Federal Politics

License article

Time for action on airport corruption

SERIOUS and organised criminality in the aviation and maritime sectors poses a very real threat to Australia. That's not media hyperbole. It's the conclusion of a two-year parliamentary committee which reported in June last year.

The federal government accepted only some of its recommendations, extending a history of ad hoc fixes for a long-standing systemic problem.

Spurred into action this week by investigative reporting in Fairfax Media and on the ABC, the government is again trying to patch things up. Myriad small, after-the-event fixes have been tried. The public deserves more.

Corruption and dysfunction have allowed criminal groups to drive a container truck through security at airports and on the docks. The illegal importation of drugs, guns and money imperils public safety, casts doubt over criminal convictions and erodes trust in law enforcement. It's time for a complete overhaul of national security priorities.

The problem has worsened, ironically, since the security crackdown after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The anti-terrorism focus has opened security gaps elsewhere. A federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport official admitted as much to the parliamentary committee, saying the security regime was ''about preventing unlawful interference in the context of terrorism". The committee recommended stronger laws to treat the crime threat seriously. The government response? A vow to set up a forum to examine options for organised and serious crime prevention in partnership with industry.

The problem requires more. A former customs officer, Alan Kessing, began telling his bosses in 2002 of the holes in airport security, only to be ignored or put aside. Graft concerns also prompted the 2005 Wheeler review.


It found airport security and policing culture wanting, with poor information-sharing, a reluctance to assume responsibility and "an undue reliance on 'after the event' compliance auditing, rather than 'pre-event planning'."

In 2007 Customs conceded it could not counter the criminal threat properly. In 2008, the former secretary of Defence Ric Smith led a review that called for greater co-ordination of agencies and departments, including an enhanced leadership position in the form of a national security adviser. That role was established in December 2008 and other policies adjusted.

But in 2009, the then head of Customs, Michael Carmody, told the parliamentary committee: "Yes, there are security programs constructed at each airport and, yes, the airport operators have a responsibility with respect to the coordination of that exercise, but it is a monster beyond belief."

More policy adjustments were made yet myriad allegations against customs officers kept emerging - 1300 since 2008. Some officers had criminal records, while others were "trusted insiders" with security clearances to rig staff rosters, ignore criminality, provide information to criminals about security gaps and allow criminal mates access to uncleared goods.

After the arrests this week of customs officers as part of operations by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and the Australian Federal Police, the acting chief of Customs, Mike Pezzullo, has conceded that a ''rebasing and a change to the culture'' was required in the agency.

The security gaps extend to sea ports, as well. No surprise there. The parliamentary committee identified the need for a confidential container inspection capability at ports because ''trusted insiders'' or other rorters could monitor police plans and alert criminals. The government noted the recommendation but vowed only to keep exploring options.

Customs has launched its own agency-wide review this week. The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, has named a customs reform board comprising a former judge, police chief and logistics businessman to advise on reforms to root out corruption. More measures have been signalled for next year.

The law enforcement commission is in effect a standing royal commission with powers to define the problem and recommend policy responses without jeopardising criminal trials. It will advise the minister what action is needed once the present Customs operation is done.

Multiple responses that plug the gaps one by one after the event are insufficient. They do not tackle the underlying need to elevate criminal threats as a security priority alongside anti-terrorism measures.

One wide-ranging, unified inquiry with royal commission powers is needed immediately. The government and agencies will not be able to ignore that. Nor will the criminal groups.

Faking it? Yes, we all do it, even if we don't admit it

Most people at one time or another have faked it. How do we know? Because we know. (And we ARE talking about pretending how much you just love that dud Christmas present you've received.)

All men and women are sure it's never happened to them and most people at one time or another have done it - so you do the maths.

You don't think we can tell the difference? Get outta here. Experts in speech and body language such as Michael Kelly say we can tell. When the gift is a success, the recipient's eyes, eyebrows and smile all light up spontaneously. A dud will be put aside quickly, even though the recipient says they like it. The safest option is surely to avoid giving dud presents in the first place.

Experts in business have long known the key to success is promising low and delivering high.

Experts in New Age counterculture chant Kahlil Gibran's mantra: ''It is when you give of yourself that you truly give''.

But experts in human relationships proffer a more practical solution: ''I'll have what she's having - plus a DVD of When Harry Met Sally''.