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Flying free but don't question authority!

By Melody Kemp - posted Thursday, 17 May 2007

Australians have lost their marbles it appears. According to a recent Sydney Morning Herald report, a survey commissioned by Unisy, found that 55 per cent of Australians would pay more for airline tickets to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks. Ninety eight per cent were still afraid of attacks, 90 per cent believed that baggage screening would achieve a reduction in attacks and 71 per cent wanted a complete ban on liquids, gels, and so on, in luggage.

Of course it suits the technology transnational to find such things, as they just happen to have something right here that could fix that problem. But it is disturbing to me to read how wussy Australians have become in the face of the objective truth, that terrorism in the air is not a major problem. By this alarming show of national irrationality, it seems that travelling Australia has bought the whole fear package, lock stock and three smoking jet engines.

I travel a lot in Asia. It’s a relaxed smiling affair on the whole. Last month when I was in Australia I had a few showdowns with sullen security men at domestic airports. They are obviously used to blind, shaking obedience from passengers and got very stroppy indeed when I questioned them about the rationale for all the performance art.


“Why”, I asked, “do you have to search everyone? Does this mean that Australian intelligence services are none too bright? How much do you cost the economy of Australia and what cost benefit analysis has been done to weigh up the slowness, waste of time, and huge technology costs against the gains? Why do I have to take my computer out of its bag? Isn’t the technology good enough to see through 2mm foam? Who will pay for my laptop if I drop it trying to juggle it and my hand luggage? Why do I have to keep going back through the gate when you can see I have metal studs on my trousers. Why don’t I just take my clothes off here? Why don’t you just pat me down like they do in Miami Vice?”

They were not amused.

In answer to my questions about gels and liquids I was told, with a look that Bush got from the Queen, that terrorists were found with liquid substances that could be used to build bombs on board. That was over 10 months ago, remember? And the charges were not substantiated. And if they were, how come liquids and gels are not banned from daily life, as they could be used in places like shopping malls, footy games, trains or buses?

Why don’t we ban Woolworths and Priceline? Why do they think that terrorists, whoever they are, are only fixated on bombing planes? If flammable orange juice, ballistic mascara and exploding hand cream was such a threat, why wasn’t the ban instituted right away? Is the ban linked in any way with a downturn in revenue in airport shops due to passengers bringing their own? Is this just another example of social control?” And finally, “Do you know about the boiling frog experiment?” Apparently no one asks these questions. At least not in public.

I was frequently told I had an attitude problem, and maybe I have, being a keen adherent to the old bit of 1970’s graffiti “Question Authority”. It has been my guiding principle since I first read it on a factory wall in Richmond when I was young.

What I wanted to tell the obese man in grey braid, was that I live in a country where we have bird flu, dengue fever, malaria and a low level conflict, labelled as insurgency. We have one traffic death per day just in the capital of 60,000 people. We lose people every day from the huge amount of unexploded ordnance left behind by the USA. And when I check my pulse rate, I find am not afraid.


So it is a little hard to take all this seriously, as really, how many attacks have there been on planes in Australia? How many Australians died flying when compared to say deaths from tobacco, alcohol, cars, or the effects of bank foreclosures?

I fly happily around Asia fully armed with metal cutlery and bottled water because they are not involved in colonial wars of convenience on Muslim nations, who happen to have oil. I can carry moisturiser through Asia, and wear earrings and bangles in Europe without getting stopped and told to stand on a box. So what is different about Australia? Is it that we are handcuffed to the US?

Saul Eslake, the banker that the governments listens to when he supports their line, wrote a few months ago that the growing security sector provides no real services, diverts revenue from more worthy sectors like education without offering any tangible product. Sure it keeps a lot of surly people off the streets, and puts them in uniforms hopefully made in Australia, but are they worth it? Most other Australians have to adhere to fungible parameters that measure efficiency and effectiveness. How do these apply to airport security?

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About the Author

Melody Kemp is a freelance writer in Asia who worked in labour and development for many years and is a member of the Society for Environmental Journalism (US). She now lives in South-East Asia. You can contact Melody by email at

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