Doorstop interview Parliament House, Canberra
22 October 2017
Subject: Aviation security
Darren Chester: The safety and security of all Australians remains the Government's highest priority. Obviously, we have very strong settings already in place, but the changes I'll be announcing today deal with aviation security, workers' safety, and also the safety of the Australian travelling public. We put legislation through the House in March this year, and regulations came into effect last week, which allow for the random explosive trace detection of airport workers. There are 140,000 workers in the aviation sector who are eligible for the Aviation Security Identification Card. Under these changes, we will be working with our nine major airports to allow for the checking, on a random basis, for those workers to explosive trace. In addition, there will be some further training provided for aviation workers to make sure we are developing a culture of safety within the aviation sector. So we know there's only a small minority of people seeking to do us harm, but if we're working more constructively with airport workers themselves to identify something in the workplace, which may be strange to them or unusual or prompting a response from our security agencies—we're working with them to undertake further security awareness training.
I'm looking forward to working with our nine major airports, our Category One airports, over the coming months to implement these changes, with a full roll-out expected by January 2019.
Question: Minister, just on the workers; what role, specifically, do they have the ones that will be randomly tested?
Darren Chester: Well these are workers who have access to the secure area of our airports. So there would be 140,000 workers who have the ASIC card which allows them, for reasons of undertaking their work as an engineer, as a baggage handler, perhaps involved in catering, who have access to that part of the airport. There will be capacity for us to take some random explosive trace detection during the working day or at the time they enter their workplace. It will be random, it will be unpredictable, and we believe it is an effective way of deterring that small minority of people who would seek to do us harm.
Question: How common is it for somebody that does work at an airport to engage in behaviour that is risky to people's security? How common is that here and overseas?
Darren Chester: Well I don't have any details on exact numbers, but we recognise that throughout the world there have been incidents where the so-called insider threat has resulted in serious safety breaches. We are constantly working with our security agencies to make sure that we are responding to new or emerging threats. There is no question the insider threat is one of those that we need to keep working on as a Government. We are working, obviously, with our security agencies both here and abroad to make sure we get it right.
Question: You inspired these changes though.
Darren Chester: We are working in an environment where those who seek to do us harm are continually testing security, and we are working to try and prevent anything from occurring. Obviously, the safety of the travelling public, the safety of our workers within the airport environment is critical to the Government. We need to maintain public confidence in the safety of our airports, so we are working all the time, we are acting on the latest advice that comes from intelligence agencies here in Australia or overseas. There have been incidents of insider threats looking overseas. There have been no specific threats here in Australia that we are responding to, but we are working to make sure we can keep our aviation security settings as strong as they possibly can be.
Question: Why isn't every worker tested every time they enter a secure space every day? It seems to be a massive security flaw, doesn't it?
Darren Chester: Well it is not a massive security flaw. You need to understand that we respond to the advice from the experts in the industry. Now, keep in mind there's 140,000 people who hold an ASIC card right now. We need to make sure our response in terms of our security settings is proportionate to the risk that we are faced with. But at the same time, we need to make sure that our airports can continue to operate. If we were to undertake a check on every single worker, for example, entering an airport, you would end up with long delays in terms of trying to make the airports function properly. You would see in the Sydney setting, for example, additional delays in terms of congestion at the major transport routes around the airport. So we believe our response is proportionate to the risk as outlined by the experts; that workers in the aviation setting can expect to be checked randomly for explosive trace detection. You need to keep in mind there's only a small number of people that would seek to do us harm, so our response needs to be proportionate to the risk, but also keep in mind that unpredictability, the randomness of that will act as a deterrent in itself.
Question: Do you appreciate Nick Xenophon's point, though, that all pilots are scanned before they go onto a plane yet this is only random for people that are going to those secure areas specifically?
Darren Chester: Well Nick's comments today have been unusual in the sense that he voted for the legislation in March this year, and given a choice between taking advice from a career politician or experts in safety and security—if you don't mind, I'll take the advice the experts.
Question: Unions and terror experts claim that airport workers are gaining access to secure areas before their background checks have been completed. Are you aware of this?
Darren Chester: No, I'm not. The expectation is, if you have got access to the secure area you'll have the ASIC card, and it takes in the order of two weeks to secure that. As I said, there is about 140,000 Australians currently holding the ASIC card. In addition to these random checks, obviously the work we are doing in terms of increasing security awareness or understanding within the workforce, I believe, will pay dividends as well. Making sure people are aware of their own responsibilities to provide for secure culture within the airport setting is very important.
Question: Minister, just to be clear on that point: the TWU says that up to 60 per cent of people in some industries do not have security background checks before they take that ASIC card, and go on to the secured areas. Are you saying they are wrong, and all 140,000 have the necessary security checks?
Darren Chester: What I'm saying is the ASIC checks, the checks required on people's backgrounds, are carried out before they can access the secure areas. 140,000 of those ASIC card holders are here in Australia and the Government is actually taking steps to even make that more rigorous in the sense that we have legislation before the Senate making sure that people who had a serious offence will be ruled out from actually being able to secure an ASIC, and we'd like the Labor Party and the crossbench to support us in our endeavours.
Question: Minister, could this include maritime, port workers? Are you open to that? And where's the update, I suppose, on the ID checking for domestic passengers?
Darren Chester: The point you raised in relation to marine safety identification cards: the ASIC and MSIC will be treated the same under legislation that the Government has before the Senate at the moment.
In relation to the checking of photographic IDs before using domestic flights: there has been some speculation about whether that would be introduced in the future. I'd have to point out that at this stage there's no policy to introduce that. It has been subject to some debate in the community. The important thing to remember when it comes to the photographic ID for domestic flights—the concern from a security setting, from an aviation security setting, is the items that a person may be carrying either on their person or in their bag, not necessarily what the person's name is, if that makes sense. So there's not actually an aviation safety dividend directly associated to the person's name compared to what they may be carrying in their bags or on their person.
Question: How does security in Australian airports compare to airports around the world? For instance, do airports in the UK and the US have security—is their security stronger than this?
Darren Chester: Well each country makes its security settings based on their measurement of their own risk in their own nation. Now, we work closely with our international counterparts, we exchange information and advice as there are new and emerging threats, so it's hard for me to comment on the individual circumstances of other nations. The Australian Government works closely with intelligence agencies here and abroad to make sure we get the settings right. We have a strong existing system in place, there is no opportunity to set and forget when it comes to aviation and transport security. We need to be constantly mindful of the fact that those who seek to do us harm are exploring new ways to do that, and our security agencies and the Office of Transport Security within my own Department are trying to stay ahead of that.