Wed, Jun 08, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Australia's airports face new review

TERRORISM THREAT A series of incidents has forced the government to bring in an outsider to investigate international terminals across the nation


Australia yesterday ordered a review of its airport-security measures to allay public concerns over a leaked customs report that found staff at Sydney airport were involved in drug smuggling, theft and could pose a terrorism threat.

Transport Minister John Anderson said the former head of Britain's National Criminal Intelligence Service, Sir John Wheeler, would head the review, which is scheduled to report by September.

"We're very conscious of the need to ensure community confidence about what goes on within the grounds of airports," Anderson told reporters.

He said a separate review would be carried out into the backgrounds of all 130,000 airport and maritime port workers issued with security cards, known as ASICs, to ensure they were "fit and proper."

"If the police checks pick up a pattern of criminal behavior or a pattern of involvement with people who might be dark and murky, if I can put it that way, or repeated drug offenses, or a pattern suggesting they cannot be trusted ... then we will withdraw that ASIC card," he said.

Anderson said he expected the probe to uncover a significant number of people with criminal backgrounds.

He said a senior federal police officer would also be appointed as a security controller at each of Australia's major airports to ensure various law enforcement arms such as state and federal police, customs and national security agencies worked efficiently.

Closed-circuit television surveillance of baggage handling areas and aircraft holds would also be tightened.

Anderson said the measures would need significant funding and he would not rule out airlines passing on some of the cost to passengers.

"I don't think people would argue with paying another buck for a ticket for significant increases in their aviation security," he said.

The government action comes after a customs report -- completed last September but never publicly released -- was leaked last week.

The report found Sydney airport baggage handlers had diverted narcotics arriving on international flights to avoid customs inspections and were "suspected of large-scale pillage" of passengers' bags.

It also follows flag-carrier Qantas' dismissal of three Sydney airport workers, including a senior security manager, following an investigation into an alleged cocaine smuggling ring.

The issue of airport staff stealing from passengers' luggage hit national headlines in April when a traveler complained that he saw a baggage handler driving around on the tarmac wearing a camel costume which had been packed in his bag.

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