIOT (RichmondParliamentary Secretary for Trade) (17:26): I am very pleased to be speaking on this bill before the House today, the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012, which will amend the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004. I thank the previous speaker, the member for Hinkler, for his contribution and the bipartisan support for this very important bill to improve our aviation security. I acknowledge the points he made in relation to his concerns and the concerns shared by all of us in the House about making sure we increase our aviation security measures.

The amendments contained in this bill will support the upcoming introduction of body scanners at Australian international airports. The use of body scanners is required to ensure that Australian travellers, crew and everyone involved with aircraft travel are afforded the highest level of protection against aviation terrorism. This is a very important and major step in ensuring the safety of all people travelling through our international airports for whatever reason, for tourism, for trade. We are seeing a massive increase in international air travel and this is a very important step to meet the increased security needs within the aviation environment.

The introduction of these body scanners will bring Australia into line with countries such as the USA, Canada, the UK and the Netherlands, so it is very important that we are making this improvement. Many speakers have talked about why such an improvement is necessary. It is vitally important when we look at tackling aviation terrorism and the threat it brings. As we know, terrorism has become the defining issue of the first decade of the 21st century, with the 9-11 aeroplane attacks acknowledged as the most destructive, horrific terrorist attacks in history.

Since that time Australia's aviation security regime has been significantly strengthened. However, the aviation sector must remain vigilant against the threat of any potential terrorist attack and that is why improvements such as this measure are vitally important. Many speakers have talked about the situation in 2009 where a passenger on a US flight between Amsterdam and Detroit concealed an explosive device in his underwear and passed through aviation security screening with that device undetected on his person. This event highlighted the vulnerability in global aviation security screening practices, including in Australia. It certainly made many countries aware of the need for increased security. In response to this incident, the government announced a package of measures to strengthen Australia's aviation security. So, accepting that the aviation security environment has significantly evolved in the last decade and will continue to do so, the bill before the House today continues the government's commitment to ensuring that Australian airports are afforded the highest level of protection against the threat of aviation terrorism.

The bill will also provide flexibility for future governments to introduce new screening tools as technologies improve, ensuring that technologies will be used to achieve the maximum security outcome whilst also acknowledging and making sure that there is minimal impact on passenger movements as much as possible to have that balance right. We obviously have to be very mindful of making sure that we keep our security commitment at a very strong level and ensuring as best we can the free flow of passengers through our international terminals. I think that the majority of people do acknowledge the importance of having increased security measures and appreciate how absolutely vital they are in today's environment.

The bill states that a person has consented to any screening procedure at the screening point and must receive clearance in order to board an aircraft or to enter an area of a security controlled airport. Secondly, it provides for the Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005 to deal with any person that must not pass through a screening point. Thirdly, it lists, but does not limit, the types of equipment that may be used for security screening purposes. This includes metal detection, explosive trace detection and active millimetre-wave body scanning equipment. If a body scanner is used for the screening of a person, the image must only be a generic body, gender-neutral, and must not identify that person. Fourthly, the bill repeals section 95A of the act. Very importantly, the bill is compatible with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed in section 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011.

As I stated earlier and as many other speakers have spoken about, passenger screening is a critical component of any aviation security system operating internationally today. Section 41 of the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 provides the legislative framework requiring a person to be screened when boarding an aircraft or entering an area or zone within a security controlled airport. Screening is conducted by authorised screening officers who inspect individuals and their property to deter and prevent the carriage of prohibited items and weapons that are considered to be a threat to an aircraft.

Screening can entail using X-ray machines, walk-through and hand-held metal detection devices and random and continuous explosive-trace detection devices on passengers and carry-on bags and physical searches as required. The bill will enable the removal of section 95A of the act, meaning that an individual will no longer be able to choose a frisk search over another screening procedure, so it is very important that we have that removal and that change there.

In order to ensure the travelling public is safe, the prohibited items that Australian aviation screening seeks to identify has evolved from simply attempting to detect metallic weapons to a newer environment that presents a range of sophisticated threats that our screening regime must be capable of detecting. Unfortunately, where we have people finding new and advanced ways to attempt to get these items onto our aircraft we do have to make sure that our security systems are evolving as well to be able to detect them at a much greater rate.

This is where the use of body scanning technologies can play a very significant role in Australia's aviation security regime. Body scanners have the ability to detect and pinpoint the location of both metallic and non-metallic items concealed within or underneath a person's clothing. Indeed, body scanners offer the greatest chance of detection, as existing screening technology used in Australia is incapable of detecting many of the new-generation threats. There is currently no alternative method of passenger screening available today that can really deliver an equivalent security outcome to a body scanner. That is why it is very important that we do have that in place.

We are also very mindful and aware of an individual's privacy. We have carefully considered the introduction of body scanners and the impact on the travelling public's privacy and we are committed to the introduction of body scanners that have a range of privacy enhancements. We understand how important that is. The automatic threat recognition technology is one of the most important of these. This technology displays areas of concern on a generic human representation which is the same for all passengers. It is very important that the point be made clear that it is the same. The technology removes the need for a human operator to look at raw or detailed images and therefore maintains the privacy and modesty of all individuals. In addition, body scanners introduced in Australia will not be capable of storing or transmitting any information or data. There has also been extensive consultation to ensure that body scanners meet health and safety requirements. The ProVision millimetre-wave body scanner will be introduced, being the only one that currently meets the government's requirements.

Also it is important to note that the introduction of body scanners will not interfere with the rights of people to wear traditional, religious or cultural attire. As I said before, when it comes to scanning there are no defining characteristics and the operator is not given any raw images but, rather, stick figures that represent only a male or a female image. It is very important that we are of that.

Body screening will also protect a passenger's modesty. Full body frisking—if we look at the comparison—can include a full and thorough search of the entire body and may even require the removal of some clothing. When you look at that differentiation, it is unlikely that a passenger selected for screening would opt for a full body frisk rather than body screening.

The government does understand that some screening technologies, including body scanners, may not be suitable for all individuals due to special circumstances—for example, in light of an individual's disabilities or other medical conditions. We are very much aware of that. Individuals who cannot undergo certain screening procedures due to physical or medical conditions will be screened by alternative methods suited to their circumstances, and it is very important that we address all those privacy concerns that have been raised.

It is important that we take this added step in terms of body scanners to ensure the safety and security of our international airports, particularly when we look at the massive rise in international air travel and what it means for our country in tourism and trade and how it is such a strong economic driver. But at the same time we have to be very mindful of ensuring that we have very strict and very thorough security regimes in place. I think most travellers appreciate and understand the necessity of having such levels of security, the reasons they need to be increased and why having body scanners is so vitally important.

When we look at the role of international airports we can see how important they are as economic drivers. I certainly see that in my electorate on the North Coast of New South Wales. Indeed, we have the Gold Coast airport, which crosses Commonwealth land between Queensland and New South Wales. It is an expanding airport and, in terms of being an economic driver for northern New South Wales and also for South-East Queensland, it is vitally important. We have seen an increase in international travel with visitors coming to all parts of our region and, of course, that brings massive economic benefits, not just the increases in jobs at the airport itself but in the surrounding areas in tourism and retail. So I certainly understand firsthand the importance of international air travel and also the role that airports play within our communities.

From my background in policing, I have a strong understanding and appreciation of the need for enhanced security systems, particularly in environments where we have to be always very vigilant. Looking at the terrorist activities in the past, we need to be always very concerned that we are acting in the best interests of all people who are travelling through our international airports and providing the highest amount of protection that we possibly can. That is why this government is very committed to making sure that we do have body scanners at our international airports. We want to make sure that we have a very robust and effective aviation security screening regime and that is why we are introducing this bill. I commend the bill to the House.