Feb 13, 2017

Bills – Transport Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:33): I rise to support the Transport Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2016—even though I note that it is 2017 before we have got around to actually debating this legislation. As I indicated on behalf of the Labor Party during the last debate, it is my view that aviation security must always come before partisan politics. This has always been my commitment. I have pursued it both in government and in opposition. This legislation provides for some simple but necessary changes that will ensure that Australia is up to date with a modern system of transport security. Importantly, it seeks to ensure the right balance between privacy and security, upholding Australia’s commitment to an equal and non-discriminatory screening program.

All Australians expect that the Commonwealth will ensure that ongoing vigilance, particularly in the aviation sector, is awarded the utmost importance. Transport safety in today’s world is dynamic. Governments must respond to threats as they emerge with appropriate legislative changes. This legislation will play an essential role in ensuring that this continues to occur. It will update the process that airports use for the screening of people, vehicles and goods which are already in a security zone at an airport, bringing it in line with international standards. While legislation currently permits screening of people, vehicles and goods when entering a security zone, there is no additional provision for the random screening of these when they are already inside the security zone.

Put simply, this will allow for the scrutiny of a person, a vehicle or a package which has already gone through security screening and is at the gate inside an airport or in the shopping centres that exist around international airports, in particular, but many of our domestic airports as well. It is, I think, a practical suggestion in responding to what might be future threats. The main aim of this legislation is to provide this authority, but I do note that it also reinforces that we do not have in any of our screening procedures racial profiling or profiling of any other sort. We have in place, I think, very good security provisions at airports, and this provides just another layer which, on the advice of experts, the government believes is necessary and therefore the opposition will be supportive of. The use of this authority will be a matter between the airport and the Office of Transport Security, the government body that approves transport security plans for each airport. The government has indicated that these arrangements will initially apply at nine airports, including all of the mainland capitals as well as the Gold Coast and Cairns airports, which are significant tourism destinations and, indeed, significant international arrival and departure points.

Importantly, this legislation sits alongside enhanced security awareness training for employees and contractors who work in security zones. It also authorises greater delegation of powers under aviation and maritime transport security legislation to facilitate quicker responses. While the government has highlighted removal of regulatory constraint as a benefit, Labor believes that transport security is too important to simply be an exercise in extending light-handed regulation. Regulatory settings should always be reviewed, but Labor’s main reason for supporting this legislation was, first and foremost, because it updated security measures so they are consistent with world standards. The legislation also includes an additional sensible option to enhance the central objective of removing threats to aviation security.

Australia has always taken aviation security seriously. We are a signatory to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention. Recently, the International Civil Aviation Organization, established under the Chicago Convention, has increased standards for screening of persons, goods and vehicles in security controlled zones at airports. Australian legislation should be updated to reflect this higher standard, which is what this bill will achieve.

We have, from time to time, responded to events that have occurred internationally. When I was the minister over the Christmas period of one year, we had what became known as the ‘undie bomber’, which required a very busy January as throughout the world we responded very quickly to put in place changed regulations. We also, as a result of that incident and other perceived threats, introduced here in Australia full body scanners. We undertook a process whereby we examined world’s best practice. We introduced, I believe, the best system—the most thorough in the world. At the time, the shadow minister, Warren Truss, gave full support to that. There were some people who argued that we could not actually bring in full body scanners, that people had a right to refuse. The legislation that was carried before this parliament was tough legislation. Indeed, it has a no-scan, no-fly policy—the toughest of the options that were put up—and that was supported by both sides of parliament. I thank the now government, the then opposition, for the fact that they did not play politics with that. There were attempts by some, on the basis of perceived civil liberties interference, who said that these mechanisms should not be given support. We went to a great deal of trouble, including locating body scanners here at Parliament House so that members of parliament, members of the media and anyone else who was interested could go through and see in real circumstances the way that they would operate. If there had been an issue with those full body scanners, I would have had a health problem because I went through them hundreds and hundreds of times, demonstrating for others that they were essentially emitting fewer waves than people’s mobile phones. Getting across the reality of a response as opposed to the potential for a scare campaign is often at the heart of security issues.

The government has done a very good job, in my view, of providing assurances so that people will not be singled out on the basis of any particular characteristic that they may have. There is a diligence contained in this legislation which is consistent with our non-discriminatory policy when it comes to all of these issues. We know from recent events, including the bombing of a Metrojet flight in Egypt in October 2015 and the attempted bombing of a Daallo Airlines flight in Somalia in February last year, that even a potential threat requires action. Of course, these changes must ensure that people’s rights to equal treatment and privacy continue to be protected.

The explanatory memorandum to this legislation outlines its commitment to both of these in the formal ‘Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights’. On equality and non-discrimination it says:

All people have the right to be treated equally. In keeping with Australia’s egalitarian screening regime applied to aviation passengers, selection of airport and airline workers, visitors and contractors for screening inside the security restricted areas … of airports will be conducted on a purely random basis. Individuals will not be selected according to their race, religion, gender, or any other personal characteristic.

Because that is included in the explanatory memorandum, it effectively becomes part of any consideration by any court as to what the intention of the legislation is and provides that legislative security. On privacy it says:

In cases where a frisk search is necessary the individual may request that procedure to occur in a private room or within a screened area. A frisk search will always be undertaken by someone of the same gender as the person being searched.

Once again, that is an appropriate provision in terms of privacy.

I congratulate the department, through the minister, and the Office of Transport Security and others who have been engaged with the drafting of this legislation. They have ensured that those provisions are made explicitly clear. Inevitably, there are concerns raised about these issues, and it is best to address them up-front. We expect that airports and the government will ensure that appropriate arrangements exist and for those provisions to be applied in practice at all times. Importantly, the statement in the explanatory memorandum enshrines people’s rights whilst also underpinning a robust and effective screening program.

It builds on Labor’s strong track record for aviation and airport security. When in government, we oversaw the strengthening of the security regime applying to air cargo and we committed more than $54 million to install X-ray screening technology at freight depots. We also invested an additional $200 million in the nation’s aviation security. Much of this funding facilitated the introduction of new and improved security technologies at airports, including not just the latest body scanners that I referred to but next generation, multiview X-ray machines and bottle scanners capable of detecting liquid-based explosives. It also provided for increased policing at airports, enhanced security procedures and strengthened international cooperation.

We improved security at regional airports, introducing legislation that requires screening of domestic checked baggage at all regional airports operating RPT services. That piece of legislation did not have unanimous support, but everyone supports it now as it was the right legislation. Some said that it would have an impact on flights to regional areas, and it did not. It did the right thing.

Certainly, what you could not have was what previously occurred. There was best-practice security at the major capital city airports, but if you were flying in from a small, regional centre on a regular passenger transport movement service, nobody checked anything as you went through. Common sense prevailed there. The government of the day prevailed, and now it is particularly important that that security is there.

More than 150 million passengers fly through Australian skies each year, and Labor will always support sensible measures that protect Australian citizens and continue the nation’s reputation for aviation safety. We have an enviable safety record that is second to none. It is a credit to our existing system of regulation and all participants in the system, including airports and airlines. The bottom line is that this requires people on the ground to carry out these sorts of changes. By and large, they do so with goodwill and cooperation and with understanding that our record of aviation safety and security is something that we as a nation should be very proud of. This legislation is consistent with maintaining that record. Labor will be supporting this legislation.