Airport security a 'terrorist disaster waiting to happen'

Release date: 7/05/2011

Airport workers representatives have called for a fundamental overhaul of Australia's aviation security protocols, branding lax standards as a "terrorist disaster waiting to happen".

Andrew Heasley, Sydney Morning Herald


Transport workers vowed to strike against Qantas unless it bowed its demands for better security standards across its all enterprises and alliance partners that fly into local ports.

"We've got a bureaucracy that has failed to protect the aviation industry against potential terrorist incidents, we've got an industry dominated by major players such as Qantas that driving the standards down," said Transport Workers Union federal secretary Tony Sheldon at the National Safe Flights Forum conference in Melbourne.

His comments were made in the wake of the Auditor General's alarming findings that tens of thousands of airport security cards were not properly checked before being issued, including 40,000 visitor passes issued from one airport gate alone.

Mr Sheldon said a security overhaul should ensure company employees and contractors and subcontractors be checked ASIO and Australian Federal police checked before contracts are let.

"Often security guards at our airports aren't even ASIO-checked or Australian Federal Police-checked, and have an ASIC [security] pass," Mr Sheldon said. "It's a terrorist disaster waiting to happen."

Qantas, an authorised screening agent and issuer of security cards, rejected the TWU's accusations.

"All Qantas staff, whether they are employed directly or contracted through a supplier go through the same high level security and background checks," a spokesman said.

"If Mr Sheldon knows of instances where the proper processes haven't been followed we want to know about it and we will investigate, otherwise he has no basis for these claims."

A spokesman for Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the system of visitor passes would be tightened by year's end.

And to underline the the ineffectiveness of airport screening, security consultant Roger Henning, the chief executive of Homeland Security Asia Pacific, shocked conference attendees by pulling out a shoulder holster loaded with a mobile phone from his hand luggage, with which he had just flown from Sydney on Qantas.

This Mr Henning said it was done to illustrate that four-shot pistols are now being modified to resemble mobile phones and how unaware screening staff are of the risk.

And the TWU has garnered international support from the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), which expressed shock at Qantas boss Alan Joyce's description of the airline's main pilot union as waging a "kamikaze" campaign.

This is very worrying...because we have [here] a group of workers that are safety professionals who have one the best records of safety in the world and they are compared to suicidal pilots of the Second World War," said ITF's civil aviation secretary Gabriel Mocho Rodriguez.

"What is the next step — what is Mr Joyce going call union leaders...'terrorists'?

"Where is the limit for the lack of respect from these managers towards the workforce?"

But Qantas "absolutely stands by our comments about the kamikaze campaign being undertaken by the unions," its spokesman said.

There's been a worrying trend to cut costs and put profits and shareholders' interests ahead of passengers and safety as airlines worldwide chase the low-cost model of doing business, Mr Rodriguez said.


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