Official Committee Hansard
(Budget Estimates)

Flash Back - Ms Schapelle Corby - 24th May 2005
CCTV Surveillance - Tapes - Baggage Handlers

Extracted pages.28 to 59
Document Source:http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/s8314.pdf
Topic’s debated referenced: Australian Federal Police - Qantas - Baggage handlers - CCTV footage.

Senator ALLISON—Can you explain what the AFP’s role is with security and baggage handling at airports? 

Mr Keelty—The role for security at airports is one for the airline operators and the airport operators. 

Senator ALLISON—I understand that, but the AFP presumably has had some involvement in setting up systems. Given the objectives of your agency, it would seem pretty clear that this is a key area of interest. 

Mr Keelty—The involvement of the AFP is in respect of our work in protecting the borders in terms of drug trafficking, people-smuggling and other sorts of crimes committed through the airports—as it is through other means. In respect of baggage handlers themselves, it would be in respect of working with the other agencies at the airports, which include, as I say, the airline operators, the airport operators, AQIS, Customs and the other government departments working at airports. We are also responsible for the criminal record and background checks for the issue of the Aviation Security Identification Card, known as the ASIC. Baggage handlers form part of the occupations at the airport that are required to undergo checks to be issued with an ASIC. Other requirements prior to the issue of an ASIC are a security assessment conducted by ASIO and, if the person is not an Australian citizen, a check conducted by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs as to whether he or she is an unlawful noncitizen. 

Senator ALLISON—Have all baggage handlers now been issued with the ASIC and had security checks? 

Mr Keelty—The only people who work outside of that process are, as I understand it, temporary staff who work at airports. 

Senator ALLISON—Temporary staff are not required to have ASICs? 

Mr Keelty—Temporary staff are provided with a temporary pass but they must be supervised by somebody who has had a background check at all times while they are in the airport. 

Senator ALLISON—As you would be well aware, the parliament passed legislation some time ago giving powers to personnel working in airports to conduct frisk searches and the like. Was it ever envisaged that this power would be given for use on not only passengers but also baggage handlers? 

Mr Keelty—That is a policy question for government. 

Senator Ellison—Madam Chair, could Senator Allison just repeat that question. I have the letter here that was requested previously, by the way, and I was just attending to that for the purposes of tabling it. If we can just deal with this issue first then we will table the letter. 

Senator ALLISON—Some time ago we passed legislation which gave new powers to APS personnel working in airports dealing with passengers. Individual passengers can be frisked and required to give their name, address, a reason for being where they are and so forth. Is it anticipated, in the light of recent developments, that there might also be a focus on baggage handlers in terms of increasing surveillance over their activities—or indeed those kinds of demands.

Senator Ellison—As I recall it the policy setting for that legislation was one of national security and dealing with counter-terrorism first response, which is handled by the Australian Federal Police Protective Service. It was thought that they needed the power to act where they thought that there was a possible breach of security. They were to do so with certain requirements—that is, they could not just willy-nilly ask someone to provide their bag to be searched; there had to be reasonable grounds for it. I think there was a good deal of Senate scrutiny in relation to that. We are dealing here with a situation where you are talking about baggage handlers and the screening of them as a whole—that is, across the board—not in the context of the AFPPS powers where that is in response to a circumstance which presents itself, such as a person acting suspiciously, but in the circumstances of people working at the airport. That is a different policy consideration, because what you have there is a blanket approach, if you like, to how those people are screened. Baggage handlers never used to be screened. They are now, to the extent that they have ASICs, and that involves a background check on them. Of course, there is closed-circuit television at airports. Airport operators, Customs and Qantas have their closed-circuit television, which adds to the security of the airport environment. But the point you make about the Australian Federal Police Protective Service is more to do with a discrete power that was given to them in relation to their counter-terrorism, first-response role. 

Senator ALLISON—Are closed-circuit television arrangements present in baggage-handling areas. 

Senator Ellison—I understand that Qantas recently announced an increase in coverage. About a month or two ago, Qantas announced that it would be increasing its closed-circuit television coverage, which included baggage areas. 

Senator ALLISON—Prior to that, were all operations within baggage-handling areas covered under the CCTV arrangements.

Senator Ellison—I understand there was CCTV in baggage-handling areas. As to which airports, I would have to take that on notice, but I understand that there was provision of closed-circuit television in baggage-handling areas. 

Senator ALLISON—For how long are the tapes from those systems maintained.

Senator Ellison—I would have to take that on notice. That is a matter for Qantas airlines. I understand, from discussions with Qantas, that they are kept for a month or so. It depends on the workload in relation to the tapes and the systems concerned, but I will take that on notice and get back to the committee. 

Senator ALLISON—Mr Keelty, are tapes from surveillance in airport luggage-handling areas ever used by the AFP in their investigations? 

Mr Keelty—They could be. It would be in an investigation, as I mentioned before, of a breach of the legislation that we operate under. 

Senator ALLISON—So that would be related to terrorism—is that what you are saying? 

Mr Keelty—It could be terrorism, it could be narcotics trafficking, it could be people-smuggling, it could be identity fraud—it could be a raft of issues. 

Senator Ellison—You also have to remember that state police have jurisdiction as well, so it is something that state police could avail themselves of. 

Senator ALLISON—So the AFP can, at any point in time, ask for the tapes on baggage handling on certain days if there is suspected narcotics activity? 

Mr Keelty—That is correct, if the tapes exist—remembering that the security at airports is governed by the Department of Transport and Regional Services. They set the standard and we are but one, as I have mentioned to you before, of a large number of agencies that operate out of the airports, including the state and territory police. All of the airports are privatised and general community policing at airports is the responsibility of the state and territory police. 

Senator ALLISON—I understand that, but you have an interest, surely, in being able to secure evidence that might be collected on that CCTV. 

Mr Keelty—If it was a matter in which we had an interest, yes—and if the tapes existed. 

Senator ALLISON—Such as drug trafficking? 

Mr Keelty—That is correct. 

Senator ALLISON—Can you give the committee some idea of how frequently you request evidence from CCTV on drug trafficking within baggage-handling areas? 

Mr Keelty—I do not have the information here. I would have to take that on notice. But you are talking about every operation we involve ourselves in at airports, so it would take me some time to gather that information. We would need to know between what dates you required the information. 

Senator ALLISON—I am sorry. I did not mean to ask for something which would be onerous to collect, but I want a general sense of how frequently the AFP uses this information and how readily it is available. I would have thought that, in your talks with airport authorities, whether they are private or otherwise, this would be fairly central to your evidence-collecting capability—is it not? 

Mr Keelty—Which question do you want me to answer? 

Senator ALLISON—Is the collection of information via the CCTV, tapes of the CCTV and baggage handling areas, of interest to the AFP? 

Mr Keelty—It may or may not be, depending on what the case is that is being investigated and whether the evidence exists. 

Senator ALLISON—I will go back to the first question and ask you to provide information about the number and occasions on which the AFP has requested tapes within baggage handling areas related to drug trafficking. 

CHAIR—Which you have taken on notice, Mr Keelty. 

Senator ALLISON—Perhaps over the last three years, for want of a better time frame. 

CHAIR—It has been taken on notice, Senator.   

Senator ALLISON—Was Minister Downer wrong, then, when he indicated that the reason that the CCTV tapes were not available in the case of Ms Corby’s arrest was that they were usually destroyed within a few hours? That obviously is not correct from what you have just indicated. 

Senator Ellison—There are a number of tapes involved. There are tapes by the airport corporation, Customs tapes and tapes by Qantas. So you have to look at which ones you are talking about because— 

Senator ALLISON—I am talking about the CCTV tapes of baggage handling activities. 

Senator Ellison—I will have to take this on notice and make sure that this is right, but there are cases, I understand, where some of the closed-circuit television of baggage handling areas is by the airport concerned. We are dealing with two airports, in the case that you are speaking of, and Qantas has its CCTV as well. So I will need to take that on notice. As I prefaced my remarks, it was a general understanding I had in relation to tapes being held for a period of time. That could change in certain circumstances. I did not say it was ironclad. I cannot comment on what Alexander Downer has said; I do not know what he was referring to. 

CHAIR—There are a number of questions that have been taken on notice there, Senator Allison. I am sure we will have those answers as soon as we can. 

Senator Ellison—I can table that letter. I might add that it was addressed to the defence team for Schapelle Corby; I think I said it was to the court concerned. I believe it was provided to them with the expectation that it would be provided to the court. There were reports, of course, that said it was to the court. I am not sure what the involvement of Foreign Affairs was in relation to whether it was going to the court or to the defence team. But, suffice to say, there is one letter. This is a copy of it, and I table it. CHAIR—Thank you for tabling that. I will have that collected. 

Senator ALLISON—Could we also have on notice the changes being proposed to surveillance in baggage handling areas Minister, I think you said that Qantas was proposing to put in some additional surveillance points. Is it possible to provide the committee with details of those changes.

Senator Ellison—Yes. I can take that on notice. 

Senator ALLISON—Did they arise from either AFP or other recommendations to Qantas? 

Senator Ellison—I think Qantas did this on something of its own motion, which it did before any revelation of the alleged cocaine importation. That was done before that surfaced, although of course Qantas was aware of the investigation. I think it was something that Qantas was looking at in any event. We have worked closely with Qantas in relation to aviation security. They do a good job. That was my understanding. If it is incorrect, I will advise the committee. 

Senator ALLISON—Has AFP had talks with other airlines or other airports about surveillance? Are there negotiations under way at present over the extent to which surveillance is available in baggage handling areas.

Senator Ellison—A high-level group has been set up in relation to aviation security. On that group there is representation from the airlines; they are included in that group. So if you are talking about ongoing consultation, that is the primary body that would be involved in that. 

Senator ALLISON—Which federal agencies are also involved.

Senator Ellison—Transport leads that. There is Transport, Australian Federal Police and Customs. The airline owners are represented, as are the airports. I will have to check to see who else is on that body. That is my recollection. 

Senator ALLISON—Does that body have the power to require Qantas, Jetstar or various airlines to put in surveillance points—CCTV surveillance—where it might be deemed to be undersurveilled.

Senator Ellison—I think it is fair to say that the work we do with the airlines is on a very cooperative basis. We have had to legislate where necessary to give people certain powers. The ASI card was just one case in point. We had to have legislation for the ASI card because of the mandatory aspects of that. In relation to the measures that Qantas has taken, it is largely done on the basis of cooperation with Qantas. We have an excellent relationship with the airlines. You talk of Qantas; I also want to include other airlines such as Virgin Blue. Where legislation is required then we go down that path. It is done in consultation with the airlines and the airport owners. The ASI card was just one example. 

Senator ALLISON—In those talks or in that group has there ever been a suggestion put by the AFP or other agencies that a greater level of surveillance should be provided, and which has been rejected by the airports or Qantas.

Senator Ellison—I cannot comment on the extent of those discussions. I would have to take that on notice. I cannot speak for every official who is represented there. In that group ASIO is also represented. Any further questions of that sort I will direct to the department of transport. The department of transport is the lead agency for that body, so I will take that on notice. 

Senator ALLISON—But the department of transport does not have the same interest in security as the AFP or ASIO, presumably. 

Senator Ellison—No, the department of transport has a very strong interest in aviation security. The Deputy Prime Minister has taken a very close interest— 

Senator ALLISON—We will perhaps raise these questions with ASIO when they appear a little later. Going to this letter to the Indonesian lawyers on the question of drug importation into Australia and baggage handlers, I will read the second paragraph, which states: Following a joint investigation which has been conducted over the last six months, the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Police have dismantled a Sydney based syndicate involved in trafficking of drugs. Police are currently investigating a number of baggage handlers who work at the Sydney international airport about these drug-trafficking activities. The police believe these baggage handlers were on duty on 8 October 2004 when a shipment of drugs was brought into the Sydney international airport. Mr Keelty, that does seem to me to be somewhat in contradiction to your comments a couple of weeks earlier, which were—and correct me if I am wrong in my recollection—that an investigation had been conducted and no evidence had been found to support the claim that there had been interference in baggage handling or drug related activities. 

Mr Keelty—There is no conflict between what is contained in that letter and my public statements. To go into greater detail might create problems in terms of what was agreed between madam chair and the minister. 

CHAIR—These are matters currently under continuing investigation? 

Mr Keelty—Can I point out that the matter regarding the international airport involving the AFP and the New South Wales Police is ongoing and charges have been preferred. That matter is now before the court. With respect, I think the other issues come into the ambit of the discussion that the minister had with you, Madam Chair, at the outset of these proceedings in respect of the Corby matter. 

Senator Ellison—I think that is appropriate. You are talking about a situation where you clearly have mention of a matter which is before the courts. The other matter was an investigation carried out by the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland police. Of course, Commissioner Keelty’s comments were made in the context of that previous investigation by the Queensland police and the Australian Federal Police and not in the context of this subsequent development, which was made public when arrests were made and people taken before the courts. To comment on this now is inappropriate because of the matter being before the courts. Of course, a number of people are before the courts. There are ongoing investigations as well. So there is more than one reason for declining to go into these matters in detail. 

Senator LUDWIG—Minister, the commissioner has given us a short overview of those matters that surround the Sydney international airport drug-trafficking activities. Is the commissioner able to provide a more expansive explanation of the circumstances that he can put on the record about those activities and what the current investigation or its stretch is or about the lead-up to the current investigation which culminated in the arrests? Rather than ask the question—Senator Allison can come back to it—it is a matter of putting the ball in your court and asking what you can say in terms of those activities. 

Senator Ellison—In relation to the operation involving the alleged cocaine smuggling.

Senator LUDWIG—It is not unusual for us to ask that at estimates, to be able to then elicit from the commissioner what he can say, given the nature of the issue and given that obviously it is an ongoing operation. 

CHAIR—The committee is cognisant of those restrictions. 

Mr Keelty—I will precis the public information on this, which would be the facts presented before the courts. It is a joint investigation involving the Australian Federal Police, the New South Wales Police and the New South Wales Crime Commission. The investigation has been going on for some months. There are people who have been charged with conspiring to import cocaine into Australia through Sydney airport—the international terminal. It is an investigation that spans not only Australia but also South America, where, the committee will be aware, there is an AFP presence. There have been many months of telephone intercepts and listening devices used as part of that investigation. An aspect of the investigation was a focus on a small number of baggage handlers who were employed at Sydney airport and who were operating on the international side of the airport. 

Senator ALLISON—Can I ask whether it is the case that AFP personnel are also under investigation.

Mr Keelty—A matter has been referred to our professional standards area as a result of an allegation—I would not put it any more strongly than that—that arose out of that investigation. 

Senator ALLISON—Is that investigation complete now or is it still under way.

Mr Keelty—It is still under way. 

Senator ALLISON—And that also related to Sydney airport.

Mr Keelty—It did, but it in no way pre-empted or caused the operation to be executed at the time, which was for reasons that I cannot disclose publicly. There was another reason the operation had to be brought to fruition on the day that it was. 

Senator ALLISON—Did the allegation involve just one officer or was it more.

Mr Keelty—An allegation has been made against just one AFP officer. We are very much aware of that allegation. It was not a revelation to us. It is an ongoing matter within our professional standards area. 

Senator ALLISON—Has the officer been suspended while the investigation is under way.

Mr Keelty—No. Senator ALLISON—So he or she is conducting normal activities.

Mr Keelty—That is correct, and that is why I say I would not put it any higher than that the allegation has been made. We have to keep an open mind in these matters. We treat allegations of corruption very seriously. This happened to be a matter about which we had prior knowledge and so we were proactively investigating it in any event. I think to say any further probably will have a negative effect on that investigation. 

CHAIR—We understand.