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Security expert to check airport staff

June 1, 2005 - The federal government will hire an international security expert to check for criminals operating in Australia's main airports, Transport Minister John Anderson said.

The government has been forced to defend its security checks following a Customs report revealing some Sydney airport workers had been involved in drug smuggling and stealing, and that some could pose a terrorist threat.

The report, leaked to The Australian newspaper, detailed serious security breaches and illegal activity by baggage handlers, aircrew, ramp and trolley workers, security screeners and cleaners.

It also was revealed a man who had served eight years in jail for drug smuggling was still working at Sydney airport.

Justice Minister Chris Ellison said he had asked the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) to conduct a national intelligence operation against criminal activity at airports.

Mr Anderson has announced a further check, saying he would enlist the help of an international expert.

"I think it would be appropriate to have the best international expert we can identify and get into Australia to do a complete audit of our security arrangements, because I understand community concern," Mr Anderson told Southern Cross radio.

"It's terribly important we take every step we can."

Mr Anderson said he was also considering fresh background checks for airport workers who had criminal histories.

The Customs report said 39 security screeners out of 500 at the airport had serious criminal convictions, a further 39 had been convicted of minor matters, while 14 had a questionable immigration status and two had been referred to the immigration department as illegal immigrants.

Mr Anderson said the recent issuing of new security passes to airport workers focused on terrorism, rather than crime, and it was possible people who had served jail sentences were employed at airports.

"Up until now if you've done your time basically we have assumed in society ... you've discharged your payment for whatever you've done wrong and you can be employed again," Mr Anderson said.

"(The) community now wants us to look at who is a fit and proper person on those issues of criminality - I think that is fair and I think we will have to do that."

But despite the terrorism checks, Mr Anderson said he could not categorically state whether all airport workers had been cleared of terrorist links.

"I can't say with complete certainty that we haven't got people out there who may have links that ASIO hasn't been able to establish," Mr Anderson said.

"But I do have a high degree of confidence in ASIO and in the Australian Federal Police and DIMIA (immigration department)."

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said he believed convicted criminals should not be allowed to work at airports.

"Airports are very high-security areas," he told ABC radio.

"Potentially, you have great opportunities around airports for mischief.

"I would have thought that sort of consideration ought to be overriding."

Opposition homeland security spokesman Robert McClelland said it was about time the ACC conducted an inquiry into the issue.

"It is something we have been calling for - an independent investigator with full powers, arm's length from government," he told reporters.


Australian airport staff involved in crime, says report

1 June, 2005 - SYDNEY: Workers at Sydney airport, Australia’s largest, are involved in drug trafficking, stealing from passengers and pose a threat to the airport’s protection against terrorist attacks, according to a leaked customs report.

The internal customs assessment, leaked to the Australian newspaper, suggests that some Sydney airport staff pose a terrorism threat. It also found evidence of alleged criminal conspiracies between groups of employees with access to the most secure areas.

Baggage handlers, air crew, ramp and trolley workers, security screeners and cleaners were all involved in security breaches and illegal activities at the airport, it said. The government downplayed the report and called on the public not to panic.

Completed last September, the report said that baggage handlers had diverted narcotics arriving on international flights to avoid customs inspections and were “suspected of large-scale pillage” of passengers’ bags.

According to the Australian, of the 500 security screeners employed at Sydney airport, 39 had a serious criminal conviction and 39 more had been convicted of minor offences. Fourteen others had questionable immigration status and two were suspected of being illegal immigrants, it said.

“Investigations revealed that some security guards ... have been in Australia for relatively short periods of time yet have already been issued with security and firearms licences despite their grasp of English being minimal,” it quoted the report as saying.

Justice and Customs Minister Chris Ellison said the document was merely part of an ongoing assessment process and he was aware of the problems it outlined.
“What we can be assured of is that we have a high degree of aviation security in this country and airport security, and the travelling Australian public should not panic,” he told reporters.

“But we do have a number of investigations under way, and we have had over a period of years operations that have involved air crew, for instance, and they’ve been successfully prosecuted. “I mean, some of the revelations coming out of this report are not new.”

Questioned in parliament on the report, Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister John Anderson said the government had spent A$162mn ($123mn) upgrading airport security and counter-terrorism measures since the document was completed last September.
“I can say this government and its agencies and the private sector have been and remain vigilant,” he said.
Anderson said the government had recently replaced security passes for all 65,000 Australian airport staff and a “significant number” had not been reissued.
The report said that among those working as trolley distributors were “a predominance of Middle Eastern male employees in their early 20s”.

“Some of these persons have affiliations with radical ... groups and are seen as a possible security liability,” it said, adding that some also have associations with gangs known for committing rapes, drive-by shootings, thefts and other crimes.

A Sydney Airport Corp spokesman said airport administrators had not yet seen the report but were constantly upgrading security measures, and were now placing CCTV cameras in baggage handling areas.
“We do acknowledge that there are some security concerns,” she told AFP.

New South Wales state Premier Bob Carr called on the federal government to investigate the report.
“We’re all concerned by the revelation that baggage handlers come and go without the security searches anyone moving through an airport has to face,” he told reporters.

Airport security has become a contentious issue in Australia following the conviction of Queensland woman Schappelle Corby in Indonesia on drugs charges last week. Her defence claimed marijuana was planted in her baggage by corrupt airport workers who were part of a drug smuggling ring. – AFP

 

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