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Monday, 4 September 2006
Page: 94

Senator SCULLION (6:21 PM) —I have to say that it was with continued disappointment that I listened to the contribution from the other side. They stand to have originally stated that they supported the Aviation Transport Security Amendment Bill 2006—and why wouldn’t you? It is a very non-contentious piece of legislation that simply adds once again to the very strong security of our transportation system—in this case, the aviation system. I am again very disappointed that they see it as an opportunity to throw absolutely baseless barbs at the government on what I—and most Australians—consider our impeccable record.

As most parliamentarians would know, not only through wide reading but also, simply, because they travel a great deal, the security upgrades at regional airports are not, as the senator opposite has indicated, in need of a great deal of upgrading and cause for worry and concern; perhaps cause to not even travel. I think it is baseless scaremongering. This government has a great deal to be proud of.

There are some very strict procedures in place at every regional airport to prevent the mixing of screened and unscreened passengers. I travelled extensively in regional and rural Australia before I came to this place, and before 1996, and I can tell you that no-one is in any doubt that this system has been vastly improved—not only with improvements since this government came to power but also in an international context. The way that we have improved the security system of baggage handling and airport security generally is the envy of the world. They are often looking to us to ensure that the sorts of changes that they make to their own systems reflect a system that works very well for us in Australia. Passengers that disembark from a regional service and leave the terminal cannot access a sterile area without submitting themselves again for screening, which is one example of where those opposite say, ‘Well, nothing has been done.’ But if you travel in regional and rural Australia—it may appear to be stating the obvious—you will see how this government has put in a huge effort to ensure that not only do we travel safely but also there is an appearance of that.

I do not see vast crowds of nervous people at airports. In fact, every day as we increase those security measures commensurate with the assessment of the current risk to security—and they do go up—I see people showing a bit of frustration. There is certainly not a fear but there is a bit of a frustration about the continued increasing levels of security. It is tremendous to note that we have managed to achieve this increased security level without putting up the price of regional travel. Coming from an electorate that contains a lot of people that travel regionally, I recognise the importance of keeping those costs down. That is why I think that this government’s approach of ensuring the infrastructure has been dealt with in the way it has is a testament to good government.

This bill amends the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 to improve across the board the operational arrangements for aviation security in two principal areas: the regulation of cargo inspection and the handling of special events at the airports, which concerns what the industry calls airside security. You need to have mechanisms in place to ensure that for special events you can regulate to change the environment adjacent to the airports within particular spatial security areas. The amendments will, with regard to the special events, allow the special landside and airside event zones to be described in the same way as the existing arrangements currently allow landside and airside security zones to be described by the operators.

The security rules that will apply within the event zones can be tailored. There is the key: it is all about recognising that the operational needs of an airport have to be flexible. The amendments that this government has quite rightly put forward again reflect this operational need for flexibility. In both a business sense and an operational sense it would be wonderful to be able to say that planes fly in the same way with the same amount of people of the same height and with the same sorts of baggage requirements, but the reality is that airports have to cater for a whole range of different flexible needs. Certainly, as you, Mr Acting Deputy President Lightfoot, with your own experience in these matters would well know, many of the airports have a dual role of both civilian and defence. We need that multiplicity of zoning in the future and the flexibility to be able to deal with different operational environments.

The second area of amendment concerning cargo handling is designed to better allow for cargo to be managed under the Aviation Transport Security Act, the ATSA. The aim is not only to maintain the scope of the current cargo scheme but also to create the framework in which a layered approach to cargo security can be introduced more effectively than under the current legislative arrangement.

Senator George Campbell interjecting—

Senator SCULLION —We are not resting on our laurels, Senator George Campbell. I appreciate that you must be very impressed with the changes we have made. We continue to improve the system and, of course, the wider Australian public are appreciative recipients of that leadership we apply in this matter.

Security responsibilities will have to be graduated to reflect the increasing association with aviation and imposed using the concept of the examination of all cargo in the end. This is similar to the existing provisions around screening because it allows the flexibility for the examination to take place before the cargo reaches the security controlled airport—again, the practicality of not waiting until you get to a security area before you examine it. We will now have a process where cargo can be examined in an area that has the capacity and amenities to provide for those things before we add the impost of extra activities within a very small area. This again shows the government’s flexibility, reflecting our wide knowledge in these matters.

In summary, the amendments are about tailoring and strengthening the security arrangements in a way that is consistent with the actual operational requirements of business. I am proud to say that this government is all about reflecting the need to provide a regulatory and operational environment that allows business to conduct their operations as seamlessly and effectively as possible. The wider beneficiaries are those Australians who travel and want to feel safe when they are travelling, but there is also the fact that there is no incumbent cost because of the efficiencies that business has in this matter.

These amendments would also allow for better aviation security outcomes in the future. They are a part of the Australian government’s ongoing commitment to securing the aviation industry. From an industry perspective, they want to see these amendments to the existing regulatory framework. This bill starts the process of enhancing the aviation security framework set out in the ATSA. This is quite a simple process. I am sad that those on the other side see this as an opportunity to belt government when they should be applauding their processes. The amendments we put forward today are fairly simple. They reflect the wishes of industry. The wishes of industry are that the government understand and recognise the imperative to continue to move forward and to provide a better regulatory environment for the security both of those people who travel on our airplanes and of the cargo, and to ensure that business has no further costs imposed on it. There are so many ways in which this government has made sure that we have put in place a strong aviation security regime across the board.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm