The bill before us is based on the view that one existing security requirement, the creation of what are known as transport security plans, is placing an unacceptably high administrative burden on small airports that are assessed as less at-risk than large airports in our major cities. There is no suggestion of any change relating to our major domestic or our international airports. But we do have to ask ourselves whether it makes sense to require operators of a small airstrip in a rural area to adopt the same security measures as, say, Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport or Melbourne Airport. This legislation responds to expert advice which concluded that, when it comes to these smaller airports, the level of red tape involved in the TSP process is excessive when weighed against the security threats which these airports face. Accordingly, the legislation proposes the creation of a model TSP for small industry participants. This model would ensure that operators were aware of their responsibilities under the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004. It would allow operators of airports assessed as low risk to focus on implementing and maintaining the robust measures in their plan rather than focus on red tape and reports for the Commonwealth. It is an issue of informed risk management.
It’s important to note that most of these smaller airports are owned by local government. Local ratepayers pay sometimes substantial funds in terms of a proportion of a small rural or regional local government body as a percentage of their overall budget. Therefore, reducing the administrative burden on these airport operators is really common sense. The opposition will be supporting this legislation. It has broad support across the aviation sector and across the owners and operators of these airports. It has also been positively examined by the appropriate Senate committee.
Arrangements concerning TSPs are contained in the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004. A transport security plan sets out the measures and procedures that industry participants need to implement to meet their regulatory obligations. The plans must demonstrate that operators are aware of their responsibility to contribute to the maintenance of aviation security; have in place an integrated, responsible and proactive approach to managing aviation security; have the capacity to meet the specific obligations imposed under the act; and have taken into account their local security risk context in developing activities and strategies for managing aviation security.
Transport security plans are assessed and approved by the Department of Home Affairs. When it comes to our busy capital city or major regional city airports, transport security plans are critical tools for the maintenance of public safety. It’s appropriate that major airports develop plans that are specific for the infrastructure and the local environment that those airports operate in. The major airports must not only commit themselves to safety but also be able to demonstrate their preparedness to act when action is required. But, when it comes to smaller operators with lower security risks, the government has concluded that reform is necessary, and I think that the government is right.
At this point, it is appropriate to consider exactly how the Department of Home Affairs assesses risk when it comes to airports. Accordingly to the explanatory memorandum, risk assessments are informed by intelligence and characteristics of industry participants, such as location, proximity to important pieces of infrastructure, passengers numbers and the types of services being provided. Risk profiles can change based on changes to these factors. For example, an airport might experience a sharp increase in passenger numbers, or it might commence new services involving larger aircraft.
The bill before us would release smaller airports with low-risk profiles from the requirement to create individual, tailor-made transport security plans. Instead, the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, or that person’s delegate, will be able to give an airport a secretary-issued transport security plan. Essentially this is a model transport security plan. Instead of having to spend considerable funds developing unique plans, this model will be able to be applied across smaller airports. This model will set out the operators’ obligations, but it won’t require them to produce detailed planning documents and assessments explaining their obligations, based on the fact that they have been assessed as low risk.
It’s always been my view, on issues of transport safety, that the parliament should work collaboratively and heed the advice of the experts. The real question we face with this bill is whether we can be assured that, in reducing red tape for small airports, we will not be reducing security standards. The Australian Airports Association, which represents 340 airports, ranging from small airstrips in rural and regional areas to large international airports, has come to the view that the changes will support current security outcomes. The Northern Territory government, which administers many of the smaller airstrips that will be affected by this change, also supports the bill—in fact, it’s been arguing that it might not go quite far enough.
The Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee has examined the bill and correctly focused on the critical question of the need to weigh risk against expense and red tape. The committee recommended that the parliament support this legislation. It said in its recommendations:
The committee considers security in aviation to be critically important in ensuring the safety of all Australians. However, security requirements should be commensurate with the level of risk, as should the administrative burden imposed by such requirements.
The committee considers that the bill provides this kind of risk-based approach to security requirements in the aviation industry. The measures in the bill would benefit government and industry, as well as the general public, by reducing the regulatory burden on certain industry participants while maintaining security outcomes.
This is a sensible approach on behalf of the Senate committee.
I make this point. I have expressed some concern about aviation security being transferred to the Department of Home Affairs, because the Department of Home Affairs doesn’t have the same level of expertise that historically aviation security, being placed within the department of infrastructure, with an experienced aviation sector, has had. I have cautioned the government to ensure that, whenever it proposes an increase in security measures, it ensures that this is indeed practical. If you increase arrangements in regional airports to the point where those regional airports cannot operate commercially and shut down then you have achieved an objective of ensuring there can be no security incidents because you won’t have any passengers and you won’t have any flights! I think that some of the proposals that have been floated raise that very concern. I say to the members opposite—there are members here who represent regional communities, and I know that those communities rely very much upon aviation—they must ensure that those proposals are examined critically. I take the view that—and I have said this to the minister—aviation security should never be an issue of partisan debate in this parliament, ever. We have not done that. When I was the minister, that didn’t occur either. We work on the basis of the national interest when it comes to these issues. But I am concerned that people might literally be put out of business if we take the advice of some people who regard themselves as security experts, who don’t have the practical experience of the reality of running some of these smaller airports in our regions.
I say that in a spirit of cooperation about the legislation before us today, which does represent common sense. It is a commonsense response to an issue that some would regard as a loosening of provisions. I don’t regard it as that. I regard it as just a commonsense provision that will produce outcomes that are just as secure but without having the cost that individual transport security plans currently incur.
We have a view that we should always listen to the experts on issues of transport security and safety. Equally, we must always work cooperatively in this parliament to secure the best outcomes. Last time we were in government, we made some difficult decisions, rolling out the latest security technology at the nation’s airports, including next-generation body scanners, multiview X-ray machines and bottle scanners capable of detecting liquid based explosives.
These issues are difficult. Indeed, when we proposed the introduction of the full-body scanners, there were some who suggested that this would undermine civil liberties and would create privacy issues. We ensured that we used the best technology possible. We even had installed, up on the second floor, full-body scanners so that members of parliament, staff and journalists could go through and see precisely what would occur in practice with the operation of these full-body scanners, which of course don’t identify anything other than a generic male and a generic female when they go through those body scanners. The issues of privacy which were raised have not arisen, and I’m not aware of any controversy at all behind the implementation of that policy. The then opposition, under Warren Truss as the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport, worked cooperatively with me.
I say to the government that that cooperation needs to continue as it moves forward and we address new challenges raised by the fact that those who would do us harm are nimble, from time to time, and government responses therefore have to be nimble as well. When we were in government, we also improved cargo screening and tightened arrangements around the Aviation Security Identification Card scheme, and we improved training of screening staff. We take aviation security very seriously, as we should as a parliament.
I commend this bill to the House. I congratulate the government on coming up with a proposal that will, I believe, maintain security while reducing costs. That’s a good outcome for the nation.