Radio National Breakfast

Interview

DCI087/2017

23 October 2017

Subject: Airport security

Fran Kelly: The Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester joins us in our Parliament House studios. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

Darren Chester: Good morning, Fran.

Fran Kelly: Well, it doesn’t make sense, does it? Why are random security checks of airport staff to find traces of explosives good enough, when crew have to go through compulsory tests like all passengers?

Darren Chester: Well, Fran, with all due respect to Nick Xenophon, I have got the choice here between taking advice from people who are experts in transport security, people who consult with intelligence agencies, or a career politician. Now, I don’t make any apologies for the fact that I have taken advice of the experts and gone forward with the proposal they have put to me around checks—which are both random and unpredictable—and which are aimed at those airside workers, people who have access to the secured area, so people who have an ASIC card, an aviation security identification card, of which there are about 140,000 in Australia at the moment. So I’ve gone with the experts’ advice, and in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s requirements as well around checks, which are both random and unpredictable targeting explosive trace detection.

Fran Kelly: Well, the pilots are saying the same thing. I mean, why are flight crews deemed a bigger risk than ground crew?

Darren Chester: Well, the point I’m making for you, Fran, is that the advice we have received is: you take consideration of the transport security settings, if you take advice from the intelligence agencies, both here in Australia and abroad, and the issue we are trying to deal with is around the so-called insider threat, that being a trusted person who may have access to aircraft. Now, what we are doing is implementing random explosive trace detection testing. Also, in addition to that there’s additional security training for all staff at airports, so they are in a position to be aware of their circumstances, be aware of their surroundings, and perhaps report anything they’re not comfortable with. In addition to that, more screening in terms of during the person actually entering the workforce, but also random checks throughout the day. The randomness and the unpredictability of those checks is in accordance with ICAO’s expectations, the International Organisation’s expectations, and as you’d expect, the Australian Government takes the safety and security of our residents as our highest priority and we are working with security agencies to achieve that.

Fran Kelly: Okay. The Transport Workers’ Union claims it has raised concerns before, for a number of years, about the security implications of high staff turnover at our airports, and they argue that every day, hundreds of workers are accessing secure areas of airports without proper checks and without proper security clearance. Now, you said there already, the security checks are conducted on those who work in secure areas. Practically, what difference will these new measures make?

Darren Chester: Well fundamentally, that claim by the TWU is not true. If you have access to a secured area of an airport, you are subject to having an ASIC card—so, that Aviation Security Identification Card which I referred to earlier—and that means you have had to undertake some background checks. We are making moves right now within the Parliament; we have legislation before the Parliament to toughen that up, to make it even harder to get that ASIC card in the first place. So that’s the first point: you need to have an ASIC before you can work in those secured areas, or you can have a visitor security card, in which case you must be supervised and you can only use that card for 28 days over a 12 month period. So, it’s not true to suggest that people working in secured areas aren’t subject to background checks—they’re subject to them already—but we are actually taking steps to toughen those checks up to make sure that people who have a serious crime background don’t have the capacity to secure an ASIC card in the future. So, people who may have been involved in drug trafficking or even potentially illegal gun importation, they’ll find it impossible to secure an ASIC into the future and we want to work with the unions, work with the Labor Party, to bring those changes into place.

Fran Kelly: So Minister, after that alleged plot was uncovered to put some kind of explosive device on an international flight, there was a lot of talk about tougher checks and tougher measures being put in place. This random explosive checks, what else is being put in place?

Darren Chester: Well, on that point, Fran, the legislation to allow these random checks went through the House in March this year, so long before the alleged terror plot…

Fran Kelly: Okay. So what’s been put in place post that?

Darren Chester: So steps were underway already on expert advice. In relation to the Sydney incident: as you’d be aware, the National Security Committee of Cabinet has met and had discussions about that. I’m obviously not in the position to talk about the discussion that have occurred there, but what you would have seen—if you’re a regular traveller—you would have seen elevated screening activity at our airports, that’d be obvious to anyone travelling through an airport. While admittedly in the aftermath, the security screening was escalated quite dramatically. It has remained at a higher level than it was in the past. Many travellers may have noticed additional canine patrols, so dog patrols around the front of house at our airports.

There are other measures, which will be less obvious to people and happen behind the scenes, and I’m really not in a position to talk about all the security measures that are in place at our airports. But I want to make the fundamental point though, Fran, that the security of the travelling public, the safety of airport workers, is an incredibly high priority for everyone involved in the industry and we need to keep…

Fran Kelly: I’m sure it is.

Darren Chester: and we need to keep the industry working. We need to make sure we have security settings which are proportionate to the risk and at the same time we need to keep people safe.

Fran Kelly: Okay. Well let me ask you, because as I understand it there are still no plans to force all of us who travel on airlines to produce photo ID before boarding domestic flights. Now, at the time the Australian Federal Police, aviation security experts, argued again—and I think they’ve argued before—that identity checks are needed to prevent criminals and fugitives boarding flights under false names. Do you think photo IDs are not needed?

Darren Chester: Well, Fran, strictly from an aviation security perspective, the greatest interest is around what is the person carrying either on their person or amongst their belongings or checked in baggage. So in terms of the screening of baggage and screening of a person, the person’s identity doesn’t really impact on that question of are they safe to get on the plane. So that’s…

Fran Kelly: Well, unless they have got a record in terrorism activities.

Darren Chester: But, the next point is around for…

Fran Kelly: They might miss the random testing.

Darren Chester: Well, can I just finish for a second, Fran. The problem with the Australian licence system in terms of car licence systems is they are individual licence systems in each state and they’re not linked up on any consistent database. So there is no single form of identification available to Australians right now that would meet the standards you’re referring to that you have to provide photo ID before you can get on a plane.

So there’s an active conversation—you have seen the public debate; I’ve been aware of that as well—about whether you need to provide photographic ID for a domestic flight. But in terms of is it safe to travel right now in Australia, I’d say it is. I travel almost on a daily basis and I want to reassure the travelling public that we are doing everything within our power to keep it as safe as it possibly can be. So the question around photo ID for domestic flights is an active conversation within security circles at the moment and I’m looking forward to participating in that debate.

Fran Kelly: Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

Darren Chester: Thanks, Fran. All the best.