Critical Infrastructure Expert


Review into Australian Hydrocarbon Security with Mick Palmer,
Office of the Inspector of Transport Security.

The Australian hydrocarbon industry contributes $22 billion to annual export earnings and employs over 10,000
Australians. Projections suggest over the coming decades these figures will grow exponentially. As the global profile of Australian oil and gas rises, coupled with more ambitious projects in remote locations, the industry’s susceptibility to targeting from undesirable entities, including terrorists, piracy and other non-state actors rises.

In early 2011, in response to this growing spectrum of challenges, Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, commissioned the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security (ITS) to conduct a review into the security of Australia’s offshore hydrocarbon industry.

The inquiry led by former head of the Federal Police, Michael (Mick) Palmer AO APM, will assess and provide recommendations to ensure the continuing security of this vital industry. In August, Mr Palmer spoke to Liam McHugh of Future Directions International, regarding the inquiry.

Commentary in the bold by
Liam McHugh:
Strategic Analyst Northern Australia/ Energy Security, Future Directions International:

Q: Describe the role and scope of the ITS? Why are the inquiries the Office conducts important?

Mr Palmer:
The role of the Office of the Inspector of Transport Security is to inquire into, when directed by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, a major transport or offshore security incident or a pattern or series of incidents that point to a systemic failure or possible weakness of aviation or maritime transport security regulatory systems in order to strengthen transport security.

The Office was created post 9/11, initially to respond to incidents that might occur on-shore. I was asked by then Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, to discuss the role of the office with relevant major players. The initial focus was very much on the aviation and maritime sectors. We spoke to major airport corporations, airlines and port operators, they all essentially said that they liked the idea that someone who did not own any of the patch was tasked to provide a quality assurance assessment of the environment and provide advice as to how any weaknesses or deficiencies may be improved.

It was very quickly recognised however, that this process was likely to be more valuable proactively than reactively.

Industries advice was we would rather prevent than respond, but we would need to have some certainty that what was shared in the course of any inquiry or assessment would be treated in confidence. It was in response to this request that the Inspector of Transport Security Act was enacted.

The Act protects, and provides confidentiality for the information shared with us by industry. It provides government and industry, an impartial assessment, good, bad or ugly, from somebody that does not own any of the patch on the state of play. It allows them to consider that advice and if they think improvements are warranted, to take action ahead of the game to deal with the weaknesses, vulnerabilities and the short comings.

The ITS Office operates with a small core team comprising myself as Inspector, a Director and administrative support team. This team is supplemented by an expert panel, the composition of which depends on the nature of the inquiry. Essentially I seek to obtain people with the relative expertise to make sure we have the capacity to understand and report upon the environment into which we are tasked to inquire.

We have no coercive power, so we can only work if industry and government stakeholders cooperate with us and share information. To date we have always had genuine and complete cooperation from industry and from the relevant government agencies. The attitude of full cooperation from industry has been a very positive contributing factor.

So the process is a valuable one, it does allow that sort of objective insight, and because we do not have any directive powers we cannot cause change we simply make recommendations and findings. The recommendations are for the consideration of government and stakeholders, which is non-threatening in that sense. Generally the reports are not classified, they may not be fully publically released but they are generally shared widely with stakeholders.

Q: How does the ITS develop accurate risk
assessment strategies that meet industry and
government expectations?

Mr Palmer:
It is based on a series of interviews, co-operative interviews and interactions with all stakeholders, site inspections, and operational visitations. We never rely solely on the ‘glossies’, either from government or industry, as to what their strategic and security plans are, or what is supposed to happen. We go and have a look; I make my own assessment of that.

We include benchmarking assessments of similar work in other places. We obviously go to the scene of the incident, as with the Surface Transport Security Assessment, which came out of the London Underground bombings, we spent quality time in the UK working closely with government bodies, including security agencies within the industry.

We have gone to the US and UK in regard to all the inquiries conducted. In regard to many of the inquires we have gone to places like Indonesia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore. We go to a range of countries and look at the way
they are doing business, the way the government is interacting with industry and the quality of information sharing. We look closely at the way other countries operate and interact and attempt to identify the lessons we can learn, in terms of dealing with some of the frustrations and complaints that industry tends to raise in our country.

Q: What do you consider are the security,
regulatory and corporate limitations of the ITS?

Mr Palmer:
Well we are limited by the Act. I do not have any directive powers, although we have powers to examine and enter, but only upon invitation. Having said that, I think the strengths are stronger than the weaknesses in the Act and the voluntary nature of the exercise of those powers have lead to a continuously cooperative response and environment.

The weaknesses if you like, are that we do not have the power to compel people to appear before us to give evidence. Some people may see this as a weakness, but in my experience I have not found that it was a weakness. I think in fact it
has become a real strength. People are not fearful of our inquiry process because they know before we start that it is a co-operative no blame process, aimed at learning lessons and constructively adding value to the current state of play…

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