People who make hoax bomb threats against airports or planes could soon face up to 10 years in jail.
The Federal Government is preparing to introduce tougher penalties for a range of aviation offences that include making threats or jokes about airport security.
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor says the measures will be introduced into Parliament in the next fortnight.
“These proposed measures I am putting forward include air rage against flight crews, threats against airports and endangering aircraft, which will carry more severe penalties,” he said.
“Serious hoax offences, which can cause enormous disruption and potential danger for flights that might have to be diverted, currently have only a two-year maximum.
“We are proposing that go to 10 years because we know that terrorist organisations use serious hoaxes as part of their weaponry to cause great anxiety, disruption in international airports.
“We have new offences, including assaults against aircraft crew carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years, and we have new offences that go to having dangerous goods on board an aircraft where there is risk of a serious harm or death with a maximum penalty of 14 years.”
It is already illegal to assault someone or to have dangerous goods on board an aircraft but Mr O’Connor says tougher penalties will “send a very strong message”.
He says a range of concerns prompted the need for the updated offences.
“We recall on Christmas Day someone sought to get into the United States on board a plane and cause harm to that plane and that has caused the Government to review a whole range of things,” he said.
Mr O’Connor says the measures are likely to be enshrined in law this year.
“I would be wanting to introduce the bill in this coming fortnight and of course we do then have a winter recess, but it would be my view that provided it is approved by Caucus and introduced into the House, we would look to have the bill enacted sometime in later sittings this year,” he said.
“I mean this is important legislation. We had to consult widely with everyone affected – airports, airlines, unions, employers generally and other parties, and we have done so, including all state and territory governments.
“Now, of course, we need to ensure that we have this legislated. It has got some way to go but it is, in my view, a very important bill and I expect the support from the Opposition.”
The Coalition’s transport spokesman, Warren Truss, says he backs the idea.
“There are already a series of tough penalties for aircraft hijacking and the like, some of them involving life imprisonment, so it’s appropriate that these penalties should also be tough,” he said.
But Mr Truss has criticised the Government for also making cuts to Customs and Quarantine at the same time as it makes announcements on tougher aviation penalties.