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"Aviation security and its impact on the aviation industry". Speech to Asia Pacific Airport & Aviation Security Summit 2005, 28 November 2005

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Senator Kerry O’Brien

Shadow Minister for Transport

“Aviation security and its impact on the aviation industry”

Speech to Asia Pacific Airport & Aviation Security Summit 2005

28 November 2005

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1. Introduction

Good morning.

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

Just over four years ago the world witnessed civilian aircraft being used as weapons of mass destruction.

The images of those aircraft slamming into the World Trade Centre have ensured that Transport security, especially aviation has become amongst the highest priorities for the Australian travelling public.

It is clearly a priority for you here today and I assure you it for Federal Labor.

Security is not an issue with which anyone should play politics.

It is simply too important.

You won’t be surprised that today I will criticise the Howard Government and its approach to transport security.

Whilst I am a politician, my criticism today has much more to do with securing the Australian people and our transport sector than scoring points.

Labor has always adopted a bi-partisan approach to security and wherever possible we have worked with the Government to ensure that the travelling public are adequately protected.

As Shadow Minister for Transport I understand that security settings must be robust enough to protect the transport industry, the users of the industry, whilst not stifling growth and innovation in the transport sector.


As we further develop our policies for the 2007 election, I will continue to work closely with my Shadow Ministerial colleague, Arch Bevis, Shadow Minister for Homeland Security.

We will work to ensure that Labor’s policy reflects the need to minimise potential threats, while ensuring that an appropriate balance is struck between safety, security and industry development.

As I said earlier, I will criticise the Howard Government’s inaction on transport security this morning.

I will also outline Federal Labor’s perspective on the issue of aviation security.

2. Howard Government’s record on aviation security

Four years on from the events of September 11 2001 the Howard Government still has not got its act together on aviation security.

It was not until 30 months after those catastrophic events that the Howard Government brought specific legislation to parliament to tighten up security.

And it wasn’t until March 2005 that much of the detailed aviation security regulations went into force.

Despite these delays, the Government has still not got it right.

Wheeler Report

Some four years after September 11 the Government finally engaged British expert Sir John Wheeler to conduct a review of aviation security in this country.

Sir John’s 150 page report documenting the failures in Australian aviation security was handed to the Government September this year.

Labor welcomes the recommendations of the Wheeler Review.

Given recent comments made by Senator Amanda Vanstone in relation to the Government’s real agenda for aviation security - to make people feel better, rather than to actually secure their safety - it is to be hoped the Howard Government will get serious about implementing the Wheeler recommendations.

The Wheeler Report exposed the Government’s mismanagement of airport security, citing “completely inadequate” information-sharing arrangements, the need for better intelligence on criminal and illegal activity at airports and the need to x-ray cargo on passenger flights.

The report also echoed Labor’s long-held concerns about regional airports, saying: “Regional and smaller airports demand more attention.”


Labor welcomes the Government’s support of the Wheeler recommendation of expanded Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) coverage at airports but questions why so long after the events of 2001, why such a basic item is only

now being addressed.

Labor is pleased to see Wheeler recommend a specialist police unit for airports.

While details of those units need to be worked out, they do accord with longstanding Labor policy.

The creation of police commanders at airports is a positive step but it highlights the need for better co-ordination throughout the counter-terrorism system.

It’s Labor’s view that the creation of a centralised Department of Homeland Security is the most effective way to co-ordinate Australia’s counter terrorism effort.

Government performance

It is important to note that long before the Wheeler report, alarm bells were ringing regarding gaps in Australia’s aviation security system.

Back in January 2003 the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) identified alarming failures in management of airport security by the Government.

The ANAO said

“in practice, DOTARS’ interactions with airports and airlines lack the robustness required to maximise industry compliance throughout the chain of authority. As a consequence, repeat aviation security breaches continue to occur.”

Even more worrying was their finding that earlier reported shortcomings had not been rectified.

The report noted

”DOTARS has made little progress to implement the 1998 audit recommendations, many of which still have the potential to substantially improve current processes.”

The fact that ANAO found the Government failed to act on the 1998 report is a cause for deep concern.

It suggests the Howard Government lacks direction on transport security.


It also gives little cause to hope that the ANAO 2003 recommendations or indeed those of Sir John Wheeler will be speedily and effectively implemented.

A classic example of the sorts of security gaps we are talking about is the issue of aviation security identity cards (ASICs).

Qantas recently told a Senate Committee that some 384 ASICs issued by the Department of Transport and Regional Services could not be located.

ASICs are held out by the Government to be one of the pillars of the aviation security regime.

But with at least 384 ASICs in the hands of unknown persons, questions arise about the whole security framework.

It is not clear how many more security cards have gone missing, besides those identified by Qantas.

The Wheeler report notes the lack of a centralised list of those who hold an ASIC, particularly in light of the fact that there are almost 190 issuing bodies.

It is an area that the Howard Government must urgently address.

Inspector of Transport Security

In December 2003, the Howard Government announced the creation of the position of Inspector of Transport Security.

Labor supported the establishment of the position as a means of allowing for continual review and improvement of the transport security framework.

But to be effective the holder of this office must be able to operate in an efficient manner, removed from political influence.

In establishing the Inspector position, the Government announced that it would:

"investigate major incidents or systemic problems in aviation and maritime security.

We were further told the position would

“effectively separate the regulatory and major incident investigation functions."

Whilst apparently recognising the importance of the role, the Howard Government did fill the position until 12 months later when it finally appointed former Police Commissioner Mick Palmer to the post.


But no sooner did he get his feet under the desk than Mr Palmer was dispatched by the Government to sort out the mess in the Immigration Department.

This left Mr Palmer’s security post unfilled for 7 months.

A Senate Committee recently heard that Mr Palmer has worked just sixteen days as Inspector in almost a year and has been paid about $30,000.

Mr Palmer also told the Committee that most of his activities have been and I quote him “meet and greet”.

Additionally, we still have not seen the legislation - even in draft form - that would empower the Inspector to undertake any form of investigation.

If an incident were to occur tomorrow, the Inspector of Transport Security would be reliant on the cooperation of other organisations in order to undertake his role.

The position of Inspector of Transport Security is supposed to be part of Australia’s fight against terrorism.

It appears to date it has been simply an expensive ‘meet and greet’ exercise.

3. Labor’s approach

I would now like to spend some time detailing Labor’s approach in relation to aviation security - the issues that remain unaddressed, the need to minimise cost burdens on the aviation industry and the institutional arrangements that should underpin the security framework.

The Need for a Single Homeland Security Department

I will start with the institutional arrangements.

A fundamental tenet of Labor’s security policy is the need for a Department of Homeland Security.

Under the current arrangements, responsibility for Homeland Security functions sits across a wide range of agencies in a number of different Departments.

The result: repeated incidents of poor security in high concern areas including airports.

In contrast, when Australia was confronted with the major challenge of providing security for the 2000 Olympics, a single security co-ordinating body was established.


This was a national response, involving State and Commonwealth agencies that included police, the ADF, private security and volunteer staff totalling up to 11,500 on peak days.

The Federal Government rightly saw the importance of combining critical security agencies under one command in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics.

It seems strange then that the Government has avoided restructuring its own departments to provide a similar single structure for homeland security.

Since September 2001 Labor has advocated a single Homeland Security Department that encompasses the key agencies involved in information and intelligence gathering, border protection, a national coast guard, transport security and incident response capability.

The Howard Government’s insistence on splitting these functions over a number of Departments invites a potential catastrophe caused by overlap, wastage, confusion and missed opportunities.

Issues canvassed with Sir John Wheeler

As I noted earlier, Labor takes aviation security very seriously.

At this point in the electoral cycle, and as we continue to develop policies to take to the Australian people in 2007, our job is also to ensure that the Government does not let any further gaps develop in the system.

I will now touch on some of the key areas in which Labor believes the Howard Government must act to ensure transport security.

A National Standard

The absence of a single, effective, national co-ordinating authority is reflected in the very different standards and procedures followed at our major airports.

Whilst national standards are issued, their implementation is inconsistent, even in critical areas such as baggage checking.

The 2003 ANAO report noted this.

The Howard Government must get serious about co-ordinating the security effort nationally and back it up with adequate audit and compliance to ensure the integrity of the system across the nation.

Regional Airports

A large number of regional airports with more than 50,000 passenger movements a day are still not required to have passenger screening.


Screening of passengers and ground staff at regional airports is necessary for the integrity of national airport security.

Security Staff Screening

At certain major airports, the employment of short-term staff results in people without ASICs being placed in secure areas.

In some cases, security staff members located at access points leading from the public areas to the sterile areas do not have ASIC clearances.

Inadequate staff security vetting of casual and labour hire staff represents a serious breach of airport security.

Security Staff Training

Currently, aviation security guards are required to hold only a Level 2 Certificate, a fairly basic level training qualification.

Given the nature of this role, consideration needs to be given as to whether a higher qualification and consequent higher level of training should be required for aviation security guards

There may even be scope for agencies such as the Australian Federal Police Protective Service to play a greater role in either training or direct delivery of services as airports.

Non Security Airport Staff Training

Non-security staff who work on the airside of the tarmac need to have a working knowledge of security arrangements.

Moreover, they can provide another layer of security - they are effectively the eyes and ears of the airport and are well placed to notice when something is not as it should be.

Unfortunately, as some recent cases have demonstrated, baggage handlers have had to provide front line security by confronting intruders.

Training of these staff in responding to such circumstances and in handling suspect articles or baggage is clearly a necessary part of the security framework.

Temporary and Non Airport Workers


I have already noted Labor’s concerns about the issuing of day passes to workers who are not security cleared and do not have an ASIC.

However, there is another area in which airside workers are unlikely to have ASICs. This involves construction and contract maintenance workers.

In many cases it may well be impractical to expect such workers to have an ASIC.

Consideration should be given to temporary physical barriers and the employment of additional security staff to monitor these sites.

Simply relying on closed circuit television (CCTV) for this purpose is inadequate, particularly in situations where a small number of operators monitor a large number of CCTV screens.

Perimeter Security

Whilst perimeter security is the responsibility of the airport operator the Federal Government must ensure that all airports maintain the integrity of their property.

Continuing incidences of perimeter security breaches demonstrates the unsatisfactory nature of current arrangements.

Sir John Wheeler noted that use CCTV equipment is often of greater security benefit than perimeter fencing - particularly in relation to remote and rural airports.

Yet, the Howard Government continues to spend money on fencing.


CCTV is a vital tool in monitoring events at airports.

The large number of CCTV cameras required to fully cover important areas, coupled with the typically small number of staff monitoring them, inevitably means that CCTV is used mainly as a post incident investigative tool.

There may be opportunities, particularly with good intelligence which would enable CCTV to be more effective as a real time as a preventative measure.

Given the large areas to be monitored, consideration should be given to motion activated alerts on CCTV to increase the opportunity for these images to be used to monitor at the perimeter and access points.

A national standard for the time CCTV recordings are kept should be adopted and consideration should be given to a standard format such as digital rather than VHS tape.


Sniffer Dogs

Sniffer dogs provide an effective and cost efficient means of identifying explosives, drugs and quarantine substances.

At present, their use in detecting explosives is limited.

The Government should increase the number of dogs trained to detect explosives.

It is Labor’s view that the number of dogs currently available for this purpose is far below that required to provide adequate screening.

Air Cargo

Whilst the focus in aviation security has understandably been on airports and passenger aircraft, cargo and freight aircraft also present potential targets for terrorists.

Labor has received many comments form workers in this field who are concerned that cargo is inadequately screened.

Whilst customs screens all incoming international cargo for illegal materials, screening of domestic cargo is given less attention by airport security agencies.

This is an area that clearly needs further attention.

Overseas Airport Security

A significant number of aircraft arrive from overseas departure points which have inadequate security screening of baggage and/or passengers.

Many of our nearest neighbours have systemic weaknesses in process at airports.

This presents a potential weakness that could be exploited by terrorists and/or criminals.

Additional screening and security for aircraft and passengers from these locations needs to be factored into Australia’s aviation security framework.

In addition, the Australian Government needs to work with Governments from these nations and where appropriate, provide assistance to these airport operators to raise the standard of security.


Assistance needs to be in the form of capacity building training up local people, to ensure that over time these airports are able to maintain adequate levels of security expertise in-house.

Balance - the Need to distinguish between criminal activity and security risks

Finally I would like to touch on a very important principle that must be adhered to in the development of security policy - both in transport and the wide range of other sectors.

That is the principle of balance - of ensuring that the security framework at airports, ports and other transport facilities is appropriate.

It is clear that all terrorists are criminals, but not all criminals are terrorists - and appropriate mechanisms for addressing each must be built into the security and policing framework.

Neither criminal activity, nor terrorist activity are acceptable at Australian airports, however each must be addressed in the appropriate manner.

Federal Labor fully supports background checking of employees by ASIO - seeking to establish any links between individuals and terrorist groups, or any previous history of politically motivated violence.

It is the issue of criminal background checking that needs to be carefully managed - and must be based on clear risk assessment.

Screening for past criminal activity to prevent people holding positions at airports must have some tangible link to a risk of terrorism.

If a person has made a mistake, and paid their debt to society, they should not be prevented from re-establishing themselves in the community.

They must not be automatically prevented from meaningful work at airports or other areas of the transport sector on the basis of past activity for which they have paid their penalty.

More effective methods of preventing criminal activity could include activities such as intelligence gathering, community policing, physical screening, and CCTV surveillance.

4. Industry Development

Before closing I would like to touch on an important aspect of aviation security.

That is the question of who should bear the costs and how to protect the industry generally from paying too high a cost.


As Shadow Minister for Transport, I take the view that we need to get the balance right.

Clearly, a terrorist incident on a plane or in an airport would have a devastating cost in financial terms to the aviation industry - as well as to the wider tourism and business sectors in this country.

Brisbane Airport quantified the cost to their operations to a recent parliamentary inquiry into aviation security - suggesting that a two-week shut-down would bring about a $7 million immediate cost.

However, it is a question of balance.

The CSIRO made the following assertion to the same parliamentary inquiry:

… the cost to implement extensive systems that could potentially guarantee total safety are beyond the financial resources of the travelling public and governments, as well as a significant impediment to the use

of the service and an excessive response to the estimated risk

Industry has borne the cost of the security enhancements since September 2001.

This has been categorised by all as a legitimate cost of doing business.

However in light of recent fuel price spikes, increased competitive forces from overseas airlines, and the potential for shock in the industry, for example on the back of a bird flu pandemic, it is important that further enhancements to the security framework are based on tangible benefits - not political advantage.

I have outlined this morning a range of areas where the existing framework can be strengthened.

Most of these involve little or no additional cost to industry.

I also take the view that the security framework can be greatly enhanced through practice - regular and random exercises designed to test the systems that are in place.

Enforcement and compliance serve to strengthen existing systems, and identify areas where the Government can provide assistance to the industry.

This is an important, but seemingly under-valued, component of the overall system

5. Conclusion


Transport security is a key plank of Homeland security.

Homeland security needs a whole of government response.

That is best done through a single Homeland Security Department as proposed by Labor.

To date, The Howard Government has talked plenty about beefing up transport security, but as successive ANAO reports and the Wheeler report show; there’s been a lot more talk from the Howard Government than serious and effective action.

Labor, will continue to engage constructively in the debate on Security, both inside and outside the Parliament.

We will continue to seek the measured and correct balance in the laws needed to combat terrorism so that our basic freedoms and rights are not sacrificed.

As we develop our policy we will strive to get the balance right in terms of cost to industry and the travelling public and an effective level of security.

In the meantime, we will continue to hold the Howard Government to account for its policies and administration of this most vital of tasks.

Thanks again for allowing me to address you today.