Feb 23, 2010

Question without notice – National security

Ms GRIERSON (2:20 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Minister, what steps is the government taking to strengthen aviation security?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Newcastle for her question. Indeed, in the aviation white paper released last year we indicated that safety and security in aviation must be the government’s No. 1 priority. On 9 February the Prime Minister launched a $200 million aviation security package to respond to emerging threats. This is a comprehensive package. It includes improved passenger and baggage screening, improved passenger screening at regional airports and moving to a rational system based on the maximum takeoff weight of an aircraft rather than the previous system which was based upon the propulsion of an aircraft. It also includes improved policing at airports and an increase in the numbers of explosive-detection dogs, improved air cargo security and improved security at airports which are the last port of call.

At that time I made it clear that the government would be reintroducing regulations to improve cockpit security when the Senate next met and indeed this afternoon that will occur in the Senate. In September last year regulations to restrict access to the cockpit to persons with an operational, safety, security or training need were disallowed by the Senate with the support of the opposition. These regulations had been introduced in March 2009. They were operating effectively right through to September 2009 until they were disallowed by those in the opposition over in the Senate.

Since this disallowance, there have been no effective legal restrictions on who can enter a cockpit. Aviation security experts advise that strict and consistent rules must apply as to who can open the hardened cockpit door and enter the cockpit. This government believes that the same security rules should apply to every flight, not differ from airline to airline and from pilot to pilot. This is too important an issue to rely upon self-regulation. The government will be introducing these regulations and later today in the Senate we will require Senate approval. Because of the timing in which you can reintroduce a disallowed motion, we require the support of the opposition in order to have these regulations introduced.

This is a test. Expert advice on security and safety is very clear. There is a very clear choice—you are for it or you are against it. Hardened cockpit doors and restricting access are the last line of defence to stop terrorists from taking control of a plane. The Leader of the Opposition has a choice to make this afternoon in the Senate. The government’s counterterrorism white paper makes it clear that the threat is real and therefore the response must be real as well. Of course, there must be some doubt about their response. Today Senator Birmingham said about the government’s counterterrorism policy that the greatest threat to safety in Australia is the Home Insulation Program—not terrorism but the Home Insulation Program. This is another example of how those opposite talk first and think later. They do not take these national security issues seriously because they are too busy playing politics.

I will say this about the former Prime Minister: John Howard would never have allowed the Liberal Party to make such a ridiculous argument. Unfortunately, this Leader of the Opposition has. I urge the opposition to come to their senses on this matter and support the government in its endeavour to be able to reintroduce regulations so that the national government—which has responsibility for national security—has some control over who enters or leaves a cockpit.