Feb 9, 2010

Question without notice – National security

Mr BEVIS (2:11 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. How is the government implementing the aviation security initiatives which were announced in the aviation white paper on 16 December last year?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Brisbane for his question. He, of course, has an ongoing interest in these issues. In December last year I launched Australia’s first ever national aviation policy white paper, Flight path to the future. It had in it some 130 recommendations and we are rolling out many of those today with regard to safety and security. As the incident involving Northwest Airlines flight 253 shows, we need to continue to be vigilant when it comes to ensuring that governments will field their responsibility to do everything in their power to secure the safety of the travelling public. Today’s announcement certainly does that, with $200 million committed to improvements in aviation security.

This is a comprehensive approach. It deals with the increase in passenger and baggage screening, including, of course, the introduction of new technology such as body screeners. We are committed to proper consultations with industry and with the privacy commissioner. They will be involved in the rollout of these which we consider, in the first instance, will be rolled out for secondary screening at the major international airports. We will also be doubling the use of ETDs at airports. We will also be securing our air cargo with $54 million to make sure that our air cargo security is uplifted.

With regard to international cooperation, there are a number of measures. We will double the amount of work that we do at last ports of call, identifying on the basis of risk what those last ports are and ensuring that Australia has a presence and an auditing role in ensuring that we do what we can offshore to ensure that Australian travellers who use those airports can use them safely. We will also be increasing our presence internationally at a number of locations. We will be conducting a trial with the United Kingdom, an issue I raised with the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, in December last year in London. We also raised issues with Janet Lute from the United States administration in a meeting I had with her earlier this year, and we will be having a trial of the use of new technology with regard to liquids, aerosols and gels.

We will be bringing forward the announcement that we made in the white paper for regional screening at airports to 2012, and the government will be providing some $32 million in funds for capital equipment related to that and to an expansion of the use of explosive detection devices in those airports. Previously, we had quite an irrational position. Whether screening was required was based upon the propulsion of an aircraft, not based upon the weight of an aircraft. That is not a sensible position in moving forward, so from July 10 the specific weight will be 30,000 kilograms. From 2012 that will be brought down to 20,000 kilograms. The issue of safety and security at our regional airports has been around for a long time. This government is acting.

We are also increasing by 50 per cent the presence of dogs at our airports. We know that feds, as they are called, are particularly good at both detection and deterrence. The increased AFP presence, which will be looked after by the Minister for Home Affairs, will be a substantial move forward in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police.

The government will also be reintroducing, when the Senate resits, the regulations that were disallowed last year and, because of the disallowance, there is self-regulation as to who goes into a cockpit of an aircraft. The government believes that it is appropriate that the only people who should be in an aircraft’s cockpit are there for operational reasons. We will be seeking to reintroduce these regulations into the Senate. I call upon the Leader of the Opposition to support these sensible regulations because we will need a majority of the Senate’s support just to have them introduced. In 2010, when it comes to aviation security, it simply is the case—regardless of the noise from the National Party over there—that we have moved beyond self-regulation. We need to move forward and not look backwards. These sensible regulations should be supported in the Senate when they are reintroduced.