Increased security measures are coming to our airports: What does this say about Australia?

The eyes, they say, are the window to the soul. But is an airport the window to a country's soul?

You can certainly tell a lot about a nation – or at the very least a city – from your arrival at one of its air hubs. You know Singapore is going to be clean and efficient after only a few minutes at Changi. You know Venice is going to be cramped and busy when you see Marco Polo. And you get the feeling Buenos Aires will be a little shabby and chaotic after you step off at Ezeiza.

Australia's airports give a reasonable impression of us as a nation. They say are our cities are just big country towns in some places. They say we're friendly, if a little brusque. They say we were probably a little too concerned with other things in the 1990s when our public assets were sold off and big business took over.

Our airports also say that we're maybe a little too obsessed with being safe and comfortable: watch the security checks and see all of those residue swabs, the explosives tests that don't seem to happen in many other countries; see the long queues at customs as everyone is grilled over the contents of their baggage; spot the signs that announce they're filming more episodes of "Border Security", because apparently even when we're at home in our lounge rooms we're into this stuff.

But Australia's airports are about to change. The windows to our nation's soul are about to fix newcomers with a steely new glare.

The federal government announced last week new counter-terror measures to be introduced in nine airports across Australia. Some 135 extra Australian Federal Police officers will be patrolling the concourses. They'll be carrying Mk18 short-barrel rifles – pretty serious bits of kit. There will be more sniffer dogs deployed, searching for weapons and explosives.

What does this say about Australia? The prime minister, Scott Morrison, says there's been no change to the risk level at Australian airports, despite the extra levels of security. "And I would hope that that gives people a great sense of reassurance," he said last week.

I don't know about you, but the sight of large military weaponry has never made me feel safer. Particularly in an airport. People carrying guns is frightening – even if those people have badges.

And anyway, is this really the first impression we want to be giving foreign travellers? Is this the window we want to provide into our soul?


If the security threat level is unchanged, as Mr Morrison claims, then we have a few things to ponder. Does that mean that right now, before the new measures have rolled out, we're dangerously under-protected? Or does it mean that these extra levels are actually unnecessary, other than as a way to keep us all afraid?

I can't think of many places in the world where you see uniformed police carrying heavy-duty weaponry through the airport halls. I can't think of anywhere else where planeloads of people are forced into single file as sniffer dogs run up and down giving them the once over, as has happened to me before in Sydney and will surely happen more frequently with the increased security measures.

What does this stuff say about Australia? Unfortunately, in some ways it speaks the truth. You should be prepared for overzealous security when you come to our country. This is a place where police strip-search 12-year-olds and think that's OK. This is a nation where sniffer dogs are as much a part of music festivals as the bands. This is a country where police are constantly targeting your speed, or your seat-belts, or your phone, or the way you walk across the road.

So of course the police will soon have a more visual presence in our airports. Of course we'll have to watch and supposedly feel safer as jack-booted AFP officers wander past with their snub-nosed automatic rifles, watching for baddies. Of course we'll have to bask in a sense of increased security as police dogs give our luggage another sniff (remember, studies have shown that drug-detection dogs get it wrong almost 75 per cent of the time – so enjoy having your stuff searched).

For many people, this will be their first experience of Australia. This will be their window into the Australian soul.

I'm not sure they're going to like what they see.

See also: Banned: The fun police are ruining Australia

See also: Travelling to the US? Here's 14 ways to annoy the TSA

Do you think increased security measures in our airports are a good thing? Will it change the way people think of Australia? Which airports in the world have the tightest security?