3AW Sunday Morning
22 October 2017
Subject: Airport security
Darren James: Joining us now is the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester. There has been an overhaul in airport security and I think I'm right in saying that now staff will be checked. Is that basically the situation, Darren? Good morning to you.
Darren Chester: Yes, good morning Darren, and you're right. Earlier this year we changed the Act to allow for new regulations regarding the additional screening for what we call the secure zone for the workers who are employed at our airports. What that means is that there will be additional explosive trace detection at screening points as they go to work or while they are working in that zone, it will be random and will allow for a level of unpredictability around that point, so they can check the person and also check vehicles for explosive trace detection. A bit like when you, some of us who travel regularly, will go through the security zones as a passenger you can be picked out to have that trace detection. Well there's going to be more of that occurring from now on amongst the airside workers.
Darren James: And what sort of workers are we talking here, Minister?
Darren Chester: Well there's about 140,000 people working at our airports who have what we call an ASIC card, the Aviation Security Identification Card, and they could be working in baggage handling or catering or have other roles which allow them access to the secure zone. So, they'll be subject to that random testing in the months ahead.
Darren James: Now, Minister, it seemed ludicrous that this wasn't already happening. I was really surprised when we were talking about it, what, a couple of months ago and it hadn't happened. I mean…
Nick McCallum: They do it at the ASIC though, Nick, you've got to go to…
Darren James: But Minister why did it take, what, effectively 16 years since 9/11 to do this?
Darren Chester: Well what has been happening is when you apply for an ASIC, that Security Identification Card, there are some background checks done and we are seeking to tighten that up as well to make it even more difficult for people to secure one of those cards so we can have more confidence about their individual backgrounds. But what has been happening is that they have been subjected to baggage checks and checks inside vehicles as they go to work, but this is taking it to another step with the explosives trace detection. That has occurred in response to emerging threats overseas, rather than any specific threat here in Australia where there have been cases of what the experts call the insider threat: the trusted insider who might work in a secure environment having access to aircraft and seeking to do harm. One of the best things we can do obviously is to increase security awareness amongst all staff, so we will be doing some additional training there as well for all aviation workers, and that's about making sure people remain vigilant in that secure environment.
So there's a lot of things that are happening. Obviously, from the travelling public's perspective, as you go through an airport there are some things which are highly visible, some security things are highly visible and you will notice them as you go about your travel. But there are other aspects which occur behind the scenes and out of view, that are put in place to try and maintain complete public confidence in the safety of the system. We are working all the time to make sure we are on top of the new or emerging threats.
Nick McCallum: The TWU—no doubt you've already heard—has already this morning said this is window dressing. The tests need to be not random but with everyone all the time. Is that feasible to be able to do that?
Darren Chester: Well I'm surprised by those comments from the TWU, because the latest version of the regulations were provided to the TWU by our Office of Transport Security several weeks ago and no response was received by the Office of Transport Security from them. So I'm surprised by that criticism this morning. It is worth noting that the International Civil Aviation Organisation—so it sets the international standards—requires us to meet this level of unpredictability and we are meeting those standards with these changes. So we're striking the balance between maximising safety and security for workers and for travellers, but also maintaining an operational airport.
Darren James: But is it feasible though - I'm sorry this is just a quick follow up - is it feasible to test everyone, everyday, which is what the union appears to be suggesting?
Darren Chester: Well ICAO—that International Civil Aviation Organisation—did attempt that previously and it was unsuccessful, it wasn't feasible in terms of maintaining that balance between safety and security and having an operational airport. So the level of unpredictability in this random testing does meet the international standards and keep in mind as I referred to earlier, there are a lot of other security and safety applications in place within the airport—both within the passenger area and then within the secure area—that are constantly being assessed and reviewed to maintain confidence for the traveling public and we'll keep on doing that. Obviously as a Government we take security as our number one priority and we need to maintain safety for everyone involved.
John-Michael Howson: What about people arriving into the check in area? I mean you can walk into the check in area with no security at all. You get security before you go through to board the planes, but people could come into - and there have been attacks in other countries in the check in area. People have gone in there with all sorts of devices to cause mayhem and misery and you can just walk - get out of a cab, walk straight through and go into that area. Is there going to be any security to check people going into that area?
Darren Chester: Well, absolutely John-Michael, you raise a very important point. The Transport Security Outlook to 2025, which is a report that is going online today, provides an analysis of the current transport security environment for Australians and it looks at not just our airports but our ports and any other areas of mass gatherings, whether it be bus station or a train station. One of our great challenges is where do you put the screening point because wherever you put it you have the potential to create crowds and that can potentially create another target for those small minority of people who seek to do us harm. So our security experts whether it be my own Office of Transport Security, or the intelligence agencies I work closely with, are constantly reviewing and assessing what we need to do to harden up some of these potential targets to prevent an attack occurring here in Australia.
John-Michael Howson: And what about rural airports?
Darren Chester: Well again, the Inspector of Transport Security who reports to my office has been asked to review all the 173 regulated airports in Australia, so all those security regulated airports in Australia and report back to me as soon as possible regarding any additional measures they believe may need to be implemented here in Australia. Keep in mind, we have a lot of security measures in place already, but I thought it was prudent to ask the Inspector to do some more work for me in the wake of the alleged terror plot in Sydney and so that's occurring. If there is anything that comes out of that, we will certainly be looking to work with the community, work with industry, work with our intelligence agencies on implementing any changes required. It is a challenge, as I'm sure you would appreciate and your listeners would appreciate. We need to be constantly vigilant. We need to be aware of new or emerging threats that may develop overseas or within our own country and take action. So this is not a policy area where we can just set and forget and say: well we've got that right, let's move one. We are constantly looking at are there other things we can be doing to make the Australian travelling experience as safe as it can possibly be but at the same time, making sure that industry can go about its job.
Darren James: Minister, one other thing the TWU raised, which seems like it is a potential problem and that is the constant turnover of staff like caterers, security people, maintenance people; that they say creates all sorts of problems in trying to do the checks initially and doing the random checks because so many people are turning over. Is there a way of ensuring that we don't have that sort of staff turnover at our airports?
Darren Chester: Well I think the critical point is we need to make sure we get those ASIC checks done, the Aviation Security Identification Card checks done as quickly and efficiently as we possibly can…
Darren James: And that's another problem they raise. They say it often takes six to eight weeks. Is that right?
Darren Chester: That's the point I make in terms of there's 140,000 ASIC card holders in Australia at the moment. We need to make sure we are doing everything to maintain the safety and security of that system. So we are seeking to bolster that system as well into the future. But the point made in relation to a turnover of staff that does mean you need to get those ASIC assessments done as quickly as you possibly can without cutting any corners, making sure the security and safety of the travelling public and their fellow workers is maintained. So it's not an area which is without complications, as I'm sure you'll appreciate—this issue of the potential trusted insider threat is one that security agencies right around the world are dealing with. We are no different in that regard here in Australia, we need to be vigilant to that. So the work around the random testing for explosives, but also the additional security awareness training for other staff, I think, is going to be a step forward. Obviously it is the same within the public itself amongst the community. If we are vigilant and we are keeping our eyes open for things that are potentially wrong and then reporting that to the appropriate authorities, there is more chance of us intervening and preventing these attacks from occurring in the first place.
John-Michael Howson: I must say, it takes a lot for the message to get through. Last night I was sitting at a tram. I wasn't catching a tram but I was sitting at a tram bench and there was a big package next to me and I got a bit weary. I thought who does this belong to? Well, some old boy had left it there, gone into a shop to buy something and came back. I said to him: you know sir you shouldn't do that, it's a bit dangerous. He didn't know what I was talking about, didn't have a clue and it could have been anything in that package. So it is obvious a lot of people still haven't got the message.
Nick McCallum: Minister, thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate your time.
Darren Chester: All the best team. Have a great Sunday.