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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5327

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (17:38): The tragic events of 11 September 2001 changed the world forever. After 9/11 questions were understandably asked about and criticism levelled at the effectiveness of security at the time. All 19 hijackers from the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda involved in those dreadful suicide attacks against America and against freedom using four hijacked passenger jets were able to pass existing checkpoints and board the aircraft. Since the attacks, in which 2,996 lives were lost and 6,000 people were injured, security at many airports worldwide has been considerably strengthened.

The legislation before the House, the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012, implements several amendments to facilitate the introduction of body scanners at international airports in Australia. It would be reasonable to say there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable with some of what this bill proposes, even though all would agree with the tenet of the legislation and what it proposes to achieve or, rather, what it aims to avoid. No-one in their right mind wants a repeat of 9/11 and those awful images burned into the conscience of a bereaved world. To do all we can to ensure such an act of mass murder does not happen again will require some inconvenience, some level of unwanted intrusion.

Body scanning screening security will bother those subjected to it. It will put people out. It will aggravate and annoy them, even infuriate some. But this must be done for the greater good of a society in which people expect to be able to board planes without fear of bad and mad terrorists perpetrating their wickedness on the world.

In the bill's amendments, section 41A is inserted. It assumes consent for any screening procedure, except for a frisk search, at a screening point unless the person expressly refuses consent. Section 44 is amended to allow the Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005 to handle people unable to pass through a screening point. Sections 44(3), 44(3A) and 44(3B) are inserted to list but not restrict the types of equipment which can be used for screening and specify that where body scanning equipment is used the image generated must be gender-neutral and non-identifiable. That is of the utmost importance for people and their privacy. The amendments repeal section 95A, which allows a person to choose a frisk search over another screening procedure.

Why has all of this become necessary? On Christmas Day 2009, a 23-year-old Nigerian Islamist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to detonate plastic explosives sewn to his underwear on Northwest Airlines flight NW253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. There were 290 passengers onboard—innocent people for whom the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who claimed to have organised the attack and supplied the would-be bomber with the improvised explosive device, had absolutely no regard. Abdulmutallab had successfully concealed the bomb in his underwear through security screening in Yemen and Amsterdam. It went undetected because it did not contain metallic elements. The potentially deadly bomb failed to detonate, instead catching fire and making popping noises, at which point Abdulmutallab was tackled, restrained and handcuffed while the pilot safely landed the plane. In response to what could have been a shocking tragedy, the United States increased the installation and use of full-body scanners in many of its major airports. The scanners are designed to be able to detect bombs under clothing, and 11 airports, including O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, began to receive the machines in March 2010.

Here in Australia, the government announced a package of measures to heighten aviation security on 9 February 2010. This announcement committed $200 million for new security technologies, increased policing at airports, improved security procedures and bolstered international cooperation. The package included $28.5 million for optimal technologies, including body scanners. The introduction of body scanners is supported by the Department of Infrastructure and Transport's Office of Transport Security. This technology is already used in Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications tabled its report about this bill on 9 May 2012, recommending unanimously that this legislation be passed. A Senate inquiry is underway and scheduled to report next Wednesday.

Non-metallic explosives still pose a very real and deadly threat to safe air travel as shown by the fact that earlier this month an upgraded version of the underwear bomb was seized by the Central Intelligence Agency. Unfortunately, there are people in this world whose hatred for the Western way of life, fuelled by religious and ethnic intolerance, puts them on a suicidal path of mass destruction. These people must be stopped. They must be locked away. If installing body scanners at international airports in Australia means limiting the risk of terrorism then that is a positive measure, a good thing. Too many families—too many Australian parents—today mourn loved ones lost because of terrorism. Young Riverina men David Mavroudis, Clint Thompson and Shane Walsh Till were among 88 Australians killed in the Bali bombing on 12 October 2002. Shane was a mate of mine. This was not a plane hijacking or in-flight bomb attack but nevertheless an act of barbarism which stuck at the heart of our peace-loving way of life. It was a grim reminder of how vigilant we must be in our homeland security to do whatever we can to minimise the threat of such appalling occurrences taking place here or on outbound planes.

The only body scanner which fulfils the government's requirements is the L-3 Communications ProVision millimetre-wave body scanner. Passengers to go through scanners will be selected on a random basis, as is the case for existing explosives testing. I know the member for Hume has expressed reservations about the safety of the equipment for people who, like him, have pacemakers and defibrillators. My coalition colleague appreciates the necessity of this legislation; however, he is also right to question whether the actual scanning could be in any way harmful to someone carrying heart-saving technology.

Due to the extremely low power level of the scanner, it will not be able to detect internal medical insertions such as pacemakers or metal hips. The scanner uses a weak beam of radio waves transmitted at the person being scanned from two rotating masts inside the device. The exposure from the being in the scanner for 1.5 to 2.5 seconds is said to be less than what you would experience routinely during a flight and with 10,000 times less radio frequency energy than an average mobile telephone call. Energy reflected by the body or any other object on the body is received by the machine and analysed by the device's software. If an anomaly is detected, a small box indicating its location is superimposed on a generic human image which is displayed for closer inspection by screening staff. The machines are not capable of storing or transmitting any information or data. The scanning will be culturally sensitive in that passengers will not be required to remove any religious items or clothing.

Being held up at an airport for a safety test is usually a hassle and invariably it occurs whenever you have the least amount of time to get to the boarding gate. But for safety's sake it is a necessary incursion in our modern life and if it helps to detect one—just one—person attempting to wreak havoc, then it is well worth the effort. I commend the bill to the House.