SHANE MCLENNAN: Okay. Good morning everyone and thanks for your attendance here this morning for this important event, the relaunch of Airport Watch. My name is Shane McLennan, I’m the AFP Airport Police Commander here at Gold Coast Airport, I’ll be your MC here for this event this morning. Please allow me to acknowledge the country upon which we meet here today. I respectfully acknowledge the Minjungbal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to elders past and present, and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.
So I’d like to acknowledge our three speakers here this morning. Firstly, the Minister for Home Affairs and the Member for McPherson, the electorate that we are standing on here this morning, the Honourable Karen Andrews MP. Secondly, the AFP Assistant Commissioner for Northern Region, which takes in Queensland and Northern Territory, Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale APM. And thirdly, but definitely by no means least, as our key stakeholder here at Gold Coast Airport, the Chief Operating Officer for Gold Coast Airport Limited is Marion Charlton.
So today it’s all about Airport Watch and what that means for the aviation community and our stakeholders here at Gold Coast Airport. Our three speakers have key messages for you, following which we’ll take general questions and answers on Airport Watch. So without further ado, the Minister. Thank you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, thank you very much. And it’s an absolute pleasure to be here today for the relaunch of Airport Watch. This is a very significant program, particularly as we start to look at how we’re going to be reopening our borders over the coming months. So, Airport Watch is an initiative that engages with our communities. So people who come in and out of Gold Coast Airport, what we are doing is asking you to be vigilant, to have a look around you, to see if not only are there any parcels or suitcases left lying around, but if you see someone who is taking photos of secure areas or is acting in a suspicious way, what we’re asking you to do is notify the AFP about what you’ve seen. Airports can be very much a first line defence for us. We need the community to work with the AFP to make sure that we are doing all that we can to keep our airports safe.
Now, I will leave it to Assistant Commissioner Gale to actually speak about more detail on the Airport Watch program. But what I can say is that as Australia is starting to look at how we are going to reopen in a safe and secure way, it’s very important that we make sure that our airport is ready to scale up as quickly as it possibly can. That means that we need to be working with our key stakeholders here at Gold Coast Airport. But we also need to make sure that there is cooperation amongst the AFP, Australian Border Force and most importantly, our key stakeholders here, which is our community. So I am delighted to be here this morning to relaunch Airport Watch, and I look forward to seeing many more flights coming into the Gold Coast.
LESA GALE: Does that work for everyone? Can you hear me okay? Good morning, Minister and Chief Operating Officer Marion Charlton, and thank you both for your support and being here today. As the Minister has mentioned, this continues to be an unprecedented time for domestic and international aviation travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it has been challenging for law enforcement, the AFP and our partners have stepped up to ensure the safe travel of passengers through the aviation environment. Now, as borders have largely reopened and domestic travel is increasing, we are stepping up in the fight against a different kind of threat – the potential growth in crime caused by this- by the disruption – my apologies – to the aviation environment. While COVID-19 continues to impact travel and the aviation industry, it has also impacted organised crime supply chains and we believe criminal- these criminal groups will attempt to exploit this disruption for their own purposes.
In November 2020, we have seen an attempt by organised crime to import cocaine into Australia through the Gold Coast Airport. In December 2020, our officers uncovered a group attempting to ship methamphetamine from a post-box at the Gold Coast Airport. This underscores the need for initiatives like Airport Watch to complement the work of our AFP officers.
Today, I’m pleased to be here with the Minister for Home Affairs and the Chief Operating Officer from the Gold Coast Airport Limited to join the launch of a reinvigorated Airport Watch at the Gold Coast Airport. As one of nine designated major airports involved in the program and a major hub for tourism in Queensland, the Gold Coast Airport will use Airport Watch to alert the travelling public and the aviation community on what suspicious activity to report to authorities and how to do it. Airport Watch complements other initiatives here at the Gold Coast Airport, including the newly created Aviation Crime Targeting team, or ACT, which was established in November 2020. The ACT members have been working to develop targets and intelligence in support of trusted insider threats to the airport. This includes working with stakeholders in regional airports to assess and evaluate links to criminal activities involved in the air stream.
The ACT has conducted hostile reconnaissance threat assessments and behavioural assessment and security questioning activities in and around the airport precinct, producing information reports that contribute to the broader intelligence picture, which then assist to guide investigative activities. Along with the ACT, we’ve also implemented the Aviation Protection Assessment Team, or APAT, concept into the Gold Coast Airport. This is a dedication- dedicated aviation intelligence capability, embedded across the nine major Australian airports, and it provides tactical, operational and strategic intelligence to identify and analyse all potential threats to the aviation security. APAT works closely with aviation industry partners, major airlines, government and law enforcement agencies to collect and share intelligence. They also collaborate internally, particularly with the joint counter-terrorist teams, organised crime, national response operations and the National Anti-Gang Squad. The public play a crucial role in working with police every day to keep their communities safe. The aviation environment is no different.
The AFP is calling on those visiting the Gold Coast, or even Gold Coast locals using the airport, to keep your eyes and ears open as you embark on your travels. I also urge those of you who work within the aviation industry to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious, either online or by phoning the AFP. This includes everyone working within the airport precinct, whether you work for a major airline, a car hire company or a local cafe. Everyone can play a part in Airport Watch, whether you’d be a traveller or a staff member. If you see or hear something unusual while working at or travelling to one of our major airports, please call the AFP Airport Watch on 131-AFP, or report this activity online through the AFP Airport Watch website.
Suspicious activity or unusual behaviour includes a person observed displaying an unusually keen interest in security procedures, a person observed recording or taking photos in and around sensitive areas at the airport, anyone acting strangely or in an unusual manner, anyone heard asking questions to gain information about the airport, and anyone trying to gain unauthorised access to secure areas. The message from the AFP is this: if something doesn’t seem right, say something. Notify authorities as soon as possible. I wish to thank the minister and the Gold Coast Airport for their ongoing support to Airport Watch. Initiatives such as these means that the AFP can continue to deliver a safe aviation community environment for all Australians. Thank you.
MARION CHARLTON: Good morning, Minister. Good morning, everyone. And on behalf of the Gold Coast Airport, I’d also like to reiterate the comments made by our Minister and the AFP with regards to the importance of Airport Watch. Airport Watch is extremely important because it recognises that airport security is a team effort. It’s a collaborative effort. It recognises that it takes the Federal Police, the Gold Coast Airport team, but the entire airport community to keep us safe, to note and to, if they see anything suspicious at all, to report it to the AFP through the 131-AFP helpline or their reporting line. It’s the simplicity of that message, it’s the simplicity of, if you see something suspicious, and the simplicity of the number, 131-AFP. Super easy for our team to remember.
So the kind of suspicious activity, as we heard mentioned before, someone looking like they just don’t belong, someone who looks a bit out of place, someone who might leave a bag, someone asking too many questions, might even be a team member asking questions around things that are not necessarily part of their role. So it’s that collaborative approach that is incredibly important to airport security. And obviously last year, a lot of our team were, across the board, were stood down as the airport was incredibly quiet during the COVID period. So we have a lot of staff starting to come back on board, the staff that are at the airport for the very, very first time. So it’s really, really timely that this program is being relaunched today, and the Gold Coast Airport will do everything it can to support the AFP and our airport community with regards to promoting Airport Watch. Thank you.
SHANE MCLENNAN: Thank you very much to our three speakers. Probably one thing also to mention is that what is particularly new with the relaunch of the Airport Watch is the use of the QR coding. We all love QR codes these days. And the sandwich boards there show you the QR code now, that’ll take members of the public straight to the AFP reporting website.
I’ll just open it up now for General Q&A on Airport Watch.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
KAREN ANDREWS: So Airport Watch was first launched at around… [pauses for plane noise]
Well, as a Gold Coast MP, I can tell you I’m very happy to have to stop speaking while a plane is in the vicinity of the Gold Coast. So that’s a very positive thing for us here on the Gold Coast. Airport Watch was first launched in around about 2012. And of course, over the last 12 to 14 months, COVID has been an issue for us. We have had a significant reduction in the number of flights coming through here. Now, as we look to reopen our borders, it’s very clear that we have to start making sure that we have in place all that is needed to be able to do so safely. That’s why it’s important to reinvigorate, relaunch Airport Watch to make sure that we are drawing attention to the serious issues of- at our airports and to make sure that we are well placed for the reopening on.
QUESTION: There was nine airports, from memory, that the [indistinct] mentioned. Is the Gold Coast, you know, like which other airports are going to be part of the program?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, it includes many of the other capital cities, so it does include clearly Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. But I think it’s very positive for the Gold Coast that we are seen as a designated airport. We are a major airport. We have significant numbers, under normal circumstances, of passengers coming through this airport. So I see it as a positive. We are being considered and are a designated airport, but I think it also is then incumbent on us to make sure that we realise that with that comes a series of obligations. And for the community, that means that we need them to be vigilant, to be on the lookout for things that are not quite right around the airport, whether that be people who are acting suspiciously, whether they’re taking undue care and attention to other security arrangements. We need to be vigilant.
QUESTION: What’s the priority; is it to prevent drugs from being distributed between states, counter-terrorism? Like what kind of things [indistinct]…?
KAREN ANDREWS: There’s a range of issues that we are very conscious of. Serious and organised crime is an issue here on the Gold Coast. So our police forces, the AFP, and of course, Queensland Policing, New South Wales Policing are very aware of those issues. So, we are conscious of drugs coming through this airport. But we also need to be alert to the issues of terrorism. So, what we do know is over the last 12 to 14 months, people have had a significant amount of time at home to be online. And we know that opportunities for radicalisation have actually escalated during the last 12 to 14 months. So, as we reopen, it’s very important that we are vigilant and that we are across the threats of terrorism, serious and organised crime.
QUESTION: Maybe just a couple of question for the AC?
LESA GALE: Oh sure, of course.
QUESTION: I guess can you explain- like, how helpful cities having the community on board with you guys? Obviously, you do your own operations, but being able to have people [indistinct] in the airport.
LESA GALE: That’s a really good question. The community, those people travelling through the airports and also those people, as I mentioned previously, working at the airport, they are our eyes and ears about what is going on. Police, certainly, we regularly patrol and have a strong presence in partnership with our state and territory counterparts at the airports. But we really rely on those members of the community and public, whether working here or travelling through the airport to keep us informed and notify us of those things that they may be seeing that our members may not just be aware of.
And so, with that partnership approach, in order for us to be able to keep the community safe, we have that shared approach where the community also can help us be prepared and prevent and keep them safe as they travel through the airports.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
LESA GALE: I think this is- as I mentioned before, this is about us being prepared, you know, serious and organised crime always is a threat through the airstreams. There were- two cases I mentioned earlier, just two examples of organised crime that has occurred within the aviation context. This is about us being prepared and being able to prevent any serious and organised crime occurring in the aviation sector.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
LESA GALE: Yes, it is. We really need- yes, you can remain anonymous if you don’t wish to identify who you are. What my message today is, any piece of information or intelligence is critical, and even if it is conveyed in an anonymous way.
QUESTION: Can you just explain to us briefly [inaudible]…
LESA GALE: Yes, that’s a really good question. Certainly, what you will see in terms of patrols at the airports, you will see a higher visibility of the drug detection dogs. And we have an example of one just over there. You’ll see them walking in a more regular way, doing patrols. You will see a higher visibility of our airport officers. And you will know we also have another airport officer to my left. You can see that they, as I mentioned in my talking points, that they have- they are very well trained, very well prepared in terms of equipment, in terms to be prepared, in order to keep the community safe and to prevent any incident occurring within the airport precinct.
QUESTION: And maybe [indistinct] can you give us an update on how many flights are coming through now? Are things picking back up to what they were pre-COVID?
MARION CHARLTON: Thank you very much. Things are certainly picking up, particularly in the domestic market for Gold Coast Airport. Obviously, our thoughts are with everyone in Melbourne at this particular time. So, very difficult for them, and Melbourne represented about 40 per cent of our recovery. So, we’re very much looking forward to a- when that shutdown- when that lockdown is finished to welcoming our Melbourne market back, as well. The trans-Tasman bubble is going particularly well. We had 20 flights last week, up from 16 the week before. So, no, the recovery has been going quite well. Thank you.
QUESTION: Just a question to the Minister, if that’s all right? So, Minister, how many repatriation flights [inaudible]…
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we are continuing to bring back as many vulnerable Australians as we possibly can. The plan is to make sure that we have flights coming in at least every seven to nine days. We have had some already that have come in. They’ve gone into the Northern Territory and people are quarantining in at Howard Springs. We will be continuing to work with the state and territory governments to bring flights in right around Australia. Our priority is to bring home as many vulnerable Australians as we can as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Is there a bit of a timeline in terms of [inaudible]…
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the number of people wanting to come home does vary from time to time, and people sometimes change their mind. So there have been people who have indicated in the past that they wish to return to Australia. They’ve then changed their mind and decided they wish to stay where they are. And of course, other people have come on more recently. In relation to India, we’re critically aware of the situation there. And we were doing all we can to bring people safely home. But in bringing people safely home to Australia, we need to be in a position to be able to manage, along with the states, the quarantine issues and to make sure that we are keeping Australians who are here now safe.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
KAREN ANDREWS: The Liberal Party absolutely is the party of the workers, and I am well on the record for saying that a number of times over the last few years, because we do support the workers. In relation to Victoria, the Federal Government has given considerable amounts of money to support workers and businesses in Victoria over the last 12 to 14 months. In fact, over $45 billion has gone from the Commonwealth to the state of Victoria. So, we are looking forward to the Victorian Government doing all that it can to finalise the work that it needs to do with contact tracing and to reopen the economy in Victoria as soon as it is safe to do so.
QUESTION: [Inaudible]… discuss those arrangements?
KAREN ANDREWS: I don’t know what Josh Frydenberg’s movements are today, but we all know that Josh is a very strong advocate for Victoria and he will be doing all that he can to assist his local community, given that he’s a Victorian MP as well as the whole state of Victoria, to reopen and start getting people back to work and to be able to live their normal lives.