These Two Terrorists Walk Into An Airport...
Some drunk businessman mentions the word bomb on an aircraft, and doesn't get away with it.
He breached the new transport safety regulations, which came into force on March 10 (if you believe the DOTARS) or possibly March 5 (if you believe the Herald) and have apparently made joking about aircraft security a punishable offense.
Here is the relevant regulation, courtesy of the DOTARS website:
- A person must not engage in conduct that a reasonable person could interpret as:
- a threat to commit an act of unlawful interference with aviation; or
- a statement that such an act has been committed. Penalty: 50 penalty units.
- For the purposes of subregulation (1) it does not matter that the conduct:
- was engaged in in jest; or
- was expressed to be a jest.
To me (and of course IANAL) there is a contradiction here. Clause 1 defines a penalty for a comment made that a reasonable person determines to be a threat. Clause 2 says that the comment may be made in jest. But surely if it was made in jest then the reasonable person would have not determined it to be a threat in the first place? In general I would say a comment can either be a threat or a jest but not both. [Update: Chris explains it in a way I can understand, see comments.]
While it might be the Australian way to make light of serious topics, comments such as “never mind the bomb in my bag” is not funny in today’s high security environment at Australian airports Aviation security is a serious matter and airline and airport operators are obliged to take all threats seriously.
They seem to be saying that some comments are not funny, therefore they are threats. By this logic the RSPCA should be investigating anyone who tells the "my dog has no nose" joke.
In practice I suspect these regulations mean a set of words like "bomb","knife", "jihad" and possibly "Havana" which Must Not Be Spoken regardless of intent. The Australian Services Union spokesperson quoted in the Herald article claims it is not for airport staff "to determine whether you are a terrorist or not" and hence they have to act on everything which might be a threat, whether this is an interpretation that the hypothetical reasonable person might make or not.
So once you throw away the ability of flight crew to make a reasonable interpretation of passenger comments, and reduce them to keyword-matching drones, all kinds of unintended consequences become possible. I'm not so concerned with reducing the incidence of Inspector Clouseau impressions (on the contrary...), but inappropriate actions based on legitimate comments are certainly possible.
If mentioning the word "bomb" is enough to be considered a threat, are passengers going to be inflicted with 50 penalty units for asking questions like "was the flight delayed due to a bomb scare?" or making factual comments like "the security staff found a knife on that passenger".
Also, if you can't trust your flight crew to accurately distinguish between threat and jest, how are you going to trust them to do the right thing in a real emergency?
Is this all making us safer? Of course it is, I'm just joking.