The safety of millions of Christmas travellers has been put at risk by government inaction over urgent concerns about the security of the nation’s airports, experts have warned.
The story concerning the safety of Australian airports has many strands, all of them alarming.
A Senate inquiry into aviation and airport security is yet to report after two years, which critics describe as a scandalous failure to take the welfare of passengers seriously.
Concerns over the nation’s airports have continued to escalate, with experts reflecting everything from inadequate training of airport staff to crowded passenger areas readily targeted by suicide bombers.
Planeloads of Australian tourists flying back from Bali and Phuket are also at risk.
The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) claimed this week their members were raising concerns about high staff turnover, poor working conditions and inept security checks.
Last week, UN expert Dr Jim Kent warned during a visit to Australia that local airports were “extremely vulnerable” to terrorist attacks. This week a man was charged with making hoax calls to both aircraft and air traffic controllers at Melbourne and Avalon airports.
When retired customs officer Allan Kessing gave evidence to the inquiry this week he said reports he compiled that had not been acted on showed that more than 20 per cent of staff with access to baggage and aircraft had criminal convictions.
“What was most concerning was the level of fraud in identity cards,” he told the committee.
Leading terror expert Professor Clive Williams told The New Daily that given Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s comments this week that an additional $1.5 billion had been allocated to counter-terrorism efforts in the past two years, “you would have thought they would be right on to airport security, but it seems to have been on the back burner”.
The word airport was not mentioned in the Prime Minister’s lengthy National Security address to Parliament on Wednesday.
Airports are an obvious target. There should be a greater sense of urgency. Terror expert Professor Clive Williams
Professor Williams said with explosive devices the size of a soft drink can capable of bringing down a plane, Australian authorities needed to concentrate on poor security at airports in surrounding countries, particularly at the holiday destinations of Bali and Phuket.
“Flights are packed with Australian tourists,” he said. “Australians are a primary target for terrorists because of our involvement in the coalition against Islamic State, something the government never explains to the public.”
Senior investigative journalist with the Seven Network, Bryan Seymour, whose reports triggered the Senate inquiry, said documents obtained under Freedom of Information revealed 282 security incidents and breaches at Australian airports between January 2012 and April 2014.
These included weapons, such as knives, blades, tasers, guns, ammunition and box cutters in secure areas and on planes.
Mr Seymour told The New Daily his investigations revealed numerous breaches of airside and secure areas by unauthorised people. The situation remained dire, with recent investigations showing hundreds of sharp weapons and instruments being seized, including 83 “credit card knives”.
“These are lethal illegal concealed weapons,” he said. “Our airports should and can be more secure. There is a lot more that could be done.”
National Secretary of the TWU Tony Sheldon told The New Daily: “Our members are reporting that workers are accessing secure airside areas, in some cases using only library ID and photocopies of driver’s licences, where food and drink containers bound for aircraft are stored.
“There is clearly a problem.
A former senior security advisor to the federal government, Mike Roach, told The New Daily the two-year delay in delivering the Senate inquiry findings was scandalous.
“The government is delaying on enhancing the safety of people using airports,” he said. “The bottom line is nothing has happened, and nothing will happen until something goes bang in the night. There has been continued inaction.”
Director of Homeland Security Asia/Pacific Roger Henning told The New Daily his organisation had been up against “stiff, concerted opposition” in their attempts to change the security culture at Australian airports.
“There has been no government or industry action since 2010,” he said. “The revelations by Bryan Seymour of the Seven Network were ignored by the government, despite triggering a Senate inquiry.
“They should have been a wake-up call.
“The government has reneged on its duty of care obligations to this day; leaving millions of airline passengers at risk this Christmas peak season.”
Senator Nick Xenophon, who initiated the inquiry, told The New Daily it had received highly controversial evidence: “I hope valuable lessons have been learnt.”