House debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


Aviation Transport Security Amendment Bill 2018; Second Reading

10:13 am

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to the debate on the Aviation Transport Security Amendment Bill 2018. On 15 July last year, acting on intelligence, police arrested two men at Sydney Airport. They were accused of plotting to blow up an aircraft flying from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, by hiding a bomb in a meat grinder which was to be taken aboard as carry-on luggage. Those men are expected to face trial next March; I won't go into further detail, because that would not be appropriate. But their case highlights the ongoing risk of terrorism to this nation and across the globe. That threat places the onus on governments to deliver the highest levels of security in our nation's airports that is practicable. It is unfortunate that these levels of security are necessary. They cost money and they cost time through lost productivity. But this is the reality of life in the 21st century, and it is an important job for this parliament to provide security at levels which are commensurate with assessed risk.

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.

10:29 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Grayndler for his constructive comments and respect the fact that everyone in this House takes the issue of aviation security very seriously. I thank him for his comments and his constructive approach to the Aviation Transport Security Amendment Bill 2018, which is before the House.

There are very good reasons for very sound security whilst maintaining the viability of airports, which differ so greatly around Australia. We've always seen different risks and challenges, ever since air transport became so widespread. It's brought us closer together, but there have always been those who have wanted to use some form of terror to disrupt that unity and opportunity. We saw a striking example of this at 9/11 and there have been numerous examples in the past. As far back as 1933, an aircraft was destroyed by a bomb. I think nitroglycerine was the probable cause at the time. It was apparently linked to a Chicago gangland kingpin, who was the suspect, but the case remains unresolved. It was the first proven act of air sabotage in the history of commercial aviation. The first example of an in-flight bombing was in 1962, when a Continental Airlines aircraft was blown up by a passenger over Iowa in the US. More recently was the Lockerbie tragedy where Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb on board and crashed into a very quiet little Scottish village, killing all passengers, plus 11 people on the ground.

That's why everyone in this House takes aviation security seriously. As every new incident has occurred, there've been corresponding improvements to airport security. There's also been a change and a rise in different forms of terrorism around the world. We are now all used to the significantly increased measures at our major international gateways such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and those around the world. As incidents occur, there is constant innovation and new technology available in the security measures applied to respond to the new threats. A clear example of this followed the 2009 failed al-Qaeda bombing in the US. Full body scanners, as we know, were introduced. These enhanced security measures have been responsible for preventing incidents right here in Australia. In recent times as well, we saw a plot to blow up a flight to Abu Dhabi foiled by security procedures at Sydney Airport, saving hundreds of lives. So all of us in this House, I believe, understand why enhanced security arrangements at airports are so important—why they exist and what they're meant to prevent.

However, as we've heard from previous speakers and as we know as rural and regional members, not all airports around Australia are the same and not all airports face the same level of risk. We have relied on the recommendations of experts in relation to the content in this bill, managed by the Department of Home Affairs. It's important to ensure that security plans are fit-for-purpose for the risk that exists at each individual airport dotted right around Australia while we continue to preserve the integrity of airport security systems. Reducing the regulatory burden on smaller aviation providers and on local airports is really critical whilst we maintain our airport security system, but there's a variety of smaller airports right around Australia and there are those that we cannot expect to have the same or similar levels of security that we see at airports in Sydney or Melbourne. In so many instances we see different levels of risk and we need different risk based approaches to them. As well, we want to make sure that the regulatory burdens and cost—there is always a cost—on regional airports and other participants in the regional aviation industry are actually appropriate for the level of risk at a particular point and the services provided at a particular location. We need to balance the need for aviation security whilst maintaining a viable regional aviation sector.

I see the member for Grey sitting beside me. He will expand on this further. The smaller airports around Australia, particularly those in rural, regional and remote areas, are frequently owned by the local government and they frequently have to deal with the additional costs that go with any new imposition, which makes it difficult for them to continue to provide the services that are so critical in rural, regional and remote Australia. But this bill will allow the secretary of Home Affairs, or their delegate, to give a model transport security program to a lower risk aviation operator so that they don't have to go through the process of developing their own, again reducing cost and red tape. A participant in the industry is required by law to have a TSP, and the bill sets out the measures and procedures that must be in place to meet that regulatory requirement. The Department of Home Affairs undertakes rigorous compliance activities to make sure that participants meet their obligations to maintain the appropriate level of security.

There is broad support across the industry, as we've heard, for the measures in this bill. Currently, the law requires all industry participants to maintain a comprehensive and unique TSP. That's all aerodromes, regional airports and regional air operators, despite the differences in risk and in the size, sophistication and complexity of their operations. We know that there are some airports that have very few flights coming and going. Equally, they might be freight based. So we see a diversity around this great nation that we have.

The Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport in my electorate was significantly upgraded in recent years through contributions from a then Liberal state government, as well as our federal government. I'm looking forward to the development that will occur in the region as this airport gets up and running, both in freight and passenger services. As a federal government we contributed to upgrading the length of the runway and enabling it to take 747s, A320s and A330s. This really increases great commercial opportunities, as well as the opportunities in planning and working on a freight hub.

Given the products that come out of my region of South West, this is a great opportunity. These improvements to the airport will allow services from eastern capitals like China, Indonesia and other Asian cities, and other international destinations. It will also enable exports going out—whether it's dairy, chilled or fresh meat, abalone or marron, flowers, fruits, vegetables, or truffles from the broader South West region, or packaged products—to all sorts of markets and countries, including China, the UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. It is an exciting and new development, and it has the potential to supercharge our region in terms of exporting the best-quality products to the rest of the world and bringing visitors directly to our beautiful South West region, including the Margaret River and Busselton, our geographic region—and this airport is owned by the City of Busselton.

We have to make sure that the future of the airport is not compromised by being overly burdened at this time by security requirements. Under this legislation, the Department of Home Affairs, as I said, can lessen that red-tape burden by providing the airport with a TSP for its current requirements. The department can also, at a different time, upgrade those requirements as the risk level changes and as the activities of that airport change. So, if the department assesses the airport as being of lower risk, which it currently is, it could be given a secretary-issued TSP—the work has been done, basically—rather than have the administrative burden of preparing a specific, bespoke TSP that is not proportionate to the security outcomes.

Looking at other parts of this bill, the TSP will set out the minimum security requirements that the participant must comply with to safeguard against unlawful interference. That's the critical part that the Department of Home Affairs will get right, but the requirements must be appropriate for the operation or locations covered by the program. Member for Grey, you'll be very pleased about that part of it—'appropriate'. Under the TSP, the participant has to have the relevant procedures to manage and coordinate security within the operation. Technology, equipment and procedures that will be used are to be covered, and a plan for how participants will respond to any security incidents. This is really important. The Australian Airports Association has supported the proposals in this bill.

We also know that the TSPs that are already there can be used as a model by the secretary, and this is a very clear and simple way of reducing the regulatory burden—the red tape. I think all members of this House—and particularly the member for Grey, who is sitting next to me—are aware of the layer upon layer of red tape that we hear about from the industry, whether from small to medium enterprises or, in this instance, a small regional airport. They express to us, on a regular basis, their frustration about the mountains of paperwork, and we know that some of these are very small operators and so may not have the people to dedicate to it; they cannot afford to do so, in many instances. Yet there is a continuous rise in the amount of paperwork that's required. Yes, they will meet their security arrangements, and they need to, and they know they need to. However, we need to make sure that these airports remain viable.

I've looked at the numbers of airports around Australia, and they vary considerably not only in their location but also in the types and numbers of services that are provided. In my part of the world, there is the Busselton airport. During the boom in the mining industry in the south-west, Rio Tinto had flights coming out of there, with the fly-in fly-out workers, and they still do. We have a number of charter flights that come and go from the area. But that in no way resembles what would happen at Perth Airport, Sydney Airport or some of the other major airports.

So I commend the bill to the House. As has been said previously, it's supported broadly by the industry. I think a Senate inquiry looked at this bill as well and supported it and recommended its passage. I commend it to the House.

10:42 am

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It does give me great pleasure to rise to speak on the Aviation Transport Security Amendment Bill 2018, because it addresses some issues that I had raised with the minister and in the party room about the impact of the security rearrangements—the toughening of security—at regional airports across Australia, which, I thought, stood to impact very significantly on two of my airports in particular, and on one in a very dramatic way. Australians, of course, need to be assured that they are safe. We need, as a government, to do everything we can to ensure their safety. And it is right for us to act. Of course the accompanying legislation, if you like, with the proposal to stipulate full scanning for commercial flights in Australia that have seating capacity for over 50, is a change from the previous legislation, introduced in 2012, where the qualifying flights went from a 30-tonne to a 20-tonne take-off weight. We've operated under that system for the last six years. And now, of course, it's going to a 50-seat configuration.

As to the reason I have raised concerns about this, I'll go first to the least affected airport, Port Lincoln. It's quite a busy airport, Port Lincoln—in fact, the second-busiest in South Australia. There are two airlines operating out of Port Lincoln, and last year there were 89,000 outbound passengers. The trade is split roughly 50-50 between two airlines, Qantas and Rex. Under the new assessment, instead of the 20-tonne take-off weight, the 50-seat configuration will mean that Rex will not have to comply, as they've not had to do under the 20 tonnes. Qantas have been flying Q300s out of Port Lincoln, and they have a take-off weight of under 20 tonnes but they have over 50 seats, and so they will be swept up in this new configuration. If there are 89,000 outbound passengers a year and half of them fly on Qantas, that's 44½ thousand.

It costs around $800,000 a year to run the scanning services. We know this because previously we had scanners in the Port Lincoln airport. One of the reasons it costs $800,000 is that, under the relevant union awards, there is a minimum work space of four hours. Should an airport have one flight in the morning and one flight in the afternoon, that will entail two shifts of workers. While they might be required only for an hour or an hour and a half, they actually have to be paid for four hours. Consequently, running these scanners costs around $800,000 a year. It's also worth noting that they cost $800 to $1,000 to install but the government, quite rightly—and I congratulate the minister and the government—have offered to pay for those installations.

So the airports are faced with the ongoing costs of regulation—in this particular case, as I said, around $18 a seat. That is very significant, and whether or not the service continues I guess will be up to Qantas themselves. It is a severe impost on the people of Port Lincoln, a place that, interestingly enough, is 6½ hours from Adelaide by road but only about 45 minutes by aeroplane, because the flight cuts off so much distance. It is such a viable way to travel to Adelaide and very important for medical services, for people getting professional services of all sorts, and for connecting to the rest of the world.

Now I come to Whyalla. Whyalla is a city of around 22,000 or 23,000 people. It's the biggest regional centre in my electorate and it is only four hours drive from Adelaide. Once you get into that three- to four-hour driving time from a destination, the biggest competition for airlines is the car. You've got to spend time travelling to the airport, you've got to wait a while before you get on, you get on the plane, you travel down there, and then you need a car to get into the city or wherever you're going. So the numbers of passengers out of Whyalla are significantly lower than out of Port Lincoln. There were 31,000 outbound passengers last year. The same two airlines, Qantas and Rex, are operating there. Qantas—and these are just rough figures but around the mark—shifts about a third of those passengers, and Rex shifts two-thirds. So Qantas is shifting 10,000 passengers a year out of Whyalla. It's using the Q300, which under the current regulations does not qualify for full scanning. But the Q300 will come in for attention through the 50-seat configuration, as I mentioned before.

Ten thousand passengers a year equate to around $80 a seat. Clearly, while we can't be sure what any airline might do in the future about the economy of a particular run, should Qantas be forced to pay that and Rex not be forced to pay it—and that will be an airport decision—the chances of that service continuing are greatly diminished. In fact, even if the cost were put across the full 31,000 and the airport were to stipulate that Rex pay that fee as well, that service might be threatened as well. So it's a very serious place we're going to.

This legislation, of course, allows for variation. In spirit it says that not all airports are created equal, that there are differences—and the member for Forrest, who spoke before me, went through some of those differences. Certainly that is the case now. There is a difference in traffic throughput and a difference in the prominence of the airport, therefore increasing the attraction for people who might want to disrupt flights. Exactly how this legislation is interpreted by the regulators will be something I will be watching, but at least there will be the flexibility in the system to deal with the issue at hand. I'm very hopeful that a combination will be found and that the severe impost—these incredible increases in ticket prices—will not be inflicted upon these communities, allowing airlines to get on with the job of shifting people safely and quickly to where they need to go.

But I thought I might recap a little bit of history while I'm here speaking to the chamber. I haven't checked my records, but I feel as though I have given a speech very, very, very similar to this one once before, back in 2012, when, in fact, the regulations were changed at that time which brought the trigger point for scanning down from a 30 tonne maximum take-off weight to 20 tonnes. At that time, the only airport in my electorate that had two competing airlines—Qantas and Rex—was Port Lincoln. Qantas was using Q400s to fly in and out of Port Lincoln and they were over the 20 tonne maximum take-off weight. That triggered the requirement that we should have scanning at the airport. So the scanners were installed, at a cost of around $800,000, and they were operated for almost two years, using 12 staff, at an annual cost of a bit over $700,000. The outcome was that Qantas changed aeroplanes. They went to a Q300, which was under the 20 tonne take-off weight. Consequently the 12 workers lost their jobs, the scanners were taken out of the airport and stored out the back, and Qantas were able to compete on an even footing with Rex and the flights have continued.

So what was that all about? We were chasing down a threat to air safety. The airline configuration changed, the same number of passengers were being shifted, but all of a sudden the scanners were not required; they were required for one flight but they are not required for the other flight. It is a really difficult area, and I don't envy the minister in trying to step his way through what is a legislative minefield that has completely varying implications for communities all over Australia. The great recognition here in this legislation is that they are varied, that one size does not fit all and that regulators need the flexibility to act within the legislation to bring about the right kind of outcome for each particular community.

So I recognise the work that the minister has done here in allowing for this legislation addressing those concerns that I have. I hope it is going to fit the bill because, as I've said, it will remain up to the regulator how they interpret the legislation. But they can be assured, as can the people of Grey—the people of Port Lincoln and the people of Whyalla—that I will be watching that space very closely to make sure that this legislation is used in a way that does not unduly impact on these airports, does not selectively impact on these airports, to the point of bringing in large cost increases in flights and in seatings and, in the end, threatening the very services that we so desperately need in the country.

10:53 am

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all of the speakers who have contributed to this bill. I thank the member for Grey. He has a lot of passion for his local area and I very much appreciate the representations that he and other colleagues have made to me in relation to this very important issue.

The Australian government's first priority is and always will be to keep Australian safe and secure. Aviation is an enduring and attractive target for terrorists, and this was evidenced in July 2017 by the disrupted attack in Sydney which would have seen a bomb exploded on an A380 flight to the Middle East. The planned attack marked a significant shift in the threat and risk to our aviation sector, demonstrating a level of sophistication not seen before in our country. This bill was introduced to ensure that Australia's security framework remains responsive to the evolving threat environment while maintaining security requirements that are commensurate with risk.

Currently all security regulated aviation industry participants are required to prepare a comprehensive and bespoke TSP regardless of the differences in the size, sophistication or complexity of their operations. This places a higher administrative burden on smaller industry participants that often operate in regional Australia. The bill today will enable the secretary of the Department of Home Affairs to give a model transport security program, or TSP, to a lower risk aviation operator. Introducing a model TSP for these industry participants will maintain security outcomes while reducing the costs and administrative burden of preparing a bespoke TSP. This will allow industry participants such as smaller regional airports to direct their finite resources towards implementing and maintaining robust security measures.

The measures in this bill demonstrate the government's commitment to maintaining a sustainable aviation sector while ensuring Australia remains a trusted destination for trade and travel. I thank members again for their contribution to this debate, and I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.