I mentioned the Regulations and Ordinances Committee once in an earlier post. This is one of the more low profile Senate Committees, which in some ways adds to its effectiveness. It looks at all the regulations and other disallowable instruments tabled by the government, of which there are more than 1500 each year. It examines the technical adequacy of Regulations and their adherence to basic principles such as personal rights and parliamentary propriety, rather than their policy merits. While it would seem to be very dry to most people, it does provide an opportunity for insights into the arcane and extreme aspects of administrative law. It also provides a window into just how silently government can cast a very big net over peoples’ lives when they choose to do so.
I saw an example of this during the Committee’s meeting this week when our attention was drawn to amendments to the Aviation Transport Security Regulations.
What this new Regulation appears to mean is that “conduct that a reasonable person could interpret as a threat to commit an act of unlawful interference with aviation” is now being equated with “leaving articles of baggage unattended“.
The relevant part of the Regulation now reads as follows:
9.01 Threats regarding aviation security
(1) A person must not, while at a security controlled airport or on board an aircraft, engage in conduct that a reasonable person could interpret as a threat to commit an act of unlawful interference with aviation.
Penalty: 50 penalty units.
(2) An offence against subregulation (1) is an offence of strict liability.
Examples of conduct for subregulation (1):
Making jokes about bombs in baggage;
Leaving articles of baggage unattended.
NB: Roughly speaking, a strict liability offence means regardless of intent.
Regulations do not get debated in parliament unless someone moves a motion to reject them, so things like this would not normally get drawn to the attention of Senators unless someone does it via this mechanism.
I’ve always felt uneasy when I’ve read media reports of people getting hauled before the courts because they’ve made a joke about bombs in their luggage. This amendment to the regulation makes it clearer than ever that this is not on, regardless of your intent.
However, what I find even more concerning is that not only are jokes about bombs clearly an offence, it is now being made very specific that leaving a bag unattended is now indisputably a strict liability offence. Maybe it’s just because I (a) am becoming more forgetful and (b) go through airports a lot, but I find this very concerning.
Over the last few years, on three separate occasions I’ve left behind my mobile phone, a piece of hand luggage and even my laptop computer at the xray screening machine or in the airport lounge. Given I also have a bad habit of making sarcastic remarks in the wrong circumstances, these sorts of strict liability laws make me very uneasy.
They strike me as the sort of measures referred to by Amanda Vanstone some time ago, when she spoke of governments doing “things that make people feel better as opposed to actually achiev(ing) an outcome.”