Stricter security standards to protect Australian air travellers (28/05/2012)

plane.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:26): The Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012 is about safety and confidence, without which we would not have an aviation industry and consequently we would not have a tourism industry in this island nation, because aviation lies at the heart of our economic activity as an island nation. The aviation industry underpins our economic growth and provides a gateway to the wider global economy. The sector directly employs around 50,000 people, and a further half a million people indirectly. It contributes around $7 billion to our gross national product. Australian aviation, despite the protestations that the sky is falling in, has seen solid growth for the ninth year in a row, a fact that has obviously escaped the member for Paterson in his Chicken Little deliverance on this legislation. When I listen to the member for Paterson, I am reminded of the parliamentary cliche that never are so many angry words said as in the course of agreement.

The aviation industry is seeing solid growth, and it has for the last nine years, with domestic and international flights continuing to increase, carrying record numbers of passengers in 2010-11—and it is forecast that that growth will increase into the future. The latest Avline report for 2010-11 shows that the number of people flying internationally to and from Australia continued to grow—27.6 million, up seven per cent—along with the number of people flying domestically, up six per cent to 54 million passenger flights per year. In 2030 there will be more than twice the current number of passengers travelling through our capital city airports, increasing from around 100 million passengers today to almost 235 million passengers by 2030—a fact that I will return to in my concluding statements. Right now investment in airports is forecast to be around $9 billion over the next decade, to 2021. Despite the intensely competitive nature of the aviation business and the challenges posed by the high Australian dollar, Australia's aviation sector is strong and its outlook is bright. This does not mean there are not policy challenges to deal with in this sector. In December 2009, the Australian government released an aviation white paper entitled Flight path to the future. This long-term strategy reaffirmed safety and security as the No. 1 priority for aviation. Australia has a world-class security regime but we remain vigilant to new and emerging threats. The member for Paterson recently talked about the underpants bomber and the events that have led to us commissioning the report which led to the technology and the legislation which is before the House today.

The Australian government has an obligation to all air travellers to ensure that every effort has been made to make their journey as safe as possible. Indeed, following the release of the aviation white paper, the Australian government released a $200 million aviation security package which recognised the importance of cooperation both within the Asia-Pacific region and globally.

The legislation, as I said, is about the confidence of the travelling public in the aviation industry, and body scanners are one of the technologies that are critical to providing safety and therefore confidence by the travelling public. As part of this government's investment in aviation security, we are investing in new and improved technologies, increased policing at airports and strengthened security procedures. The introduction of body scanners is one of these important measures.

Body scanners will be in place in international airports by 1 July this year. Due to the widely publicised health and safety concerns surrounding the use of backscatter X-ray body scanners overseas, only body scanners that use millimetre wave technology will be deployed at Australian airports. I make this point because there have been some comments made publicly about the health concerns raised in relation to body scanner technology. We did a parliamentary inquiry into and heard evidence on this—both expert evidence and evidence from concerned members of the public. The upshot of that inquiry is that we are confident that there are no known adverse health effects associated with the use of the adopted technology, the wave body scanners, that will be installed in our airports. As an example, one body scan emits around 10,000 times less radio frequency energy than a person could be expected to absorb during the length of an average mobile phone call. I am confident, as every member of this House should be confident, that these body scanners will present no health threat to the travelling public.

One of the things that is different, and will be made possible by this legislation, is that we will no longer have an opt-out arrangement. Currently there is the capacity for passengers to opt out of using the body scan and therefore having further and, dare I say, more invasive forms of screening accompanying their trip. But, as a result of this bill, when passed into law, there will be a no-opt-out policy. The no-opt-out policy prevents a person from refusing to undertake a body scan—or indeed any other form of primary security screening—in favour of undergoing some alternative screening procedure. This will prevent 'gaming' of the system—for example, a person having the ability to select the type of technology that they will be screened by. This has both efficiency implications and security implications.

If a person refuses to undergo a screening procedure, they will be refused clearance and prevented from boarding an aeroplane. It is important to note that allowances will be made where there is a physical or medical reason that would prevent screening by a certain screening technology. These exist at the moment—for example, a person in a wheelchair or a person unable to hold the required positioning in the body scanner will be screened by alternative methods suitable for their circumstances.

In the course of community consultation, privacy issues have been raised. I can assure the public that only body scanners with privacy enhancements will be used in Australia. These body scanners will only create and display a generic human or 'stick figure' image. For example, if I were to pass through one of the body scanners, the image that would be visible to the Customs staff or security staff would be exactly the same image as that which would appear on the screen if the member for Paterson were to pass through the screen. We are of considerably different stature but the image on the screen would be identical for those who are observing the screen as we pass through the screening technology. There will be no 'raw' or 'naked' images, and the various and wonderful different shapes that are presented at airports will not be presented on the screen, or displayed or transmitted by these scanners. Finally, on the issue of privacy, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has been consulted on this technology and is comfortable with what is being proposed.

I would like to conclude with a couple of observations about the aviation industry. As I have said, this technology is critical to the future confidence of the travelling public. The entire white paper and the $200 million aviation security package are critical to aviation and therefore the tourism industry in this country. But there are other decisions that need to be made by governments at all levels. In March, both the federal and New South Wales governments received one of the most comprehensive independent studies ever done into Sydney's, and therefore Australia's, aviation needs. The 2012 the Joint study on aviation capacity for the Sydney region report shows that existing aviation infrastructure in Sydney will not cope with future aviation demand—which, as I have already said, is set to double over the next 20 years. It is clear that Sydney needs a second airport and it needs it sooner rather than later. All the body scanners in the world—indeed, all the permission to allow the travelling Chinese public to have a few extra packets of smokes in their duty-free luggage—will not overcome the fact that we need to expand our airport capacity in the Sydney region. Sydney airport is increasingly operating at capacity and its peak period is growing. Sydney's size and land transport problems mean that the airport cannot deal with the increases that are forecast. The need to act is clear. We need to act now by making a decision about the location of the second airport.

By the year 2035 the cost to GDP of turning away flights will be $6 billion per annum. This is something that will be condemned if we allow it to occur, because it is simply an issue about jobs and our economy. International experience shows that airports create 1,000 jobs for every one million passengers. Without action, growing congestion will hurt productivity as flights are turned away, and those that do arrive face longer and longer delays. We are already seeing the impact on one of Australia's aviation hubs, Sydney airport. Sydney Airport is of critical importance because four out of 10 flights nationally fly into and out of Sydney. Canberra—as much as we all love the place—is simply not an alternative.

I am pleased that the federal government is acting on this issue by doing a detailed investigation into the suitability of Wilton, including conducting preliminary economic, social and environmental impact studies. The development of an airport at Wilton, a area adjacent to the Illawarra and very close to my electorate of Throsby, would bring new infrastructure, economic development and, most importantly, jobs to my region. It is for this reason, notwithstanding the environmental and social concerns that have been expressed by some people—particularly in suburbs relatively more close to the Wilton area than mine—that I believe this is a critical project and one that should be supported by the people of the Illawarra.

The many constituents I have spoken to are excited about this project, and I hope to see it move ahead in the years to come. It is not something that is going to immediately turn the economic fortunes of the Illawarra around, but the approval of Wilton as a site for a second airport for the Sydney region would provide a future economic strategy for the region, which is much needed as we go through the economic restructuring which has been visited upon us by movements in the manufacturing sector, the high Australian dollar and the recent announcements by BlueScope Steel that it will be exiting the export steel market.

I am very buoyant about the future of the industry, and I am very buoyant about the capacity of our region to contribute to the future of the industry. As I said at the outset, safety and confidence are critical. The legislation before the House today, which is part of a broader $200 million aviation security package, is critical to that. I commend this legislation, and this industry that is critical to our country, to all members of the House.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.