Overview of reports and reforms in aviation security
Australian aviation security has been the subject of numerous reports
and reviews over many years, particularly since the events of 11 September
2001. The triggers for such reports have varied. Media reports of security
breaches and vulnerabilities at airports have led to government reviews aimed
at restoring public confidence. Reviews have also been triggered by the
emergence of new threat sources and events which have exposed systemic
weaknesses in procedures at airports. Others have taken place within the formal
risk assessment process. This chapter provides an overview of some of these
reviews and their recommendations.
Reviews from 2002
In 2002 and 2003, Mr Allan Kessing, a member of an ACS covert unit, contributed
to a number of reviews of security at Sydney Airport for ACS. The first report considered
the risks associated with private security staff employed by a privatised
airport corporation, who undertake passenger screening.
The second report detailed security vulnerabilities of 'sterile areas'
of the airport and reviewed security and staff with airport security
identification cards. The ASIC provides a card holder access to the airport's
Both reports were subsequently leaked to The Australian
newspaper, which published articles on 31 May and 1 June 2005 bringing
these airport security vulnerabilities to the attention of the public.
The newspaper articles paraphrased key elements of the two intelligence
Concerns over drug syndicates operating within Sydney Airport
which used passenger luggage to transport illegal substances; security camera
black spots known and utilised by airport employees; occurrences of lower level
criminality, including smuggling stolen property and theft from passengers; and
the failure of airport authorities to identify at-risk employees with criminal
records, with several employees having known connections to established
Alongside the two classified ACS reports on aviation security and
following the 11 September 2001 attacks, there were a range of other reviews
conducted including an Attorney-General's Department (AGD) review of national
security which considered the aviation sector. In late 2002, Mr Rex Stevenson
AO conducted a classified review of the effectiveness of aviation security
measures already adopted in Australia. In 2003 the Australian National Audit
Office (ANAO) conducted a performance audit on the response of the Department
of Transport and Regional Services to the increased threat to aviation security
since 11 September.
Airports and airlines often contract to other parties to deliver
aviation services, for example, catering, cleaning, and screening of passengers
and baggage. Under the regulatory model, the department is required to hold
airports and airlines to account for the actions of their contractors and their
employees. However, in its 2003 report, the ANAO found that repeat aviation
security breaches occurred, many of which were due to the actions of those
contractors and their employees. The ANAO concluded that the department should
'properly hold airports and airlines accountable for their actions' and, in
turn 'aim to ensure that airports and airlines hold their contractors who
breach the security requirements to account for their breaches'.
In mid-2003, in response to an ASIO Threat Assessment on the risks to
the aviation sector, the Secretaries' Committee on National Security initiated
a further review of measures and reforms needed. The Parliamentary Joint
Committee on Public Accounts and Audit (PJCAA) conducted an inquiry into
aviation security in 2004. Following the Madrid bombing the same year, Mr Ken
Matthews, the Secretary of the Department of Transport and Regional Services,
led an overseas mission on transport security and reported back to the
government on the findings.
Wheeler Review 2005
On 7 June 2005, in response to growing community concerns about reported
instances of criminality and security weaknesses at major Australian airports, then
Minister for Transport and Regional Services, the Hon John Anderson MP,
announced a review of airport security and policing. The Australian government
invited the Rt. Hon Sir John Wheeler to head the review.
The resulting report, An Independent Review of Airport Security and
Policing for the Government of Australia (Wheeler Review) was published on
21 September 2005. Wheeler affirmed that terrorism, organised
crime and opportunistic crime constitute the major security threats to
In his review, Wheeler noted intelligence material, particularly from
Customs, confirming significant threats and vulnerabilities at major airports
consistent with the reports in The Australian following the unauthorised
release of contents from the two classified ACS reports.
Wheeler recognised a range of initiatives already underway or to be
introduced at the time of his review, including:
tightening up of the ASIC system for employees at airports;
an extension and improvement of passenger, luggage and freight
increasing the number of officials with security-related
improved coordination amongst airport officials.
While noting that there is no such thing as 100 per cent security,
Wheeler did, however, identify a series of weaknesses that required immediate
and longer term address. He found that the airport security and policing
culture at most major airports was not conducive to information sharing.
The Wheeler Review noted that the Act and Regulations provided solid
foundations for airport security regulation, but both would benefit from a
review to clarify and simplify the provisions. Wheeler advised of a 'danger
that airport security could become focused on compliance with regulations
rather than on the crucial preventative role' of risk and threat assessment.
The legislation should instead support good systems, processes and improved
Balancing commercial interests and
The tension between commercial and security interests at Australian
airports was noted by Wheeler. With an estimated 150,000 people then directly
employed in connection with airports in Australian capital cities, Wheeler
recognised that airports are considerably more than just transportation modes
as they serve as critical infrastructure and work sites.
Wheeler found there was a perception that government decisions imposed
additional security-related obligations on industry without absorbing more of
the associated costs. Cost issues connected to security appeared to be the most
vexatious, with government guided often by the principle of 'capacity to pay'
rather than a clear idea of how responsibility for security and ownership of
risk were shared. Wheeler suggested that, in the absence of an agreed and
documented statement of policy principles for allocating costs amongst federal,
state and territory governments and private sector owners/operators, the
irreconcilable debates about who should pay would continue.
The Wheeler Review focused on three elements which underpin security at
airports. The three 'main security pillars of airports' include the TSP which
sets out an airport's goals for maintaining security in the face of its risks,
as well as the responsibilities of the Airport Security Committee's members
towards meeting those goals. The second pillar is the Airport Security
Committee, which comprises representatives of bodies at airports with interest
in and responsibility for security. The ASIC system comprises the third pillar.
Wheeler made a series of recommendations, particularly with regard to
information sharing, agency cooperation and airport policing models. He found
the relationship between Customs, state and federal police and private airport
security highly dysfunctional.
The Wheeler Review identified three key areas of concern relating to
airport security and policing culture at major airports. These were:
a marked inhibition about sharing information with those who need
it to make evidence-based decisions;
a lack of clarity, consistency and alignment between authority
and responsibility in decision-making; and
an undue reliance on 'after the event' compliance auditing,
rather than 'pre-event planning' as the basis for accountability.
Protecting security screening and
The screening of personnel, baggage and cargo at Australia's airports is
the responsibility of the airline or of the terminal operator and is conducted
by private security officers, usually contractors. The Wheeler Review noted
that for this job to be performed correctly, and the system to be safe, these
officers must be background‑checked, trained to an appropriate level, and
tested frequently to ensure that their skills and attention to detail do not
erode. Wheeler noted that these initiatives were consistent with requirements
stipulated in the ICAO Annex 17 Standards 3.4.2 and 3.4.3 regarding training,
certification and the setting of performance standards for those implementing
Wheeler concluded that:
Because of the importance of these screening personnel, and
of the private security guards employed at larger airports, it is necessary
that realistic but rigorous standards be set for employment in this field. And
because of the national interconnections in the airline industry, where
screening done in one airport can have serious implications for an airport a
great distance away, those standards should be uniform across Australia, and
should apply to sub-contractors and part-time guards as well. Some States and
Territories (NSW, the ACT and most recently Victoria) have already instituted
licensing standards; the work done in preparing those could help in
establishing a national licensing regime and be encouraged by COAG.
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit 2005
On 25 May 2005, the PJCAA resolved to review the developments in
aviation security since its earlier report on the subject, tabled in June 2004.
The PJCAA was concerned by public reports of security breaches at Australian
airports, including allegations that baggage handlers had been involved in a
syndicate smuggling drugs through Sydney Airport.
The PJCAA tabled an interim report in November 2005 identifying two
areas of aviation security that were the subject of recommendations made by the
Wheeler review and where, it believed, further specific requirements should be
put forward. These two areas were the proposed review of the Act and the
Regulations, and proposed changes to background checking processes of
applications for ASICs.
While supporting Wheeler's recommendations, the PJCAA noted that its own
inquiry had confirmed the need for a review of the arrangements for issuing and
managing ASICs, a need to improve information-sharing across airports, and the
need for a single policing authority for all category one and major airports.
Commonwealth commitment to aviation security reform
On 21 September 2005, the Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard MP
announced the government's in principal acceptance of the Wheeler Review
recommendations along with a commitment of $200 million to further strengthen
security at Australia's major airports. Under the plan, police commanders were
appointed to the country's 11 major (or category one) airports while airport
staff would be subjected to tougher screening, with the introduction of a streamlined
process for the provision of security clearances.
As part of the expenditure, funds were committed to:
five new joint airport investigation teams at Sydney, Melbourne,
Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth to fight organised crime;
customs patrols of tarmac areas at seven airports; and
boosting technology to detect explosives and upgrade the customs
closed circuit television (CCTV) capabilities.
In response to the Wheeler Review, a Unified Policing Model (UPM) was
instituted with the Commonwealth, through the AFP, meeting the cost of
policing. The UPM saw policing of airports undertaken by AFP Protective Service
Officers dealing with Counter Terrorism First Responses, and state and
territory police officers dealing with community policing.
In 2006, as part of the government's commitment to implement the Wheeler
Review recommendations, amendments were made to the Act.
These amendments provided for better management of domestic and international cargo
handling, before cargo is taken onto aircraft. As part of the amendments, all
commercial air cargo would be subject to appropriate secure handling and
screening processes along the supply chain, from the initial packing to
eventual loading on the relevant aircraft.
The Immigration and Border Protection Portfolio (IBPP) advised the
committee of programs implemented as a direct response to the Wheeler Review.
expanded powers of customs and border officers to 'stop, search,
restrain, detain and remove people and vehicles, pending arrival of a law
enforcement officer', effective 20 August 2007;
the establishment of the Airports National Monitoring and
Analysis Centre to provide complete, all day CCTV and increased staffing
resources to monitor and support passenger processing operations, effective
November 2007; and
the mandatory screening of all air cargo transported on passenger
aircraft, where passenger's checked baggage is screened, fully implemented in
Additionally, the OTS engaged ASIO's protective security advice unit, known
as T4, to undertake 'a vulnerability analysis of all major Australian airports,
and a selection of regional screened airports during 2008/09'. Some
deficiencies were found in security measures aimed at mitigating terrorist
attack methods. However, ASIO could not accept and implement any recommended
security improvements, as the responsibility for this rests with the client who
originally engaged the T4 unit (in this instance, the OTS).
Beale Review 2009 and changes to policing arrangements at airports
A federal audit of police capabilities (known as the Beale Review)
commenced in 2009 to examine the capabilities of the AFP. As part of the audit,
policing at Australia's airports was considered. The Independent Reviewer, Mr
Roger Beale AO noted that policing of Australia's principal airports had been a
subject of Commonwealth/State controversy since 1970. The Beale Review found
that airport policing arrangements comprised a patchwork of federal, state and
territory policing responses based on a history of different approaches and
The effectiveness of the UPM model at airports was called into question
in March 2009 when a member of a criminal gang was bludgeoned to death in a
brawl in a Sydney Airport terminal, following an in-flight incident between
rival gang members. Airport security at Sydney became a highly publicised issue
when it was revealed that the incident failed to capture the attention of
surveillance monitoring staff, and security officers only responded when a
bystander phoned emergency services.
While recognising that the matter remained contentious, Mr Beale
concluded that the best approach would be for the Commonwealth to provide an
integrated airport policing capability. He found the UPM was flawed and
recommended that all airport police officers be sworn employees of the AFP and
capable of undertaking both counter terrorism and policing functions. Beale
recommended an 'All In' model whereby the Commonwealth take responsibility for
funding and staffing nationally coordinated airport security and policing
services, noting this would likely take several years before being fully
operational. Further, the Beale review recommended that the Australian Government
take measures to ensure that the powers of AFP members policing airports were
clear and adequate to the task.
In December 2009, the Australian Government announced that it would
implement the Beale Review recommendations regarding airport security at
Australia's 11 major airports, through a nationally integrated system. As part
of the reform, sworn AFP officers would fill the majority of airport policing
roles at those airports. Furthermore, the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon
Brendan O'Connor MP noted that:
The existing Counter Terrorism First response function at
airports will also be integrated into the new model of aviation security and
policing. The joint airport investigation teams and joint airport intelligence
groups will remain with a mix of state or territory and federal police officers
as this remains the most effective structure. These changes are consistent with
the Beale audit’s finding that an all-in model of policing will improve the
efficiency and effectiveness of airport policing and security services.
The process of moving from the 'unified' model to an 'All In' model was
complete in June 2013.
Under current arrangements, AFP sworn officers perform a range of functions at
nine of Australia's major airports. The aviation policing function is led by an
Airport Police Commander at each of the airports, responsible for the
coordination, command and control of aviation security and policing activities.
Under the model, which involves a mix of federal, state and territory
police, the policing presence includes Joint Airport Investigation Teams
(JAIT), Joint Airport Intelligence Groups (JAIG) and Air Security Officers (ASOs).
In addition to the uniformed police and customs presence at major
airports, private security arrangements remain a significant element of airport
security. Private security staff are responsible for screening passengers
entering 'sterile' secure areas as well as maintaining perimeter security in
2009 Aviation and 2010 White Papers
On 16 December 2009, the Australian Government released Australia's
first Aviation White Paper, Flight path to the future. It stated that
aviation security would continue to be driven by emerging technologies,
intelligence, requirements of international bodies, and assessment of security
The paper identified 15 areas where security would be improved,
including through continuous review of standards, further restrictions on ASIC,
and on flight deck access. The review was followed by the Counter-Terrorism
White Paper, released in January 2010, which involved a $200 million
investment in aviation and border security over four years. As part of the
measures introduced with the paper, the role of the National Intelligence
Coordination Committee (established in 2009) was strengthened with the
establishment of a Counter-Terrorism Control Centre to coordinate intelligence
gathering and information sharing between law enforcement bodies and foreign
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry 2011
In June 2011, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
(PJCLE) tabled a report on the adequacy of aviation and maritime security
measures in combating serious and organised crime. In response to mounting
evidence regarding the increasing risk of interactions between organised crime
and terrorism, the PJCLE was informed that criminal and terrorist organisations
were able to exploit vulnerabilities within the aviation and maritime sectors.
During its inquiry, the PJCLE received evidence which raised concerns
about the continued outsourcing of private security, seen as an area of
security vulnerability. Concerns raised to the committee included that security
firms were subcontracting twice or thrice, and experienced a high staff
turnover which undermined any training regime and limited on-the-job
experience. These factors, coupled with low wages and poor conditions, produced
higher risks in terms of aviation security.
A number of submissions made to the PJCLE strongly supported the
creation of a government-run, centralised security force at airports. It was
hoped such an approach would reduce issues such as high turnover and poor
wages, while providing harmonised and improved training to security staff.
The government did not agree with this approach, noting it would instead
continue to work with industry to provide improved training, technology and
ANAO audit of policing at Australian International Airports 2014
The ANAO tabled a performance audit in March 2014, which examined the
AFP and its policing of Australian international airports. In its audit report,
the ANAO found that the AFP was effectively managing the delivery of policing
services at airports.
It recommended that, as a means to enable AFP officers to maintain appropriate
knowledge of state and territory legislative requirements, the AFP and state
and territory police review the content, duration and frequency of legislative
In its submission to the inquiry, the AFP noted that it had agreed to the
recommendation and was working with its state and territory counterparts to implement
Enhanced security screening measures 2016
On 1 December 2016, the Transport Security Legislation Amendment Bill
2016 was introduced with the objective of strengthening security at Australia's
major airports by way of new and enhanced security screening.
The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Darren Chester MP,
described the measures within the bill:
Specifically, airports will be able to randomly select
people, together with their vehicles and belongings, for screening when they
are working inside the secure airside area of an Australian airport to make
sure they do not have prohibited weapons in their possession.
In his second reading speech, the Minister highlighted that the bill was
part of a range of measures designed to mitigate the 'insider threat'. He noted
in this regard that:
Airport workers such as baggage handlers, caterers, cleaners
and engineers have special access to passenger aircraft so they can carry out
their important roles. However, there is potential for this access to be exploited,
either willingly or through coercion, to facilitate an attack against a
According to the Minister, the new measures comprise the first stage of
government plans to strengthen airside security. In addition to screening
airport workers, the government is set to introduce stronger access controls
for airside areas and security awareness training for airport and airline
Reactions to reforms
Arguments against less regulatory
A number of submissions were made to this inquiry that did not support
further reviews and constant changes to the aviation security framework. Mr
Robin Darroch, airline training Captain, detailed a number of security
inconsistencies between Australian airports, arguing:
...these inconsistencies happen as a direct result of the
aviation security regulations we have at present, and ill-considered attempts
to "strengthen" them over the past decade or so...those employed to
security tasks obsess over things that are specific, measurable and therefore
regulated, rather than being encouraged to exercise judgement and collect
meaningful information which could be useful to intelligence operations or
genuine security improvements.
The Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA) raised a similar concern,
noting that 'any move away from outcomes based legislation to proscriptive
legislation will result in diverting resources from actual and/or viable
threats to areas where no threat exists'. Further, the organisation argued
Proscriptive legislation tends to create an inefficient one
size fits all approach which has not only prevented rapid and flexible changes
in response to the changing threat environment but also required extensive
processes and equipment to be introduced into airports and for aircraft operators
where the threat does not warrant such measures. This has resulted in a waste
of limited resources for no additional security outcome thus creating an undue
burden on the regional aviation industry, including operators and airports.
Regional Express Holdings Ltd expressed similar critical views. It
argued that proscriptive legislation led to a 'one size fits all' approach to
aviation security, which, in its view, resulted in misused resources without additional
The Australian Airports Association (AAA) submitted that the industry
and government should continue to approach aviation security in a way that is
'intelligence driven, risk based' and 'outcomes focussed', as a 'one size fits
all' approach is not appropriate. The AAA argued for a considered approach to
aviation regulation, noting that:
...all airports are unique and taking a more tailored approach
to the implementation of security measures is prudent, effective and efficient.
The consideration of security regulatory or policy change on any other basis
would be counterintuitive to the important progress that both Government and
industry has made in improving the aviation security regulatory environment.
However, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA)
considered that the OTS has conducted satisfactory consultation with the
aviation industry 'in developing risk‑based and intelligence driven
aviation security requirements'. BARA noted that:
It is important the Australian Government continues to
support OTS, and ensures it has the flexibility to review and recommend changes
to existing security requirements that are consistent with changes to assessed
These concerns were subject of the 2014 Aviation Safety Regulation
Review (ASRR), which considered the industry reception to various aviation
security reforms. The Review Panel noted that communication around aviation
security was a concern. It observed that as communication is often delivered
from a government perspective it emphasises the security benefits to tighter
regulatory controls. The ASRR stated that:
...the [security] 'enhancements' referred to by the OTS are
largely increases in regulation, which, from an industry perspective, is not an
enhancement, but a step backward.
The Panel recommends that as part of any changes made...the
Department needs to ensure that it better communicates the intent and purpose
of the scheme, and ensures that the message reaches industry participants 'on
the ground' at smaller airports, not just those who attend established aviation
security consultation meetings.
Noting concerns with 'reform fatigue' in the aviation industry, the ASRR
advised that regulatory maintenance should only occur when change is required
to improve safety, or align with international best practice.
Committee view and recommendations
Ongoing reviews and reforms
There have been a number of important and timely reviews of aviation
security over the past 15 years, addressing serious risks and making valuable
contributions to enhance traveller safety. This is reflected in the fact that
Australia has not experienced a major security breach at any airport.
However, the committee was concerned that the volume and regularity of
these reviews, many of which have not been canvassed by this inquiry, has
resulted in a constant state of change and amendment to aviation security
The committee has some sympathy for airport operators striving to
provide secure and safe aviation environments, in a context in which the Act
and Regulations are subject to regular amendment, and numerous reviews make
calls for further considerable changes to aviation safety frameworks.
The committee supports the government it its efforts to address serious
threats to safety in the aviation sector in a way that is receptive to changes
in the threat level. However, the committee encourages further reviews to be
evidence‑based and to respond to a specific need. Such reviews should
also carefully consider the regulatory burden on airports, particularly in
regional areas, with a view to minimising the burden.
It is clear to the committee that a reasonable balance must be struck
between regulation of the aviation industry to ensure worker and passenger
safety, and being overly proscriptive in setting security parameters for
The committee acknowledges that the 'one size fits all' approach is not
an appropriate way to address the complexities of aviation security. The
committee supports changes to the regulatory framework that are commensurate with
the assessed threat level, and agrees that this will vary depending on the size
and location of an airport.
Security arrangements for large, international airports will not be
appropriate for small and isolated regional and rural operators. Smaller
airports in regional areas will suffer the impacts of large, sweeping security
reforms due to limited resources, prohibitive costs, and disproportionate
responses to the threat level. While it may broaden the regulatory
environment, aviation security measures should include degrees of adaptability,
thereby providing airports some scope to address their individual level of
The committee recommends that any future reviews of and amendments to
aviation security regulation be risk-based and fit for purpose, with
consideration given to the unique challenges faced by regional and rural
airports and the overall diversity of Australian airports.
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