Report claims that 20% of non customs-related airport workers in Australia have criminal convictions

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A report by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee in Australia has highlighted several shortcomings in airport security, including the number of airport workers with criminal records, ineffective passenger screening processes, and concerns over biometric identification from the LGBTI community.

The Airport and Aviation Security report, tabled by the Committee on March 30, 2017, makes nine recommendations for improving aviation security within Australia.

This includes, but is not limited to:

• Adopting a risk-based and considered approach to future regulation amendments;

• The full publication of a review into aviation security training and education previously carried out by the Inspector of Transport Security;

• The creation of a framework to ensure that subcontracted screening bodies have appropriate employment standards and provide training and services consistent with Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005;

• The amendment of the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 to make it compulsory for aviation industry participants to report information currently captured under the voluntary reporting scheme;

• The creation of a centralized issuing authority for Aviation Security Identification Cards (ASIC);

• The development of a national automatic notification system for offence convictions of ASIC holders;

• And that the Australian Government implements a regional aviation security awareness training package.

Within the report, senator Glenn Sterle, committee chair, said, “Over the course of this inquiry the committee was presented with serious allegations and evidence of security risks and breaches at Australian airports. Of particular concern was evidence, spanning a number of years, around weaknesses in passenger screening processes, and abuse of the ASIC and VIC schemes.

“The committee commends the steps that have been taken to address the issues in these areas, but there remains significant scope for breaches of security. Stringent background checking and improvements to the current ASIC self-reporting regime would go some way to addressing these concerns, as would increased oversight and centralization of ASIC issuing processes.”

When commenting on the topic of biometrics, Sterle said, “The National LGBTI Health Alliance raised concerns over biometric identification, noting that ‘the use of gender in identification tests is likely to have a disproportionate adverse impact on LGBTI populations’. It made the point that any use of personal identifiers in biometrics should not discriminate against or disproportionally target members of the LGBTI community.”

Senator Nick Xenophon, a participating member of the report, added, “The genesis of this inquiry can be traced back to the invaluable work that former custom’s officer Allan Kessing did in preparing reports on risks he identified in airport security. Those reports were disgracefully suppressed and only saw the light of day when leaked to The Australian newspaper in May 2005. Kessing has always denied he was responsible for the leaking of those reports to The Australian.

“The public furor that arose following the release of the reports led to the Howard government commissioning the Wheeler Review into Airport Security and, upon its release in September 2005, the Howard Government announced a A$200m (US$153m) security upgrade at Australia’s major airports – a complete vindication of the matters raised by Kessing several years earlier.

“However, the revelations by the Seven Network’s investigative reporter Bryan Seymour in a series of reports broadcast in 2014 highlighted that, despite the 2002 and 2003 Kessing Reports, the 2005 Wheeler Review, the 2009 Beale Review and the 2014 ANAO Audit of Policing at Australian International Airports, there are still many deficiencies in security at Australian airports.”

Xenophon goes on to list these inefficiencies, including concerns over the distribution of the current identification cards; the inefficiencies of passenger screening; the use of subcontracted security staff and inadequate staff training; a lack of appropriate intelligence analysis during the screening process; and issues relating to mandatory and voluntary reporting of ‘unlawful interference’. In conclusion, Xenophon recommends that the Australian government adopts a US Transport Security Administration-like agency approach to airport and aviation security.

“Evidence was presented to the committee that shows that current screening does detect contraband, but that there are holes,” said Xenophon. “Examples were provided of prohibited objects discovered after passengers had boarded planes; objects included knives, tools (such as screwdrivers and pliers), scissors and box cutters, pepper spray, tasers and bullets.

Regarding the issuing of ASICs and VICs, Xenophon said, “The evidence provided to the committee, particularly the evidence of Mr Kessing, showed significant problems in relation to the ASIC and VIC vetting process – with up to 20% of all non-customs staff (baggage handling, cleaners, screening staff, aircraft catering) with access to the sterile areas having criminal convictions, and about half of those were serious convictions, including drug trafficking, assault and other misdemeanors. The vetting process is decentralized and has no notification scheme for an ASIC holder who may have been subject to a conviction after the card has been issued.

“The US (and Canadian) government’s response is instructive, and Australia would do well to proactively adopt a similar approach, rather than reactively after some future aviation incident,” concludes Xenophon. “Australians owe Kessing a great deal of gratitude for the reports he prepared that have been a catalyst for improvements to aviation security in this country. Sadly, it seems that a number of Kessing’s warnings and recommendations of almost 15 years ago have continued to go on unheeded. That is completely unacceptable.”

To read a copy of the full Airport and Aviation Security report, click here.

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Dan joined Passenger Terminal World in 2014 having spent the early years of his career in the recruitment industry. As assistant editor, he now produces daily content for the website and supports the editors with the publication of each exciting new issue. When he’s not reporting on the latest aviation news, Dan can be found apprehensively planning his next DIY project.

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