Labor has said it will now support new laws banning Australians convicted of serious crimes from entering secure areas of airports.
After blocking the bill over three government terms, the party has now said it will seek a compromise in order to pass legislation.
It had previously cited concerns the legislation fails to acknowledge similar security threats at maritime ports but has now said the rules could be split to deal with the issues separately.
The split would encompass a transport security bill, which will strengthen criteria for people applying for airport security clearance – and later address the clearance process for foreign workers in maritime ports.
As it stands, the Transport Security Amendment (Serious Crime) Bill 2020 aims to change the aviation and maritime security requirements that need to be met by workers in order to receive either an aviation security identity card (ASIC), or a maritime security identification card (MSIC).
Shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally recognised the importance of greater security clearances for aviation, particularly in light of recent gang crime allegations within Qantas, however also expressed the urgency of similar attention to maritime threats.
“We accept there is a need to deal with the risks posed by organised criminal gangs who have infiltrated airlines and airports,” Keneally told the Senate.
“But let’s take the time and get it right when it comes to our maritime ports where the great risk lies when it comes to the facilitation of drugs into Australia.”
While Labor has continuously called for more action against maritime threats, the Coalition remains un-wavered.
“It’s time that [the bill] gets bipartisan support through the Parliament so the Commissioner and the other commissioners around the country can better do their jobs,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said when the AFP busted an international crime and drug ring last week.
Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said Labor, however, had over five years to reach an agreement, and it is time to act against criminals who hold access to secure areas at airports.
“The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission found in 2019 that 227 people who hold passes for unescorted access to secure areas at our airports and ports are on either the National Criminal Target List or the National Gangs list and that of these, 167 are actually members or associates of outlaw motorcycle gangs,” she said.
The party anticipates the Coalition will refuse its proposed amendments, at which point Labor will make its final decision on the bill in it current form. Regardless, it is expected the opposition will allow the bill to progress.
Labor’s change of heart comes just weeks after a classified intelligence operation alleged that up to 150 Qantas staff were linked to various criminal activities, including the importation of drugs, religious extremism, and child exploitation, according to an investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald.
The newspaper said that “bikies and other organised crime groups” were among employees suspected of wrongdoing that “represents a very high threat to the Australian border”.
Qantas Group chief security officer Luke Bramah told Australian Aviation, “We have not been advised of any current investigations of Qantas Group employees involved in organised crime. If concerns are raised regarding any of our employees, we will actively support their investigation and take appropriate action.
“To be clear, none of Australia’s law enforcement agencies have told us of the existence of a report that suggests there are potentially 150 Qantas employees who have connections to organised crime. Nor have they raised concerns with us about our vetting or background checking processes.”