Flying? Don’t forget your bag – no joke

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.”

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14 Comments

  1. Oh my Andrew. I am scared! I too am the type who can be quite forgetful and my sense of humour is such that it could very well get me in serious trouble.

    Sometimes I think that those in the system treat everybody as a potential terrorists because they have absolutely no idea how to do their job or, that they they worry that if they focus on those that they believe are responsible they will be accused of rasim and victimisation.

    The world is going mad because somewhere along the line “common sense” flew out the window. Maybe ‘common sense’ cracked a joke about blowing up and that is why it hasn’t been seen since?

  2. This would be one of many I suspect. try reading a Local Govenrment LEP (Local Environement Plan) and you’ll die laughing.

    Almsot as good as losing a gold medal for starting from the wrong lane.!! Rules Rule KO

  3. I saw the freak out police in action at Hobart airport just before Xmas. A lady had left her bag, half her lunch and a half cup of coffee (so perhaps she was coming back soon!) at a table while she went into the nearby shop.

    The security swooped and took her bag off to the Woomera processing station while the poor woman came back with her Womens Weekly and thought some bugger had pinched her bag.

    She was mortified that she’d been suspected of being a potential terrorist, but it didn’t stop a fair telling off in front of everyone.

    Yes, we’ve got to be safe, but come on, it was HOBART airport (sorry Yulia!)

  4. I just flew back to Australia and at one of the airports (I forget which one), we all had to take off our shoes. TAKE OFF OUR SHOES! Talk about petty. One man tries to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb and then for the rest of time millions of people have to jump through hoops like performing monkeys.

    I think there should be two airports – one for people that are happy to “risk it” with the terrorists and so don’t need passports, finger-prints, check-in queues, scanners or bag-searches, and $200 off the tickets in saved costs, and one for people who are worried about their security. Let the lamos have their degrading three hour wait to board a plane and pay extra.

  5. “conduct that a reasonable person could interpret as a threat”

    Surely – SURELY – a reasonable person would not interpret a joke as a threat. I think the person-on-public-transport the courts love to use would be appropriate here. So I don’t care what the notes say, the enacted legislation, I would argue, allows you to make jokes or leave bags without a fine. I’m tempted to make a joke just to give it a good workout in court…

  6. “Surely – SURELY – a reasonable person would not interpret a joke as a threat.”

    People who are employed as security guards are rarely reasonable, whether it is at an airport or anywhere else.

  7. Brendan luv, you lived here, you KNOW the dodgy types that go through Hobart airport …..

    Though if they were looking for substances likely to cause damage, they’d probably have had more success with the half a cup of coffee.

  8. The thing as I see it is that the Government is always trying to create the picture that they have a difficult job and that they are doing their job, when in reality doing nothing is their job.

    Now they expect us all ‘not to smile’ on our Passport photo’s so that we all resemble terrorists. That, for sure, is to justify them having to promote more beurocrats and it also works as an excuse as the job appears huge when everybody fits the description.

    Of course then, they dont allow you to be human and crack a joke. You are expected to be robotic by then and if you are not they will impose more fines and more control. I mean it is quite funny when you consider how incompetant the system is and some of the ridiculous things that they do, how can they be allowed to deny us our sense of humour.

    Then you cant even forget your things without being automatically branded a terrorist and treated as such or at the least being treated as a criminal.

    IN turn when those in Government do something wrong or make a mistake – what happens to them?

  9. “conduct that a reasonable person could interpret as a threat”

    Will there be a legislation on how a “reasonable person” will be defined? Is there a specific criteria that charaterises and clarifies this type of person or would that be stereo typing?

    In determining the deciding factor and establishing the standards that make a “reasonable person” will it take into consideration their moral and social values, ages, ethnic backgrounds and religions? And who can guarantee that the person or persons who establish the criteria is themself or themselves “a reasonable person”.

    What a can of worms this phrase will open.

  10. If security and saving one life is paramount wendy, then they shouldn’t allow anyone to fly. Or we can just accept that stuff happens, take REASONABLE precautions, and get on with our lives.

  11. The ‘reasonable person’ has just become even more unreasonable.

    Our legal system has developed the term ‘reasonable person’ as a term of art over some hundreds of years. It’s not easy to find a clear definition, but it used to be pretty obvious what it meant after you read a couple of quotes.

    As a lawyer, I’ll be expected to explain how this law makes any sense to people who have been dragged into court by it. The ease with which these kinds of changes to our laws can be made is more terrifying than the supposed threat they address.

    ‘Ignorance is no excuse’ is now a very unreasonable part of our ever more terrified body of laws. Laws we’re supposed to not only make ourselves aware of, but take seriously.

  12. Considering the lack of sercurity exposed at Sydney are port regarding drugs or terrorists free walk any imporovements are welcome

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