Who’s patrolling the skies? We’d speculated on a scaling back of the armed air marshals program and questioned whether there were any guns left on Australian flights. We’re now assured there are, but the numbers are unclear. The Australian Federal Police tells our intern Matthew Raggatt the program placing air marshals on flights remains in operation, but they will “realise efficiency savings” of $16.5 million over four years. An adviser to Home Affairs and Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor also confirmed the marshals, known as Air Security Officers (ASOs), would continue to be placed on domestic and international flights.

But the number of active marshals is not publicly known, with the AFP refusing to provide numbers for security reasons. “Releasing this sort of information would contradict this policy, and could potentially allow people to identify the parameters of the program more broadly,” an AFP spokesperson said. They say ASOs are deployed on flights based on intelligence and risk: “[It] forms part of a layered approach to aviation security that includes a range of comprehensive security measures such as improved security screening at airports, hardened cockpit doors, a uniformed policing presence at major airports, regional rapid deployment teams and specialist bomb appraisal and canine capabilities.”

The ABC reported earlier this month that Darwin International Airport will lose its air marshals on all flights. Then AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty had confirmed in February 2009 that ASO numbers were cut in the previous year. The Australian reported that month numbers of marshals peaked at 170 in 2006.

RN changes: calm before storm? What’s surprising is how little we’ve heard from Radio National staff over the fairly radical changes proposed to next year’s line-up, as Crikey reported yesterday. Unlike previous shake-ups — such as in 2008 when popular media and religion reports were dumped (and now restored in the draft 2012 schedule) — station manager Michael Mason’s more consultative approach seems to have muzzled public dissent among the troops. At least so far.

But there’s still some anger bubbling under the surface. One program maker who did return our calls wasn’t commenting but referred us to their union representative — job losses are a fear as the future of some programs remains in the balance. As Mason told us yesterday, no funding cuts are planned and the number of specialist programs will actually increase — but the shake-up of staff to fill new programs might not leave a seat for everyone. A source told Crikey earlier this year the station is keen to sound younger, replacing older hosts with younger models when they do decide to leave.

WikiLeaks’ self-harm on cables. This morning WikiLeaks placed online the full, unredacted set of diplomatic cables via torrent, using its Twitter account to provide details. As Crikey reported yesterday, the unredacted material had been made available online after WikiLeaks critics made the public connection between a password revealed by Guardian journalist David Leigh and encrypted material released — apparently accidentally — by WikiLeaks last year. The password enables the decryption of the full set of cables, potentially placing in danger informants and sources named in the diplomatic material.

Yesterday WikiLeaks conducted a Twitter consultation on whether it should release the material itself, after other online sources made it available, and apparently decided on the basis of a strong positive response to do so. In doing so, WikiLeaks has given far greater exposure to the material than would otherwise have been the case, and has thus made itself party to whatever fate befalls individuals as a result of the unredacted disclosures. Weighing against that, however, is the widely-acknowledged fact that any regime likely to take action against sources would already have a full set of the cables and thus obtain no benefit from WikiLeaks’s release, and that there is yet to be a confirmed instance of an individual being harmed as a result of the cable revelations.

Community services come up short under Act. A potentially alarming regulation to the Fair Work Act has been issued affecting the Queensland community services sector, we’re told. Our spy reports:

“The regulation overrides any current industrial instrument, including enterprise agreements, and applies to 316 community services organisations, most of which are lowly funded charities or support type services. The list of organisations provided directly to the prime minister’s office by the Qld Department of Community Services is supposed to name all organisations that received supplementation towards the cost of paying the new pay rates, however many organisations named got no supplementation or only got a fraction of what the full cost impost will be and a number of larger funded organisations, which also received millions in supplementation, are not named on the list and therefore are not obligated to pay the new rates of pay. The regulation forces organisations to pay back pay until January 1, 2010 and will see many simply close their doors as they were never funded and the backpay debt will see them trading insolvent. Services will have to be slashed to those that need them the most to pay workers who will now face cuts to hours or redundancies.”

Peter Fray

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