NUMBERS GAME: Luggage largely goes unsearched. Pic: Bruce LongSource: The Sunday Mail (Qld)
ORGANISED crime syndicates have infiltrated every level of Australian airports, with corrupt baggage handlers, customs officials and airline staff smuggling drugs and firearms into the country.
Leading federal authorities, trade unions, border protection groups and airlines have revealed there are gaping holes in aviation and maritime security.
A new federal parliamentary inquiry has heard less than 1 per cent of air cargo is physically examined and catering trucks are never searched.
The Australian Federal Police Association claim the "declare" or "nothing to declare" customs system is also allowing drug mules to freely smuggle illicit drugs without being caught.
"The introduction of the voluntary 'declare' or 'nothing to declare' process at Australian airports has increased the ability for organised crime to utilise mules to transport narcotics and other illicit goods through the customs barrier undetected," the Association's submission states.
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The Australian Services Union is also critical of the system, saying it was inappropriate that international passengers were allowed to bypass scrutiny.
Qantas' submission to the inquiry admits corrupt employees could misuse their positions.
"The potential for a trusted insider (airport/airline employees, contractors, security personnel, retailers and so on) to circumvent security measures and use their knowledge of the environment is an ongoing consideration for aviation industry participants," it states.
Last September, The Sunday Mail highlighted concerns over scant security checks of Qantas Catering staff with access to aircraft at Brisbane Airport.
Labor senator and committee chairman Steve Hutchins, who oversaw two public hearings last week, admitted border security was lax.
"We are not at all impressed about what appears to be the ease with which people are able to access maritime cards let alone aviation security cards," he told The Sunday Mail.
"Over the years, it's been proven that on the waterfront and in airports, there are clearly people who have links to organised and serious crime.
"Whatever we can do, we should do to root them out and make sure that illegal drugs and firearms aren't on the streets."
Senator Hutchins said he was also disturbed by allegations people accessing areas near the baggage and ground handling services did not have passes.
Transport Workers Union federal secretary Tony Sheldon said catering materials and air cargo were rarely inspected and that a delegate with 20 years' experience was only aware of one inspection in the past year.
Australian Customs say less than 40,000 of the 6.1 million piece of luggage screened by X-rays are opened and searched for prohibited items.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission was established to look into the adequacy of security measures in the aviation and maritime sector.
The committee is expected to hand down their findings later this year.
In a hearing in Sydney on Friday, Mr Sheldon
was especially critical of the main screening system for airport employees - the aviation security identification cards, or ASIC system.
"What is particularly disturbing is that there is such a capacity to have multiple associates of organised crime able to get into our airports who have not been ASIC-checked," he said.