House debates

Thursday, 16 February 2012


Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012; Second Reading

9:01 am

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

On 25 December 2009, a passenger attempted to bomb Northwest Airlines flight 253 en route from Amsterdam to Detroit.

This would-be bomber successfully smuggled a viable improvised explosive device through aviation security screening and onto the aircraft without being detected.

The device, which was concealed inside the passenger's underwear, contained no metallic components and was therefore able to be carried through a walk-through metal detector without triggering any alarm.

This event highlighted a significant vulnerability in global aviation security screening practices, including in Australia.

In response to this incident, on 9 February 2010 the government announced a package of measures to strengthen Australia's aviation security.

This package included $28.5 million to assist the aviation industry to introduce a range of optimal technologies, including body scanners, multiview X-ray machines, bottled liquid scanners and additional explosive trace detection units at international screening points.

These new technologies will mitigate current vulnerabilities in the aviation security screening regime.

The Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012 will support the upcoming introduction of body scanners at Australia's international airports.

This will ensure that Australian travellers are afforded the highest level of protection against aviation terrorism, bringing Australia into line with countries such as the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

The bill will provide flexibility in the future for the government to introduce new screening tools as improvements are made to existing technologies.

It will also ensure that these technologies are used in such a way that achieves both a maximum security outcome and minimal impact on passenger facilitation.

It is important to note that the new body scanner technology will operate alongside existing walk-through metal detectors at airports.

This bill contains four amendments to the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 that allow for the introduction of body scanners and enhance current screening procedures.

The first amendment will ensure that passenger throughput rates are not unnecessarily affected by the introduction of body scanners and other technologies.

It will allow aviation screening officers to assume that a person who presents at an aviation security screening point consents to any screening procedure, with the exception of a frisk search, unless the person expressly states their refusal to undergo a particular screening procedure.

This measure will minimise the impact of body scanners on passenger facilitation by removing the requirement for screening officers to ask every passenger whether or not they consent to undergo a body scan.

It will also increase facilitation rates for screening procedures already in use at aviation security screening points, such as explosive trace detection.

It is essential that passengers are fully informed of their rights and obligations at a screening point.

As such, the government is making changes to the Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005 to mandate appropriate signage requirements at screening points.

These signs will inform passengers that they will be taken to have consented to screening procedures, with the exception of a frisk search, once they enter a screening point unless they specifically indicate otherwise.

The signs will take a form similar to those currently used to inform passengers of requirements regarding the carriage of liquid, aerosol and gel products through screening points at Australia's international airports.

The second amendment will allow the Aviation Transport Security Regulations to prescribe persons that must not pass through a screening point.

This will allow for a subsequent change to the regulations, whereby a person who refuses to undergo a screening procedure they have been randomly selected for will not be granted clearance and will be unable to pass through the screening point.

The benefit of introducing body scanning technology is that it can identify a variety of sophisticated threats that cannot be detected by existing screening technology.

Australia's current security environment is such that we are vulnerable to these types of threats.

Walk-through metal detectors and the style of frisk search currently used at Australian airports simply cannot provide the same security outcome that a body scanner can.

The only method of screening that could provide a similar security outcome to that of a body scanner is the type of invasive body search that is conducted in the United States.

The government has been resolute in not introducing invasive body searches as part of our airport security arrangements. For this reason and in the interests of security and privacy, passengers selected for body scanner screening cannot choose inferior or significantly intrusive alternatives.

Accordingly, the government has decided that a no-opt-out policy will be enforced in relation to screening at airports.

As such, the third amendment to this bill will be to repeal the current provision in the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 that allows passengers to request a frisk search as an alternative to another screening procedure.

This policy will not only apply to passengers but also airport and airline staff.

Provision will be retained so that persons who have a physical or medical condition that prevents them from being screened by a body scanner can be screened by alternative means appropriate to their circumstances.

The government has carefully considered what can be done to alleviate concerns that passengers may have about being screened by body scanners.

A voluntary body scanner trial was conducted at Sydney and Melbourne international airports last year.

Over 23,000 passengers volunteered to go through the body scanners during the trial period.

Market research conducted during the trial found that a great majority of passengers who underwent a body scan reported a positive experience.

Nonetheless, the government has been focused on ensuring that health concerns regarding body scanners are understood and addressed.

There are two types of body scanning technology used for aviation security screening internationally: millimetre-wave and backscatter X-ray.

After consideration of the merits of both technologies and extensive consultation with relevant federal and state government agencies, including the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Department of Health and Ageing, state health agencies and international partner agencies, the government decided that only body scanners that use millimetre-wave technology will be used in Australia.

Active millimetre-wave body scanners use safe non-ionising radiation and produce emissions well below the permissible limits set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.

One body scan emits 10,000 times less radio frequency energy than a single mobile telephone call.

Health and safety information about millimetre-wave body scanners is available on my department's website.

The second key area of concern regarding body scanners is in relation to privacy.

The Department of Infrastructure and Transport has consulted extensively with privacy and civil society groups in order to address any privacy concerns.

These consultations have been productive and have allowed us to strike the right balance between security and privacy.

Importantly, only body scanners equipped with automatic threat detection technology will be used.

This technology has the ability to identify areas of concern on a generic human representation, similar to that of a 'stick figure'—that is, each male outline looks the same as any other male outline, and every female outline looks the same as any other female outline. There are no defining characteristics available under this technology. The operator will not view raw images such as those produced by first generation body scanning technology.

In addition, body scanners that are introduced in Australia will not be allowed to store or transmit any information or data.

My department has worked closely with the Office of the Australian Information Commission (OAIC) to address stakeholder issues.

Two roundtable discussions have been held with various privacy and civil society groups to discuss the impact of body scanners.

Stakeholders were also invited to attend the body scanner trial last year, giving them the opportunity to view the body scanner in operation.

A comprehensive privacy impact assessment was prepared in consultation with the OAIC.

A draft of this assessment was released for public comment in September last year.

The final amendment will list, but not limit, the equipment that can be used for screening.

The list contains equipment already in use at screening points in Australia, including metal detection and explosive trace detection equipment, and also includes body scanning equipment to clarify that the use of such equipment in aviation security screening is lawful.

These amendments will ensure that Australia continues to enjoy a robust and effective aviation security screening regime.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.