Aviation Legislation Amendment (2008 Measures No. 1) Bill 2008: Second Reading

By 19 October 2001, the minister had announced new measures to protect air security, including placing air security officers on domestic and international flights. The air security officer program commenced in December 2001, with air security officers deployed to fly on domestic flights. To date, the program has expanded to also cover some international flights to Singapore and the United States. Air security officers are specially trained AFP officers who are armed when travelling and travel in teams of two or more. The pilot is the only person on board, other than the air security officers themselves, who is aware that there are armed security officers on board. According to the AFP, the integrity of the program relies on these ASOs blending in with other travellers. The random and covert nature of these deployments is considered to be an important deterrent to any attack on board a flight.

Unfortunately, the threats that air security officers work to prevent are very real. On 29 May 2003, a Qantas Boeing 717 flight from Melbourne to Launceston was the scene of an onboard knife attack that injured two crew members and two passengers. Thankfully, the assailant was subdued before doing any further damage. But these threats need to be prevented, and air security officers need to be empowered to do their job of protecting airline crew and the travelling public.

So what does the Aviation Legislation Amendment (2008 Measures No. 1) Bill 2008 do? The measures in this bill will permit air security officers to lawfully discharge their firearms on board an aircraft in Australian territory or on board an Australian aircraft in foreign territory. The lawful discharge of a firearm can only occur in the course of their duties-and that is an important point to make-in preventing unlawful interference with an aircraft. Unlawful discharge risks prosecution. The system, as I understand it, will be equivalent to that which applies to police officers.

Before becoming a member of parliament, for four years I was an adviser to the police minister in New South Wales. I got some experience working in the area of police powers and worked with the Police Association and the police service in New South Wales to make sure that police had the powers they needed to do their job. Those powers included those following the implementation of the new gun laws across the country in 1996, which were measures-very good measures-introduced by the Howard government. There was also the introduction of other laws, like move-on powers, knife law legislation and drug house laws. The important point is that the people who have an obligation to protect us must be given the powers they need to do their job. They need to be given the skills and the resources that they need. I know the member for Werriwa would concur with that, having worked in this area as well.

Existing regulations do not allow an air security officer to discharge a firearm in an aircraft without the risk of prosecution. Obviously, this puts them in a pretty unworkable position, and that legislative defect has until now been addressed by the periodic issuing of notices under regulation 144 of the Civil Aviation Regulations. This bill moves the existing set of regulations from the safety legislation framework to the air security legislative framework. The bill also deals with the complicated extraterritorial issues created by the air security officers program. Extraterritoriality refers to the effect of the laws that apply beyond our national jurisdiction. The Australian Government Solicitor has advised that the Aviation Transport Security Act, and thereby any regulations made under the act, does not currently have extraterritorial operation. This means that, unless the act is amended to enable regulations to have extraterritorial effect, a regulation cannot be made under the Aviation Transport Security Regulations to permit an Australian air security officer to lawfully discharge a firearm on board an Australian aircraft outside Australian territory. The bill will amend the regulation, making the power under the Aviation Transport Security Act to enable the making of regulations that have extraterritorial operation. The amendment will be modelled on existing section 27 of the Air Navigation Act 1920. Under this approach, regulations will only have extraterritorial operation if specified and will only apply to Australian aircraft or aircraft engaged in Australian international carriage and the crew and passengers on board those aircraft.

The bill also makes a small technical amendment to the Civil Aviation Act. Section 23 of the act currently says that an aircraft or person must not, amongst other things, carry dangerous goods on board an aircraft except in accordance with the Civil Aviation Act or with the written permission of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. So a minor technical amendment to section 23 is required to make it clear that an aircraft or person must not carry dangerous goods on board an aircraft except in accordance with the Civil Aviation Act or with the written permission of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority or in accordance with the Aviation Transport Security Regulations.

We all have a duty to ensure that passenger aircraft in this country are as safe as possible and, in a post September 11 environment, the air safety officer program is an important part of ensuring this safety and protecting aircraft crews and the public from threats that could eventuate midflight. I hope that air safety officers never have to discharge a firearm on board an Australian plane, but I am glad that there are men and women who are willing, trained and able to do so if the need arises. The least we can do as legislators is to ensure that they are not in the position of being prosecuted for doing so. These laws provide quite properly for the exceptional and terrible circumstance where it is necessary for them to discharge their weapon to protect passengers, the crew and the safety of an aircraft. I think that is appropriate and I think it is the least that we can do. I commend the bill to the House.’