23 October 2017
Subject: Airport security, citizenship
Samantha Maiden: Transport Minister, Darren Chester, has rolled out a range of new security measures for airports. They are taking some heat from critics. Welcome to the program, Darren.
Darren Chester: Good morning, Sam.
Samantha Maiden: So, critics have suggested that you are essentially arguing there should be a higher standard for some staff at airports and not others. Why is that?
Darren Chester: Well, the situation is we take advice from our transport security experts and obviously intelligence agencies, both here and abroad, and the International Civilian Aviation Organisation has an expectation that you will have random explosive trace detection as well as an unpredictable system of checking on the people who have access to secure areas. So we are talking about 140,000 people have access to secure areas. They have an Aviation Security Identification Card, they need background checks to get that card. Having secured that ASIC card, there’ll be additional checks now in terms of their daily working patterns, where they’ll be exposed to those random explosive trace detection, additional training for other aviation workers to make sure they’re vigilant around potential threats that might occur in the airport setting, and working to make sure that we’ve got the settings right to keep the Australian travelling public safe.
Samantha Maiden: You must hear a lot of things in your portfolio. Is there anything that you have heard in recent weeks or months leading up to making these changes that shocked or horrified you, in terms of what the security standards were?
Darren Chester: No, look I took advice from our experts in transport security. Now, we put some legislation through the House in March this year, which led up to these regulations coming into effect last week. So now we’re working with the nine major airports, the airports which are seeing a very rapid increase in passenger numbers from now out until 2030. We are seeing huge numbers in terms of increases of passengers, which is good, which is good for the aviation sector but it presents a challenge. You’ve got to manage the security risks. So, the changes that we made were all about making sure that we can keep that secure area of the airport as safe as it possibly can be, and we are taking the advice of the experts in that regard.
Samantha Maiden: This alleged plot that we recently heard a lot about in relation to aircraft; was there any lessons to be learned from that? There was one claim that there was an attempt to put a bomb on a plane that was essentially abandoned because the suitcase was too heavy. Was there anything about the allegations that have been raised in that case that made you think that more needed to be done?
Darren Chester: The Prime Minister himself said: this is an area of public policy where you can never just set and forget. So we are constantly reviewing the security settings right throughout the community. But in the aviation space and the transport space, we are working all the time to make sure we’re keeping up with any new or emerging threats. Now, there is no question the alleged plot in Sydney raised our level of concern to the point where we had additional scanning implemented at the airports immediately, and now, even though that plot has been averted, we have got a higher level than we had in the past. So while it’s down from that extreme level, I guess, and the immediate aftermath of that plot becoming public, there’s still a higher level now. So some of the things people actually notice themselves, they go through the airport, there’s more explosive trace detection scanning of passengers, but there’s other things they won’t notice because it happens behind closed doors and there’s a lot of measures in place which we can’t really talk about, in terms of publicly. We don’t want to tell the people who seek to do us harm exactly what we’re up to. But there’s a lot of things happening, both publicly and behind closed doors, which are all aimed at keeping the travelling public safe and keeping airport workers safe.
Samantha Maiden: What about this issue of photo ID? Why do you think people should continue to be able to get on domestic flights without showing any?
Darren Chester: Well, it is a conversation that’s occurring within security agencies right now, and it’s occurring publicly as well. The point to remember though, when we’re scanning people getting on board an aircraft, we’re most concerned about what they’re carrying or what’s in their bag. Their actual identification, who they are, isn’t as important from an aviation security perspective as what they may be carrying. So we need to have the debate, we need to have the discussion about whether we’re ready to move towards producing a photo ID for every domestic flight, but we have a bit of a problem in Australia that we have different licensing systems in each state. So there’s no one single photo card that’s linked up in a database that would immediately be available to the police and law enforcement activities. But it’s a debate that we need to have, and I’m happy to participate in that, but from a straight out aviation security setting, our focus is on making sure that people don’t get on board planes with things that can do harm to others.
Samantha Maiden: Okay, let’s get to the Nationals. There was a lot of chatter last week that the Nationals were not impressed, that there was some announcements in terms of funding, particularly in the lead up to the Queensland election, that the One Nation Party was involved in. Have you taken any concerns to the leadership, to the Liberal Party, that this doesn’t happen again?
Darren Chester: Well, I have many conversations with my colleagues within Cabinet, and most of them stay private for that reason. We had a conversation on policy areas, on issues of concern, and the important thing is that they do stay private. So yes, I have had conversations with colleagues about how we manage our portfolios in the lead up to state elections, and in the lead up to the Federal election. We have a good, strong working relationship, we have got a great team, I think Prime Minister Turnbull’s doing a good job…
Samantha Maiden: Why would One Nation be involved though, in that sort of…
Darren Chester: Well I wasn’t part of those conversations, I’m simply saying that I think we’ve got a good, strong Cabinet team and the Prime Minister’s doing a great job in terms of leading that team and Barnaby Joyce, my leader, is doing a great job of standing up for regional areas.
It is something that I’m obviously very passionate about and it’s good to have Barnaby at the forefront of our team.
Samantha Maiden: There have been also reports in the last week, though, that Barnaby Joyce has plans in place to essentially have a succession plan if he needs to take time out to fight a by-election in the wake of that High Court result. Is it the case that there’s a secret plan to install Nigel Scullion—the fisherman at large, the man who once posed in an avocado calendar—as the leader of the National Party?
Darren Chester: Well, it’s not much of a secret plan. I read that plan in the newspapers, so I’m not sure how secret it is. It’s…
Samantha Maiden: Is it a….
Darren Chester: Well, it’s speculation. I mean Barnaby’s in a position obviously his citizenship issue is before the High Court. I’d love to see that resolved as soon as possible in a positive way. He is a very important part of our team.
Samantha Maiden: Sure, but is Nigel Scullion the candidate if he has to step aside? Is it Nigel Scullion Deputy Prime Minister? I really like the idea, I’ve got to say, probably for all the wrong reasons.
Darren Chester: Well, look, Nigel’s a great mate of mine and Barnaby’s a great mate of mine and I’m not going to speculate on what may or may not happen. I mean the High Court ruling comes down, we hope to get a positive result and then Barnaby continues doing this great job of leading our team. If he doesn’t get a positive result, obviously we’re off to a bi-election and my team—the National Party team, of which there’s 22 of us—will have to resolve our leadership issues then. But…
Samantha Maiden: Okay, but would it be an interim situation? Like, would Nigel just step into the job with the expectation that Barnaby would…
Darren Chester: Look, we are going a long way down a path of hypotheticals, but the fundamental point to remember is Barnaby has enormous support amongst the National Party. If it was that he had to fight a bi-election, we would all be out there en masse fighting for him and fighting with him, and Barnaby would be expected to continue as leader in the longer term. So, whatever happened in the short term, it would be a matter for the party-room to decide. But be under no illusions, Barnaby has great support amongst our team. He has been a terrific leader for the National Party and we are going from strength to strength.
Samantha Maiden: Yeah, and serious issue then, on that. Over the weekend, headlines suggesting that Barnaby Joyce was facing some sort of unspecified personal crisis. Have you seen any evidence that this has been affecting his work, the operations of his office, actually affecting his ability to do his job? He is obviously under a lot of pressure with the High Court and so on. Have you seen any evidence that he is struggling with the job?
Darren Chester: Barnaby is doing a fantastic job as the leader of our party. He is well supported by the whole team. I don’t think there’s been a leader in the National Party in recent history who has been able to raise the profile of our team to such an extent that Barnaby has and been able to deliver everything we promised we would deliver to the Australian people. So, classic example…
Samantha Maiden: Do you think that article was appropriate then? Do you think that the media shouldn’t report on that?
Darren Chester: I’ll get to your point. Just on that Melbourne Brisbane Inland Rail. We have talked about it for decades and Barnaby’s been the leader who’s been able to secure that in coalition with Malcolm Turnbull. Now in terms of the article itself, I think it reflects more poorly on the journalist themselves than anyone else. That journalist will need to decide, are you a gossip columnist or are you a genuine member of the press gallery?
Samantha Maiden: But is it gossip only if it’s not affecting his job? Like you think that this should be off limits essentially.
Darren Chester: Well, I’m sitting here as a Cabinet Minister responsible for $10 billion worth of infrastructure spending this financial year. You could be asking me about projects in all the capital cities, about the Bruce Highway, the Pacific Highway, Inland Rail—they are the things that I’m responsible and they’re the things that people care about. A bit of gossip in a newspaper is something that is beneath commenting on and the journalist involved needs to reflect on whether that is a good way to shape your own career.
Samantha Maiden: Thank you very much for your time today, Darren Chester, we appreciate it.
Darren Chester: Thank you.