Passenger security screening at airports and airport staff security
In this chapter, the committee examines key issues that emerged from
evidence to the inquiry regarding passenger security screening. A variety of
stakeholders raised issues regarding security screening, including the use of
contractors and subcontractors to deliver security services at some airports,
and the efficacy of some screening processes.
The committee also examined the 2016 ANAO report on Passenger Security
Screening at Domestic Airports, its recommendations and the response from the
This chapter considers the vulnerabilities that some airport ground
staff present to airport safety and security. To this end, evidence from Mr
Allan Kessing, concerning reports on security at Sydney Airport produced by the
ACS in 2002 and 2003 is considered. These reports highlighted potential
vulnerabilities in Australia's aviation security framework, through the
employment of various airport staff.
Contracting of airport security
Airports are commercial operations with considerable operating costs.
Airports facilitate the movement of passengers, but must also balance safety
and security concerns of travellers and aviation staff. As noted by the ANAO:
The Department is responsible for ensuring industry
participants meet legislated requirements and aviation security is maintained
in a way that is cost effective to the Australian Government, industry and the
A key issue considered by the committee was the use of contract and
subcontract workers by 'screening authorities' in the provision of airport
security. A screening authority is a body corporate, most usually an airport or
aircraft operator, authorised to conduct screening by the department.
The department uses audits, testing and other compliance activities to ensure
that screening authorities deliver screening services in accordance with the Act
The Act provides that a person authorised to conduct screenings is a
'screening officer', and the regulations must prescribe the training and
qualification requirements of screening officers, and the form, issue and use
of their identity cards.
The airport operator, as a screening authority, will generally outsource
security roles to private, specialised security screening companies.
It was submitted that airport operators often outsource to private companies, which
are then able to employ subcontracted workers as security agents.
Screening authorities at airports
The department told the committee that it is possible for different
terminals within the same airport to have separate nominated screening
authorities, and that in Australia, there are 64 screening authorities
authorised to conduct screening for 81 security-controlled airports.
United Voice raised concerns with this system, detailing as an example how
security services at Perth Airport are delivered by two different authorities.
Perth Airports Pty Ltd operates Terminal 1 (international services), Terminal 2
(regional services), and Terminal 3 (domestic and interstate services).
Simultaneously, the Qantas Group operates Terminal 4 (Qantas domestic
Under this framework, different private security firms are contracted to
deliver security services in different parts of the airport. ISS Security Pty
Ltd is contracted to provide security services for Terminals 1, 2 and 3, and
MSS Security Pty Ltd is contracted to provide security services to Terminal 4.
Within these arrangements, MSS Security Pty Ltd then employs subcontractors to
carry out some security duties.
United Voice claimed that MSS Security Pty Ltd utilises similar
subcontracting arrangements in providing security services for the domestic
Qantas division of Melbourne Tullamarine Airport.
Evidence provided by Qantas appeared to corroborate the United Voice
position. Qantas stated that it employed approximately 800 contractors
dedicated to the provision of security services, and noted:
Qantas outsources the task of passenger and baggage screening
as well as cargo examination obligations to third party screening contractors.
The Contracted Security Services Unit (CSSU), which forms part of the Qantas
Airlines security team, has prime responsibility for ensuring contracted
services are provided in accordance with contractual arrangements, both from a
performance and compliance perspective...
CSSU also manages the security screening equipment owned and
deployed at...airports where Qantas is the Screening Authority.
The CSSU follows a governance process for both security
suppliers and equipment that includes the utilisation of quality performance
reports, annual performance reviews, service delivery monitoring and issue resolution
There is no legislative requirement that airport security workers must
be direct employees of an airport operator, or the government. On this matter,
the department stated that:
...industry is responsible for ensuring that their staff and
contractors are appropriately trained to undertake any specific security roles
and responsibilities as needed under the aviation security legislation.
United Voice argued the decentralised approach to airport security has
led to reduced levels of accountability that negatively impact not only the
quality of the aviation security workforce, but also the level of service
provided. To support this, United Voice noted different and less stringent
security standards imposed on subcontracted employees than those covering
directly contracted employees.
United Voice detailed specific instances of where it felt subcontracted
employees did not meet adequate security standards. It argued that
subcontractors were provided with inferior security training in comparison to
staff directly contracted by a screening authority. Anecdotal evidence
suggested that subcontractors were unable to meet the minimum target
requirements for detecting prohibited items, via x‑ray screening. It was
also suggested that contracting companies had a 'somewhat relaxed attitude'
towards the competency and quality of subcontractors.
Concerns were also raised about the different working conditions of
subcontractors, resulting in unacceptably long work hours. A number of United
Voice members indicated that in some cases, subcontractors worked beyond normal
shifts, without adequate breaks between them, or worked other security jobs
before their shift at an airport. It was claimed that subcontractors were
working extensive hours, leading to fatigue, and thus putting co-workers at
United Voice argued that when combined, these issues increased risk
levels and compromised security and safety outcomes, both for airport employees
and the travelling public.
It argued that:
Achieving the highest standards of aviation safety requires
consistency. The decentralised model of security control and the increasing use
of sub‑contractors in this field has led to inconsistent security
practices. This inconsistency exists between contractors and sub-contractors at
the same airport as well as between airports across Australia.
In addition, United Voice recommended:
...that if outsourcing, and particularly sub-contracting,
continues to be permitted in Australian aviation security, contractors and sub-contractors
must be held to the same high quality and high standards of training,
qualifications, working conditions and security clearance requirements.
However, Australia Pacific Airports (Melbourne) Pty Ltd (the Melbourne
Airport) argued that some unwarranted concerns had been raised regarding contracted
security service providers. It urged the committee to look at the evidence
carefully as contracted providers are 'occasionally the subject of misinformed
and misleading commentary by some parties'.
AIPA argued that the 'repetitive screening of flight crew and the
repetitive mini‑power‑plays by screeners' did not serve any
security purpose and merely provided a visual image to the travelling public
that security was taken seriously. It called for the complete halt of flight
crew screening processes for these reasons.
AIPA further noted that its members 'observe little or at best desultory
security checking' of those airport staff who have airside access and who do
not enter the airport via the airport terminal. It called for urgent action to
address this inadequacy and the corresponding risk of unlawful entry. AIPA
argued that the approach to airside access staff was in contrast to flight
crew, who went through extensive security screening within the terminal. AIPA
Until such time as Australia completes the establishment of
uniform screening, we must presume that a serious threat to the safety of
aircraft exists and that our security dollars are not being allocated on the
basis of properly determined risks.
In this regard, United Voice argued that any employees who have access
to secure airport areas should be subject to metal detector screening and
baggage examination. Additionally, all checked baggage should be subject to the
same standards of security screening, including x-ray.
Addressing some of these concerns, on 1 December 2016 the Minister for
Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Darren Chester MP, introduced amendments
to the Act that would allow airports to randomly select people, vehicles and
belongings for screening, while in an SRA, to search for prohibited weapons.
The Minister continued:
The changes are the first stage of the Government's plans to
strengthen airside security by mitigating the insider threat. In addition to
screening of airport workers, the Government will also introduce stronger
access controls for airside areas and security awareness training for airport
and airline staff.
AIPA submitted that security screening processes resulted in queues or
'largely stagnant masses of people', who were kept at the front of passenger terminals
with limited freedom of movement. While noting that appropriate risk
assessments had likely been undertaken by the relevant agencies, AIPA
considered this a security concern and encouraged procedural changes that would
improve the movement of people through screening.
This concern was also raised by Mr Kessing, who highlighted the security
impact of disruptions to people movement:
Delays in the filtering process can be exponentially
expensive as even small disruptions to the free flow of people can bring chaos
which then ripples out to other areas, especially domestic and international
A similar point was raised by ASIAL, which argued that the security
screening of passengers could cause delays in airports. It suggested
improvements to ameliorate these situations:
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has
indicated that on average security checkpoint passenger processing per hour has
decreased 50% since [the] 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001. Strategies to increase
checkpoint throughput rates are required to enhance operational efficiencies
without degrading security measures.
...Strategies including more appropriate passenger targeting,
passenger behavioural risk management and passenger education coupled with a
more customer service screening officer approach could increase passenger
throughput rates without diminishing security.
ASIAL noted a reduction in security certificate training courses
available for screening staff, and the risks associated with limiting training
providers. ASIAL argued that several training providers recognised that screening
with a customer focus improves the passenger experience and assists with the
flow of passengers through security checkpoints. ASIAL called for an 'open
training environment for security screening to enhance options, resource
management and system transparency'.
In an example of issues in training screening staff, the National LGBTI
Health Alliance (the Alliance) raised concerns with the committee about the
inappropriate behaviour and attitudes of some airport screening and security
staff towards LGBTI people. The Alliance had received numerous complaints from
its members about discrimination and mistreatment in airport security contexts,
and argued that airport security should operate within the sex discrimination
laws, to safeguard the LGBTI community from discrimination and unwarranted
The Office of the Inspector of Transport Security (OITS) advised the
committee that it had been instructed in 2013 by the then Minister for
Infrastructure and Regional Development to 'inquire into aviation and maritime
transport security education and training in Australia'.
Under the terms of reference, OITS was required to examine, among other
things, current industry and other in-house security training programs; review
the standards of security training in the industry, and 'identify areas of
inconsistency in education and training in the aviation and maritime industries
in security related positions and tasks'.
Despite a scheduled reporting date in the first half of 2015, it appears
the inquiry is yet to be finalised. In March 2016, the department indicated the
inquiry's report would be finalised by mid-2016 but this does not appear the
The OITS was also due to cease as of 30 June 2015 following the
rationalisation of Commonwealth agencies, with the Inspector instead appointed
on a retainer basis. A new Inspector of Transport Security was appointed in
The committee is concerned that the OITS review does not appear to have
been completed, under the new Inspector of Transport Security. Given the wide
consultation undertaken during the OITS review, including over 150 meetings
across Australia, consultation with international peak bodies and input from
key industry stakeholders,
it would be advantageous for the review's findings and recommendations to be
A number of contributors to the inquiry raised concerns about the cost
of security screening and associated processes, particularly the
disproportionate cost of security measures on rural and regional airports.
The RAAA noted that while it was a strong supporter of security
screening, the matter had been reviewed a number of times in recent years with
further reviews likely. Due to the high cost of screening, the RAAA encouraged
its use only 'in airports where the threat assessment warrants such a process',
and that screening should be avoided:
...where the threat assessment does not justify the
introduction and where the cost will be prohibitive to the continued provision
of regular air services, for example, small regional and rural airports with
low passenger numbers served by small aircraft and where the treat assessment
does not recommend the introduction of screening.
Regional Express Holdings Ltd presented similar arguments as the RAAA
about screening. While it was supportive of the process, it maintained that
screening should only be introduced where the threat level warrants it and the
costs are not prohibitive to the main function of air services. Regional
Express argued that for smaller rural and regional airports, with limited
passenger traffic, 'the screening cost would certainly mean that the community would
lose its air services'.
This position was also advanced by ASIAL, who noted that the requirement
for regional airports to undertake security screening has increased costs to
those airports. Any increased cost as a result of security technology 'may
impact on the viability of many regional airports although regional areas need
to maintain the benefits provided by the offered air services'.
ASIAL called for a review of regional airport security classifications,
Regional airports with a lower classification should not be
permitted to disembark passengers and/or cargo at higher classified airports
without the passengers/baggage/cargo being subject to inbound security
clearance before entering the higher classified airports secure area.
The department acknowledged in its submission that the varying risk
profiles and operating circumstances between Australia's varied airports would
see different screening methods and technologies used at different categories
ANAO audit of passenger screening 2016
In this report, the ANAO was very critical of the department's oversight
of passenger screening systems:
The Department has implemented a regulatory framework that
establishes minimum standards for passenger screening and a program of
compliance activities at security controlled airports. However, the Department
is unable to provide assurance that passenger screening is effective, or to
what extent screening authorities comply with the Regulations, due to poor data
and inadequate records. The Department does not have meaningful passenger
screening performance targets or enforcement strategies and does not direct
resources to areas with a higher risk of non-compliance.
The ANAO found that over 100 recommendations had been made regarding passenger
screening, including the need for the department to develop performance
measures, analyse compliance data, implement an enforcement policy and provide effective
and adequate training. However, solutions had yet to be delivered, despite the
identification of these gaps in the department's regulatory capability by
successive reviews since 2009.
In its response to the ANAO report, the department noted that it 'agrees
with all the recommendations'. As part of its response, the department provided
an outline of the three key elements of future departmental reforms already
broad reform of departmental transport security regulatory
operations to ensure the OTS is 'well positioned to respond to changing threats
and risks, future industry growth and diversification, and that its approvals
and compliance operations are efficient';
improving the department's collection and analysis of data
pertaining to passenger screening. This includes 'revising its compliance
approach to better incorporate non-compliance risk into its planning'; and
establishing a Working Group to 'develop a framework to measure
the effectiveness and extent that screening authorities are complying with
passenger screening regulations'. This framework will incorporate 'regular
inspections and audits that are undertaken to monitor an airport's compliance
with passenger security screening requirements' including testing the
effectiveness of their ability to 'detect and control the entry of prohibited
items and weapons into the sterile area'.
During a Senate Estimates hearing on 22 November 2016, the department
provided an update on its implementation of the ANAO's recommendations. While
noting the difficulties in measuring security, the department explained that it
was working with industry on its performance data to support the development of
key performance indicators, to measure the performance of passenger screening.
The committee notes that the recommendations made by the ANAO support
evidence considered over the course of this inquiry.
Airport staff security vulnerabilities
The committee spoke with Mr Allan Kessing, a former ACS who contributed
to two confidential reviews of security at Sydney Airport. Mr Kessing's team
prepared a first report on security screeners, which was completed in late
2002. A second report examined a number of airport staff and activities and
their relevance to airport security. This report was completed in mid‑2003.
The reports were heavily critical of the security arrangements then
applicable in Sydney Airport.
The 2002 report, 'Threat Assessment of Sydney Airport Screening
Personnel', noted that security breaches at Sydney Airport included:
unauthorised access, the unlawful purchase of duty free
products, the facilitation of passengers in bypassing the screening points and
the alleged involvement within an internal conspiracy to import narcotics.
According to Mr Kessing, the first report compiled by the unit provided
comprehensive evidence of:
...accumulated abuses of Customs regulations, theft, smuggling
and systemic criminality. Long time failures had been set in concrete during
the run-up to the Olympics and many new rorts and abuses had been accreted
on since then.
The report provided evidence of staff with a criminal history who were
employed in a security role, including one individual who had a conviction and
eight‑year sentence for the possession of a prohibited import
(narcotics). Other offences included 'violence, aggravated assaults, motor
vehicle thefts, car re-birthing, escape from custody, and numerous firearm
The report also examined the provision of screening services at Sydney
Airport, then undertaken by Sydney Night Patrol (SNP). SNP operated
autonomously and had commenced employing casual staff, through subcontracting
arrangements. The report noted:
Increased security scrutiny has forced many guards to undergo
additional security training in relation to the operation of x-ray imaging
equipment and the use of metal detecting hand scanners. Not all security
personnel, including the casually employed, underwent this training, or were
capable of completing the training.
The report recommended adopting an approach similar to the US, where
security screeners become federal employees. It was hoped that this would
'result in better dedication, allegiance, job satisfaction and a greater sense
of job permanency'.
However, recent media reports indicate that airport security in
Australia is more robust than in other countries, including in the US. As
reported in The West Australian:
The US failure rate for detecting weapons is alarming. Last
year  it was revealed the failure rate was 95 per cent for dummy weapons
carried out at screening points at locations across the US. Transport Security
Administration staff, did not detect weapons in 67 of 70 tests. In one test, an
undercover agent was stopped when he set off the checkpoint alarm but staff
failed to find a fake explosive taped to his body when they patted him down.
The 2003 report, 'Sydney Airport Air Border Security: Risk Analysis
2003', supported the findings of the 2002 report, with investigators finding
that 'a high number of personnel [were] selected on recommendations by existing
staff members, with limited checking of criminal histories'. Incidences of
theft from aircraft stores, cargo and passenger baggage were also discovered.
The investigations that formed the basis of the report focused on staff across
a variety of airport services. This included staff from the blanket bay,
baggage handling, aircraft and airport cleaning, air crew, aircraft
engineering, ramp operations, toilet truck and water truck driving, refuelling,
catering, security screening, supporting services and retail outlets.
Air crew were found to be particularly high risk to border security,
given their interactions with passengers and all other working groups that
approach arriving aircraft. The report's risk assessment found 'baggage
handlers, ramp handlers and aircraft cleaners as having the greater potential
to become involved in organised crime or an internal conspiracy'.
Research indicated to the investigators that both NSW Police and the AFP
had major concerns about high levels of criminal behaviour occurring in the
basement areas of Sydney Airport, involving a number of persons of interest and
crime syndicates. Police were at the time continuing their investigations.
The 2003 ACS report also found that there was a lack of co-ordinated law
enforcement activities in airports. It argued that:
The risks posed by terrorism should not be underestimated at
any international airport as personnel arrive for duty each day by entering
through staff gates unscreened into restricted areas, with access to aircraft
and airport facilities.
The report acknowledged the unique opportunities for criminality in an
airport environment. It made a number of important conclusions, including that:
There is a need to convince the airport community that
turning its attention towards the problem of internal conspiracy or criminal
networks is as equally important as the attention to other issues – which fall
under the umbrella of aviation security. There is a general tendency among
airline management to refuse to acknowledge the possibility of internal
conspiracies being applicable to their staff...there is a current need to fully
identify persons working in organisations which could pose a risk in terms of
overall aviation security.
In 2005, soon after some excerpts of both reports were published in The
Australian newspaper, the Australian Government announced a review of
Australian aviation security to address the serious issues raised (the Wheeler
The Wheeler Review drew on the findings of the ACS 2002 and 2003 reports
to recommend that the AGD work with state and territory governments to require
that private security officers in the aviation industry, including those
responsible for screening at airports, be background-checked, licenced and
trained to more adequate minimum national standards. Wheeler also recommended
that the involved department require a more comprehensive training program for
all security related airport staff.
Mr Kessing claimed that no action had been taken to address the security
issues raised within the 2002 and 2003 reports. Mr Kessing argued that:
The Wheeler Report endorsed my second report and proposed
changes which the government promised $200 million to implement. I suggest
that the recommendations of the Wheeler Report...have not been effectively
Despite his absence from Australian Customs for some time, Mr Kessing
argued that 'the similarities of [current] reported offences, breaches and
arrests of officers suggest that there has been little improvement in the
[security] situation despite the many reports and recommendations, both
commercial and official'.
Mr Kessing maintained that the 'greatest vulnerability in an airport is
ground staff', given these employees are often low skilled, engaged casually or
part‑time, and yet have access to restricted and secure areas. With a
focus on passengers, ground staff are often neglected. He concluded that the
'currently highly disruptive and expensive screening undergone by innocent
travellers is out of all proportion to the threat they pose'.
Mr Kessing suggested that, while proper background checking could delay
employment processes, it would prevent the unemployment of unsuitable staff especially
as subcontractors. Mr Kessing reiterated the Wheeler Review position that the
'use by subcontractors of external staff is an example of the commercial
imperative being inimical to security'.
Mr Kessing proposed that security resources and financing would be
better directed to 'intelligence targeting which would be more effective in
identifying potential threats'.
Mr Kessing continued:
screening, however ineffective, must remain purely as a very
visible deterrent. However, I would advocate that the real resources be put
into intelligence gathering, proper analysis and proper targeting to stop
potential threats before they have breakfast and leave home.
Committee view and recommendations
Contracting of airport security
Numerous aviation reviews have identified long‑term and ongoing
issues with the engagement, training and background checking of security
screening and other airport staff. Despite these reviews and recommendations,
some airport staffing practices continue to present ongoing and significant
In 2011, the PJCLE raised serious concerns about the potential for
security lapses as a result of high staff turnover, particularly of security
guards. To address this concern, it recommended that security at major airports
be undertaken by a suitably trained government security force.
However, this recommendation was not accepted by the government on the
basis that the industry‑led and government‑regulated model provided
an 'effective, efficient and sustainable security service, notwithstanding
evolving threats, increased security requirements, and increase in domestic and
international aviation traffic'.
Its September 2011 response further noted that:
[a] more centralised model was not supported on the grounds
that a government agency screening model would be overly prescriptive, more
expensive and less efficient than current arrangements.
The committee encourages the government to rethink this position. Evidence
considered by the committee suggests that the issues raised by the PJCLE still
exist and, if not properly regulated, the use of subcontracted workers could continue
to create vulnerabilities in Australia's aviation security framework.
Likewise, it appears to the committee that the concerns and
recommendations of Wheeler in relation to screening have not been addressed or
implemented. Evidence to the committee suggests that there does not appear to
be an adequate framework for the department to work with screening authorities.
Such work would ensure third‑party screening providers implement
practices supporting appropriate minimum standards in staff training, security
clearance requirements, working conditions and performance levels.
The department stressed its regulatory relationship was with the
nominated screening authority (the airport operators), rather than the
screening providers themselves.
This arrangement has created a disconnect between regulations and the quality
of security services being provided on the ground at airports, by third
It is clear that security screening standards should remain consistent
across the sector, irrespective of whether staff are directly employed by
screening providers, or contracted or subcontracted by security companies.
Additionally, given the evidence before the committee regarding aviation
security training and outsourcing, and the serious consequences that may result
from inadequate security training and education, the committee encourages the
government to finalise its inquiry into aviation security training, and address
any security issues that may arise from the inquiry's findings.
The committee recommends that the Inspector of Transport Security
complete and publish its review into aviation security training and education
as soon as practicable.
The committee recommends that the Department of Infrastructure and
Regional Development develop a framework to ensure that subcontracted screening
bodies have appropriate employment standards and provide security training and
services consistent with those provided by screening authorities under the
Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005. The framework should take into
account any inconsistencies in the training and education as identified by the
Inspector of Transport Security.
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