New Airport Security Bill Introduced to Federal Parliament

Friday 12 October 2018 @ 2.51 p.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Police Powers at Airports) Bill 2018 (Cth) (“the Bill”) was introduced to the House of Representatives by Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton on 12 September 2018. The Bill is currently before the House of Representatives.

The Bill proposes to make amendments to the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) and the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (Cth).


The Bill’s purpose is to enhance powers at major airports to ensure constables and Protective Service Officers (“PSOs”) can engage with persons at the earliest opportunity to assess any potential threat and/or risk to public safety, and direct a person to leave, or not to take flights to or from, these airports where appropriate.

The introduction of the Bill is in response to recent terrorism-related events both overseas and domestically, with these events have shown that airports are a high-profile and high-impact target for terrorists.

Currently, the Government says that constables and PSOs do not have adequate powers to engage with persons at airports to assess a potential risk or threat at the earliest opportunity.

Outline of the Amendments

The proposed amendments will allow constables or PSOs to:

  • direct a person to produce evidence of their identity (“identity check direction”);
  • direct a person to leave the airport premises or the premises of any specified major airport, and/or not take a specified flight or any flight from these airports, for up to 24 hours (“move-on direction”); and
  • direct a person to stop or do anything else necessary to facilitate an identity check or move-on direction (“ancillary direction”).

According to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum:

“… Specifically, the Bill allows constables and PSOs to issue these directions at major airports only in appropriate circumstances.”

Reaction and Comment to the Bill

Senator David Leyonhjelm said of the Bill and the proposed amendments:

“The bill is a draconian measure to grant law enforcement authorities unacceptable surveillance powers that invade Australians' civil rights … It appears that people who are not even suspected of committing a crime can face a fine of up to $50,000 and up to five years' imprisonment for declining to provide a password to their smart phone, computer or other electronic devices.”

Australian Greens Senator, Jordon Steele-John has also raised concerns over the proposed new legislation. Speaking to The Guardian Australia the Senator commented:

“The scope and overreach of the new Border Force powers is terrifying, and has much broader consequences and implications than just individual privacy, in the context of this incident which occurred at Sydney airport.”

The Senator also said overreach on data collection is “happening all the time.”

Allegations of Seizure of Personal Electronic Devices

The Guardian Australia has also reported that a British software developer had his password-protected laptop and phone seized by Australian Border Force (“ABF”) officers in early 2018, as he travelled through Sydney Airport. The ABF would not say whether any files had been copied, but did inspect his devices.

The passenger believed the ABF had cracked his laptop password and inspected his files.  The passenger said he was detained apparently at random for 90 minutes while the officers took his phone and password-protected laptop into a back room.

The ABF acknowledged that the passenger's devices were examined, but declined to comment on whether the files had been copied. A spokesperson for the ABF said at the time:

“Officers may question travellers and examine goods if they suspect the person may be of interest for immigration, customs, biosecurity, health, law-enforcement or national security reasons.”

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Sydney airport seizure of phone and laptop 'alarming', say privacy groups (Elise Thomas, The Guardian Australia, 25 August 2018)

Crimes Legislation Amendment (Police Powers at Airports) Bill 2018 (Cth)- Bill and supporting information available from TimeBase LawOne Service.

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