ABC News Breakfast

Interview

DCI053/2017

01 June 2017

Subjects: Malaysia Airlines incident in Melbourne

Del Irani: The Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester joins us now from Parliament House. Good morning to you, Minister, thanks for joining us.

Darren Chester: Good morning to you as well.

Del Irani: So how concerned are you about the incident that took place overnight?

Darren Chester: Well we are concerned about any unusual events and security incidents which may occur in the air or at our airports. I want to say, first of all, I am very thankful for the passengers and crew on board—they have all returned safely—and for the actions they took in apparently subduing a gentleman who had made a scene on board the plane. I have seen the images that some of the passengers have taken on their mobile phones. It would have been concerning for all the passengers and crew on board. We need to keep in mind that we have very strict security protocols in place in Australia and 100 per cent of passengers on board aircraft are screened, their baggage is screened and, from the early advice I have received, the security protocols were working in terms of that screening activity. On board the plane itself, we have other measures in place where there is hardened cockpit doors, the personnel on board, the crew on board are trained in managing these difficult situations. So by all early accounts the security parameters worked but that doesn't change the fact it would have been a very worrying time for the passengers and crew on board when the incident occurred.

Del Irani: Minister, many are still questioning how this was allowed to happen because clearly, to some degree, it was a security breach. We have heard from witness accounts on board the plane that the man was carrying what appeared to be a very large metallic object, claiming it to be a bomb. I mean, how was this allowed to even get through security at the airport?

Darren Chester: Well I think it is very important that we wait and find out exactly what the alleged device was and have a more accurate picture of that before we jump to any conclusion in that regard. From the early reports I have received from the Office of Transport Security, the screening equipment in place at the airport was working at the time; the devices, 100 per cent of passengers and baggage are screened before a flight takes off. So let's just wait and see the actual details of what the alleged device is and was and go from there.

In terms of the early information I'm receiving from the incident, police are indicating that this doesn't appear to be a terrorism-related activity. It appears to be more of a mental health-related event. Thankfully—and I say this with all sincerity—thankfully there has been no serious incident in terms of the passengers and crew on board, they worked to subdue the individual and the plane has returned safely. Now, it has been very disruptive, obviously, to the people on board, it has been disruptive to Tullamarine Airport; but I think it is important to reflect and go through the actual incident when we have all the information in front of us rather than leap to too many conclusions at this stage.

Del Irani: Certainly, but will you be holding a review into security procedures?

Darren Chester: Absolutely. We are reviewing security procedures right throughout Australia on an ongoing basis. We are reviewing our security procedures in response to new information, new alerts around the world on an ongoing basis. Obviously, the security of the Australian travelling public is the highest priority when it comes to Transport Ministry issues. If we receive new information, or if there is a new or emerging threat anywhere around the world, we assess our protocols accordingly. We have outstanding security protocols here in Australia and it is designed to keep the travelling public safe. Now, we will have to look at this incident and review every aspect of it and then make an assessment about whether any changes need to be made.

Del Irani: One of the reviews and the things that the US is looking at is the laptop ban on international flights. Is this something that Australian authorities are also going to consider?

Darren Chester: Well we are in constant contact with our US colleagues on the new or emerging threats around the world. Recently you may be aware we introduced explosive trace-detecting protocols for some airports in the Middle East in response to concerns that were raised at the time. Now, the US has brought in bans in relation to smaller electronic devices. We haven't done that. We are constantly assessing the threat level. That is an ongoing process.

Del Irani: Is this something that you will now consider given the incident that took place overnight?

Darren Chester: Well no changes are planned as we are having this conversation right now. We will review constantly, as I said, review the incident that occurred and respond to the threat levels as they are presented to us. We receive information from throughout the world. We have world-class security and intelligence agencies working on these issues…

Del Irani: Minister, do you have a personal view on this, though? What is your view on it?

Darren Chester: Well my personal view on this is that, as a Minister, I need to respect the advice from the experts in the field. They advise me on a regular basis regarding security protocols. That is why we have things in place at our airports along the lines of X-ray screening, body-scanning devices, it is why we have hardened cockpit doors in our aircraft. These are all put in place at the advice of the experts in their field in response to the information they have gathered regarding the threat to the travelling public. So it is not for me to have a personal view on these types of issues, it is more about respecting the advice from the experts, keeping in mind that the safety of the travelling public remains our highest priority.

Del Irani: Certainly, but as you can imagine given the incidents last night, there would be some sense of nervousness among the travelling public. As the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, what assurances can you give to passengers who would be going in-bound and out-bound today and in the coming days?

Darren Chester: Well I can fully understand why people are concerned. Incidents of this nature are always going to be worrying for people, it is going to receive a lot of media coverage and people will make their own impressions of what may or may not occurred. We need to carefully assess the details and have the facts in front of us to understand what actually did transpire on board the aircraft. The bottom line, though, remains; we have world-class security protocols in place at our airports, they are designed to keep the travelling public safe, we have an outstanding safety record, and we need to maintain that. We take all these incidents very, very seriously but at the same time people should feel free to go about their daily business, whether travelling for work or travelling for leisure, they can be reassured that there are protocols in place as they go through airports and on to our aircraft which are all designed to keep them safe.

Del Irani: Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester, thank you so much and I hope you get a glass of water. Appreciate your time.

Darren Chester: I appreciate your time, thank you.