07 August 2017
Subject: Airport security measures
Darren Chester: Joining us now, Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester. Mr Chester, thanks for joining us. Surely, there should be security checks on anyone that works at the airport?
Darren Chester: Well, good morning gentlemen, and thank you for your interest in this very, very important issue. Now, the insider threat, which the airline pilots are talking about, is well recognised in the aviation industry around Australia, and around the world. We do have strong airside security arrangements in place to prevent people from having unauthorised access. We have a thing called the Aviation Security Identification card, or ASIC card…
Darren James: ASIC. Yeah I have got one.
Darren Chester: So, people seeking to have an ASIC card are subject to a national security check. They have to have a police check, an immigration check. Only people who actually have an operational need to be in that sort of sensitive area can actually apply for an ASIC and be granted one. So, people like your engineers and your baggage handlers, your cleaners, caterers who are working in that secure area are subjected to those checks. In recognising that this is an issue of threat around the aviation world, we actually this year in Parliament introduced more stringent controls around the integrity of those cards making it harder to get them. People who have had criminal records; we have made it harder for them to access them, and more random checks inside secure areas and more area screening as well. So, a lot is being done, but look, I appreciate people's heightened concerns at this difficult time, because it was a genuine, credible threat to aviation safety which was nipped in the bud a week or ten days ago. So, people are obviously in this heightened environment of anxiety about aviation security, and we are doing everything we can—I want to reassure people—doing everything we can to make sure that aviation is as safe as it possibly can be in our country.
Nick McCallum: Well Mr Chester, it bamboozles me then; how did the Airline Pilots Association—presumably they know what is going on. They represent the airline pilots. How did they get it so wrong then?
Darren Chester: Well it's not…
Nick McCallum: That these measures are not already in place?
Darren Chester: I am not saying they have got it wrong. They are calling for additional measures on top of what is already in place, and we will need to assess the risk and work our way through what that would mean in terms of implementing the additional checks they are talking about. Now…
Nick McCallum: What additional checks are we talking about? It sounds—so we just clarified this. You say baggage handlers, cleaners, catering staff who get access to planes before they take off, and who have got to have an ASIC, they already have seriously background tests and they already have a security card. Is that right?
Darren Chester: Yes, absolutely. So some of those measures have been intensified in recent times due to some incidents, which occurred overseas that we were concerned about, so we regard that insider threat issue as a genuine one and we have taken some additional measures. Now, the Airline Pilots Association is putting forward some more stringent controls, if you like, which would require more screening and more checks, and we will consider all of those as we try to balance our response in the coming weeks to what we know is a very serious threat last week. So we are considering a whole range of measures, and you know, safety is obviously the Government's number one priority. We have 137 million passenger movements in Australia each year, and we want to keep people as safe as we possibly can. If more needs to be done, we will do it, but we'll do it in a calm and reasonable way and we'll get our feedback from the intelligence experts and the counter-terrorism people who are providing information to the Government on a daily basis, and updating us on potential threats. Then we will have to take steps with the supporting industry and influence them.
Nick McCallum: Minister, just one other point on that; after 9/11, there was very strict controls on domestic travel, and you had to produce a photo ID, a passport or a drivers licence, basically, to get on a flight. Now, that appears with the advent of internet registration that appears to have gone out of the system. Can that be reintroduced?
Darren Chester: That is an interesting point Nick. You have in place—each individual airport has its own transport security program, so it has its own measures in place in consultation with the Federal Government through the Office of Transport Security. Now, some of those measures are obviously very highly visible to people, like your fences and your secure doors, closed circuit TV, and screening of bags, explosive trace detection—you will see all those things, very highly visible. Other measures aren't visible to the public. Now, the point about the identification check for a domestic flight would, we are particularly focused on the items you're carrying, so whether you are carrying something that has the potential to, you know, cause an incident. So that's what the screening is all about. From a safety perspective, exactly who you are isn't going to impact on that decision about whether you'll go through the x-ray or the explosive trace detection and trigger a security alert. The question of the identification, I guess, is more of a state policing matter where it would be, I think, beneficial for them from time to time to know what some of these organised criminals are up to and where they are travelling from time to time. But then the price you will pay for that is that you'll have some restrictions on whether you can check in online and there will be slower systems at the airport and bigger crowds gathering out in front of airports again. So, all of these things are about balancing the risk in terms of making sure that we are checking and x-raying the baggage, and checking for explosives against what is perhaps more of a local crime issue rather than an aviation safety issue.
John-Michael Howson: We had people calling up about checks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and said a lot of the checks were very lackadaisical. That, I suppose with the numbers, the sheer weight of numbers of people going through, the people just push people through without really examining the bags that they were carrying. It was the people that should have been checked calling us up and saying we weren't checked properly. So is there a danger of that happening at airports?
Darren Chester: I think you are really referring to the broader security risk we face now as a nation in this environment where there are thankfully only a very small minority of people, but a minority who seek to do us harm and will seek to target large gatherings. Whether it's a crowd like you described at the football or other forms of transport or the aviation sector. Now, the aviation sector has obviously been on that terrorists have targeted in the past and it is resulted in a very strong response from Governments around the world and hardening up our security arrangements. That always runs a risk that then these people seek to do us harm will choose other ways of doing it. So we live in a very uncertain world, and I want to assure the travelling public that it is safe to travel for leisure or business here in Australia. And I, obviously as someone who travels a lot for work, and as a family man with my kids, and I want to travel in an environment that is as safe as possible for me as well, and we're working very hard to achieve that. But there is always that element of risk that there are people out there who want to do these horrible things, and I'm just so thankful to have those security agents, the intelligence, and the counter-terrorism guys and girls who have worked so hard in these last couple of weeks to foil this plot. Now we need to make sure that we learn from this, if there are other measures we need to bring into play. We will work with the experts in the industry, and the airports, and the aviation sector, and the community. We should never under-estimate the community's role. The community has got the eyes and ears, they are out there. There are 25 million Australians who are out there every day, and if they see something suspicious, we really encourage them to call that national security hotline and report the information, because they can be very helpful in spotting something that doesn't quite add up. That might be just the tip-off that the agencies need.
Nick McCallum: Now, Minister, can I just pick you up on the thing you said previously about the IDs; I would have thought—you are right that, obviously, it is the luggage that everyone's worried about. But the connection like, if for instance you were to take a glaring example, someone who hands over a drivers licence or a passport and is known to be on a watch for sympathies towards Islamic state or something like that, surely that is a flying head start to actually know who these people are. Or, if it is a fake ID, it comes up and is registered as a fake ID, and that rings alarms as well. Surely it's a basic head start?
Darren Chester: Yeah absolutely Nick and I think that's a completely valid point you are making. The stumbling block in Australia, I guess, for domestic travel, is there is no one form of identification within Australia. For people under 18 there's a problem as well if they don't have a drivers licence. So different states obviously have different licencing systems, which aren't necessarily linked up. When you are travelling internationally, the passport system is linked to the whole Federal system of identification. Now, this would open up the conversation again about the Australia card, which we was talked about many, many years ago. What form of identification would you be offering at a domestic airport in one state compared to the other? Again, if you are under-age you may not even have a form of visual identification that has your face and details on it. So these are the questions I think we will be discussing quite a lot over the weeks and months ahead as part of a range of security measures to keep Australians safe on board our aircraft.
John-Michael Howson: Now, how deep are the investigations into people working at the airport? I mean, do they look into their relatives and family ties?
Nick McCallum: Well, we don't know, let's ask the Minister…
Darren James: Well I do, because I have got an ASIC and I know what you're got to do to get one.
John-Michael Howson: Well, I'm tempted to ask the Minister; do you look into family ties, because somebody working at an airport on a plane, cleaning up, whatever they're doing, baggage handlers, may in themselves be quite okay. But they may be influenced or have friends or relatives that are not very good people.
Darren Chester: Well to be blunt, I don't want to go into full details on what's checked because it really doesn't help for me to canvas some specifics on air. But the national security check, coupled with the police check for any criminality, plus immigration checks if required, are all required of obtaining an ASIC card. The only people who can be issued with an ASIC card are those with an operational need to be in those sensitive areas of the airport. So, it is not like, if you are working at the coffee shop at Tullamarine, you get to pick up an ASIC card and waltz around the tarmac when you feel like it. You are subjected to checks, and whether you actually have an operational need to get that card in the first place. In that environment, again, there is increased vigilance now, and staff training, staff awareness training around the risk of terror. So the eyes and ears of the other workers in the airport environment are very important as well. But I mean, you raise all valid concerns, and that's why this issue of the insider threat is being taken so seriously by the international aviation community, and why the Australian Government has sought to harden up our ASIC requirements earlier this year.
Nick McCallum: A few years ago Minister and this was prompted by a caller off-air who have asked this question, I remember a few years ago there was quite a furore about the Mildura Airport not having appropriate security and you were actually checked when you arrive in Melbourne.
John-Michael Howson: Happened to me at Devonport to Melbourne.
Nick McCallum: Yeah. So, there is a lot of concern about regional Australian airports.
Darren Chester: Absolutely, and that is why, in the wake of these discussions over the past ten days and as more conversations have put a focus on the regionals I have asked the Office of Transport Security to take a specific look at our regional airports. You look at Mildura; Mildura has about 221,000 passengers go through each year. They are subjected to some x-raying and hand wanding, so those hand wanding devices. In contrast, Tullamarine has 34 million passengers go through per year. So, it is about managing the risk, understanding where the threat environment is, and where these people are likely to target. As new and emerging threats become apparent to us, we have to respond accordingly. These security agencies do a terrific job of staying ahead of the game, they are constantly trying to stay ahead of the game. But all of the 174 security controlled airports across Australia do have to have a valid and current transport security program, and it will be things like the fencing and the closed circuit TV, and access controls—but if there is more that we do in the regional sense, I'm certainly open to having that conversation with the Cabinet.
Darren James: Alright, hey Minister Chester thanks for joining us. How does the Federal Member from Gippsland end up barracking for the Sydney Swans?
Darren Chester: Your research is impeccable. I am an old South Melbourne fan, and when the Swannies moved to Sydney I stuck with the bloods, and they have been very kind to me in the last decade. So, I don't know why we decided to give the whole competition a six game head start this year, but we've come to…
Darren James: I know, it is bizarre. And while I was researching we share the same name, same spelling, and I've never met one—Darren, that is—that's older than me, and I've checked your birthday and still no luck.
Darren Chester: It was a little sweet spot in history about 45–50 years ago when kids were named Darren, right.
Darren James: Yeah, Darren.
Darren Chester: I am cracking 50 very soon, and I don't meet many Darren's older than me, either.
Darren James: Yeah, well I reckon I was one of the first, because I am 56, so as far as I know, I'm the original.
Darren James: Good to talk to you, and have a good Sunday and go Swans. You'll be happy with your win over Geelong, that's for sure.
Darren Chester: Yeah, all the best guys, and thank you for your interest. It is a really tough issue for us to deal with, and the support we have received from the public has been fantastic.
John-Michael Howson: I'm going to—this is a question without notice. I was appalled to read, this week, some people coming out and saying this terrorist thing is only a thing to enhance Malcolm Turnbull's poll figures.
Darren James: What.
John-Michael Howson: I mean, these Loony Tune people—I'm sure the Labor Party would do exactly the same thing and be just as conscious of the threat to Australia as the Government is, and yet there's these wackos come out and say it's all a big furphy just to take the focus off Malcolm Turnbull's poll figures.
Darren Chester: Well John-Michael, I read those comments myself online, and I thought people really don't understand, they are very cynical if they believe that. One of the first people I called when I found out about the extra threat and the additional measures were put in place was the shadow spokesman for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, and made sure he was aware of the concerns, and he assured me of his complete support for the actions we were taking.
John-Michael Howson: Well exactly, all good Australians would. But these loonies, I don't know where they come from, they come out from under rocks.
Nick McCallum: I think Minister Chester hit the nail on the head when he said these comments were made online.
Darren James: Thanks for joining us.