Accountability in Aviation

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Accountability in Aviation Security

1. Introduction

On September 11, 2001 the world watched as nearly 3,000 people were killed from a coordinated terrorist attack involving four passenger jets. Aviation security became a heightened focus with the Australian Government committing to extensive review to ensure safe travel for the Australian public. This paper will examine political accountability in relation to aviation security to determine what, if any improvements have been made. A case study into Australian Airport Security (Whelan & Palmer 2006) is used as a reference to support the argument put forward.

Accountability can be defined as being called to account for ones actions Merriam-Webster (2006). Political accountability is the accountability of the government of the day to deliver the expectations of the elected people. Accountability where a government service is delivered by private industry forms the primary focus of this paper.

Initial discussion will explore the likelihood of terrorist activity in Australia. The 2005 Wheeler Report will be used as a framework to review the practical application of a number of aspects of aviation security accountability. These include partnership, personnel and process. Analysis of these applications will demonstrate vulnerabilities in aviation security when mixing government and non government players. This leads into discussion whether there are sufficient accounting practices to support proper accountability. Evidence provided will reinforce the position that government has not fully and effectively implemented Wheeler’s recommendations with intentions driven by political gain not accountability.

2. Is Australia a Terrorist Target?

Al-Qaeda and associated groups target sites of “Critical Infrastructure” (ASIO 2003 cited in Whelan & Palmer 2006:5) to maximise the impact of terrorist activity. While the definition of critical infrastructure may differ depending on the jurisdiction, a broad definition is: “a site, network or information chain, which if destroyed, would significantly impact on the social or economic well-being of the nation” (Trusted Information Sharing Network 2004 cited in Whelan & Palmer 2006:6). Australia has a large number of critical infrastructures such as communication systems, banking, finance and transport. Approximately 90% of these infrastructures are privately owned and operated (National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre 2006 cited in Whelan & Palmer 2006:6). It’s unlikely that destruction of any of these facilities would significantly impact on the social or economic well-being of Australia due in part to the geographical nature of Australian infrastructure and the global impact of these industries.

Airports conversely are seen as a crucial form of critical infrastructure as an international gateway for terrorist activity. This is determined by the devastation caused on September 11 (Poole 2008) and the diverse range of targets that may be at a major airport on any given day. Aviation security has become a priority for government where a number of reviews have been undertaken into existing security arrangements. In Australia, the most significant of these reviews has been an Independent Review of Airport Security and Policing conducted by Sir John Wheeler in June 2005.

Wheeler was commissioned to review the threat to Australian Airports of organised crime and terrorist activity. Wheeler produced a report which contained 17 recommendations that he believed would deliver achievable improvements, providing there was a unified approach (Wheeler 2005). A number of Wheeler’s recommendations related to an improved governance of accountability, implementation of a national training program and better use of information to link known terrorist entities. Wheeler was very specific that there needed to be a “changed culture of cooperation between the key players in aviation security” for his...
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