Security far from airtight

By Toby Walker

A lack of adequate security safeguards at Grafton Airport made the terminal an ideal starting point for a potentially devastating terrorist attack on Sydney, according to Opposition Leader Kim Beazley.

Mr Beazley made the comments outside the terminal yesterday morning during a press conference organised by his office to highlight the 'gaping holes' in Australia's terrorism defences.

He might have spent most of the day downplaying the latest poll results which showed his popularity rating had sunk to its lowest level since winning back the Labor leadership, but Mr Beazley was in town to talk tough on terrorism.

Mr Beazley said Grafton and Lismore airports had been chosen to highlight the issue of the day because they were feeder airports to Sydney with- out effective baggage screening or surveillance equipment.

Mr Beazley made a good point but one journalist, joking that they almost hit a kangaroo on the way out to the remote airstrip, asked how Grafton Airport could be considered a serious target of terrorists.

"It only takes one plane, or two or three at the most, as we saw on September 11, to create a major crisis in a major airport," he said.

"If you're going to fly into a major airport...we are entitled to be assured in the environment in which we live, that the baggage on planes carry no threat, either to the passengers on board or to the communities where they land."

Mr Beazley criticised the Howard Government's slow response to the recommendations made by the Wheeler Report into Australia's airport security and said it needed to do more than just erect fences around regional airfields.

Last week, the Howard Government unveiled a $200-million package to be spent in the coming months to address the security shortcomings at the nation's airports and ports.

Part of that funding commitment was to hand control to individual airport police commanders, who would be given the responsibility of managing security practices at airports.

But while the commanders may be employed at major airports, it is still unclear whether smaller terminals like Grafton will also come under their control.

Last month, the Clarence Valley Council confirmed it was in the process of applying for Federal grants to address the same security concerns raised by Mr Beazley yesterday.

Council is seeking funding, thought to be around $100,000, to pay for improved floodlighting, surveillance cameras and baggage screening equipment.

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