Crimes Legislation Amendment (Police Powers at Airports) Bill 201914 October 2019
I rise to speak in favour of the government’s Crimes Legislation Amendment (Police Powers at Airports) Bill 2019. This bill will enhance police powers at Australian airports by enabling police constables and, indeed, Protective Services Officers, in appropriate circumstances, to direct a person of interest to produce evidence of their identity to facilitate an identity check or to direct a person to leave the premises or not take a flight.
The overarching priority of this Morrison Liberal government is to keep Australians safe and secure. This government is absolutely committed to ensuring that our police services can continue to protect Australians. Of course, aviation is an enduring and attractive target for terrorism and organised crime. The disrupted terrorist attack on the Sydney airport in July 2017 both demonstrated this and demonstrated a level of sophistication which had not been seen before in this country. Airports, ultimately, are known focal points for gang related activities, such as illicit drug trafficking, and they provide pathways for transnational, serious and organised crime groups to expand their operations for domestic and international travel.
Australia’s busiest airport, Sydney’s international airport, handled as many as 44 million passengers in 2018, 16.7 million of which were international travellers. My home airport of Adelaide handled eight million in the last financial year. Although the current arrangements provide a strong and comprehensive system of aviation security, it’s always essential that we remain ahead of what is an ever-evolving threat. The police powers bill, as I’ll describe it, will expand police powers at all major airports—and I’ll come back to that—by enabling police to direct a person to produce evidence of their identity, which we’ll describe as an identity-check direction, direct a person to leave the airport premises or not take a flight or direct a person to stop or do anything else necessary to facilitate an identity check. For example, the proposed amendments would ultimately allow officers to check the identification of a person where a known terrorist suspect, for example, drops off an unknown person at an airport or where a person is seen photographing screening and security points.
Of course, police would always be required to exercise these new powers based on a very clear criteria in the legislation, and relying, as always, on their specialist expertise and training. The new threshold, which is provided by this bill, is that the police are to exercise their powers to safeguard the public order and safe operation of a major airport, which is perhaps a broader definition, or a lower threshold, than the previous ‘airport security’ definition.
This of course doesn’t mean that the intention of this bill is to check the identity of every person in the airport. The police presumably have no interest in doing that, nor will they have the resources to do so. It’s not the intention that these powers would ultimately act as a de facto requirement for people to carry identification. The move-on direction is not a mechanism for punishment. Rather, the intention is that the move-on direction would allow the police to provide what is basically a circuit-breaker to safeguard public order—for example, by preventing people from boarding a flight. As always, it would be open to police, in circumstances where they have enough information to reach the criminal threshold for arrest, to avail themselves of that as well.
The Australian government is committed to ensuring that these powers are genuinely exercised in a non-biased and non-discriminatory manner, with laws that are necessarily reasonable and proportional to the threat. I should also say that these measures have been developed on the advice of the Australian Federal Police. That advice was, in essence, that the current identity-checking powers were no longer suitable, were no longer enough, and were no longer purpose-built for the current national security environment. So the government is essentially trying to strike the right balance between security and, of course, minimising disruption to the travelling public—and the numbers I detailed earlier on show that very large numbers of people travel through our major airports.
I should say that, as always, people will have a range of options when asked for identification—and I notice that Senator Patrick touched on the issue of children and their identity before. They’ll be able to satisfy a direction given by a police officer or a security professional to provide their identity in a range of ways. That may well be producing something as simple as a passport or a driver’s licence. One would assume a person would be very likely to have a passport in an airport. It could be providing a student card or a Medicare card, or simply giving the officer their name, date of birth and address. In the case of children, it would be open to the police to simply contact another person such as a parent or guardian to obtain the name and date of birth to confirm their identity.
In circumstances where a person does not have proof of identity but appears to have a genuine reason for being at the airport, this bill provides that the police may simply accompany that person without trying to delay them. However, a refusal to provide ID, coupled with having met that threshold along with the behaviour of the person, may elevate police concerns about threats to public order, and the power could be used. That is the intention of what is being proposed here. Obviously it goes without saying that the Australian Federal Police have a high level of training. Their officers at airports will regularly undertake specialist training, including behaviour analysis. The AFP will regularly review and update their programs in the environment to ensure that the current legislative powers continue to maintain their sufficiency.
It’s instructive in certain circumstances to think of the bill in its current form as a case study. You can well imagine a situation where, in response to a heightened-threat environment, increased numbers of police are assigned to patrol and observe security screening areas, which of course are a significant point in an airport. Police may well, in this circumstance, observe a person taking photos or videos at the screening point during and passing through security. In that circumstance, the police may well look to CCTV footage and, in circumstances where, for example, the police identify that that person has been at the airport for a lengthy period of time—perhaps potentially even for hours—taking photos and making notes, police may well consider this conduct highly unusual in contrast to the sorts of normal and everyday observations that you would see at an airport.
Under our existing laws, the person’s behaviour in those circumstances would probably not be sufficient to reach the threshold where the officers would have identity-checking powers. But, in the currently described circumstances, a still image of the person could be circulated amongst the officers and, if the person were approached and were still not prepared to provide their name, date of birth and so forth, the police could issue a direction to that person to provide identification upon the grounds that it was reasonably necessary to safeguard aviation security. In those circumstances, coupled with that suspicious behaviour, if the person were to refuse to comply, the police could issue a move-on notice or direction for 12 hours, providing them with sufficient time to conduct checks of intelligence holdings and assess the threat. That may well provide the critical circuit-breaker that ensures that our airports remain safe.
The government would take upon itself to make sure that the new powers were advertised, and the new powers would be made available on the Department of Home Affairs website prior to their coming into effect. But they would only apply to major Australian airports such as those in capital cities and, in addition to those, those in the Gold Coast, Launceston, Alice Springs and Townsville. As the bill has been framed, these airports have been selected on the basis of advice from the Federal Police. They’ve been identified because of the large volume of passengers that trickles through those transit airports.
As I see it, the bill is further evidence of the government’s ongoing commitment to keeping the travelling public safe, keeping our airports safe and, ultimately, providing our police with the necessary tools they require to do their jobs effectively. It’ll provide our law enforcement agencies with tools to protect Australia’s airports and its citizens from serious criminal and security threats. I commend this bill to the Senate.