Anti-terrorism measures at Australian airports may not be enough to stop a Brussels-style attack happening here, experts including a former head of Qantas security have warned.
Following a plea from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, border force personnel have cancelled planned strikes over Easter, including a 24-hour stoppage planned for Thursday at all major airports.
Following the Belgian attack, Australian Federal Police also announced heightened security measures and patrols at major international airports.
Airports around the world are on high alert following the attacks in Belgium, which have claimed 31 lives with almost 200 injured.
• Brussels suicide bombers were ‘known to police’
• Europe let security ‘slip’ ahead of Brussels attack: PM
• PM: Brussels attacks highlight Europe’s porous borders
• Gallery: Beautiful tributes flow for Brussels
London, Paris, New York and Frankfurt have all stepped up the number of police patrols around their airports.
The Brussels attacks occurred on what aviation experts call the “land side” of airports – the public areas where travellers can check in before passing through immigration and security checks.
The suicide bombers in Belgium – named on Wednesday as brothers Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui – passed through no security checks.
Roger Henning, a security expert with Homeland Security Asia/Pacific, told The New Daily there were “chilling” similarities between Sydney and Brussels airports.
“The attacks could be duplicated here,” he said. “Both Brussels and Sydney airports have underground access to their terminals, both have unfettered access to their check-in areas and no one working at major airports in Australia is trained to handle a response if it does occur.”
Mr Henning said the only safe airport in Australia was Avalon Airport in Victoria, which had instituted security procedures compliant with UN protocols.
“The rest are wide open,” he said.
Security needs to be tightened
Mr Henning launched a scathing attack on successive prime ministers for government failure to implement a string of recommendations by security experts.
He said few of the recommendations of the 2005 Wheeler Report had been put in place.
That report found security at Australia’s airports was seriously flawed, dysfunctional and uncoordinated, with no one taking control of policing and agencies failing to share information.
Geoff Askew, who was head of Qantas security for 20 years, told The New Daily a Brussels-style attack could happen in Australia.
“It would be naive [to say] it couldn’t happen here,” said Mr Askew.
He called for a government agency to be made responsible for all screening at airports, rather than the present situation where the responsibility fell to airlines and airports. This would allow proper training and standardised procedures.
‘Terrorists are going after soft targets’
When asked if a terrorist attack like that in Belgium could occur in Australia, John Kendall, the director of Border Security Solutions for technology company Unisys, told The New Daily: “Of course it could. Terrorists are going after soft targets and anywhere where you have a lot of people gathered is a soft target.”
Mr Kendall said airports were difficult to secure on their so-called ‘land side’, but in terms of impact offered opportunities beyond comprehension.
Neil Fergus, chief executive of Intelligent Risks and a consultant to the government on security, said that nothing beat human intelligence.
“There are no guarantees in relation to the security of mass transit nodes and areas of mass assembly if and when a determined asymmetrical terrorist element has capability and intent to attack those types of targets,” he told The New Daily. “Therefore proactive intelligence collection and risks assessment are key elements in the security architecture.”
Transport Workers Union Secretary Tony Sheldon told The New Daily security at the nation’s airports was a massive problem, with a deadly combination of poor training, high staff turnover and lack of experience.
“We have long been concerned about the impact of a high turnover of a mainly casual and poorly-paid workforce on security at our airports.”