When Gerry Brownlee and two of his staff attempted to bypass security at Christchurch Airport in July, there was much frothing at the mouth from commentators such as John Armstrong as to whether John Key should have accepted Mr Brownlee’s resigned as Transport Minister. Central to the frothing was the assertion that Mr Brownlee had committed an offence that carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment.
I argued at the time that no offence had been committed, as none of the offences set out in the Civil Aviation Act fitted the facts of the case. Well, this morning it’s been revealed that Mr Brownlee has been fined $2,000, while his two staff members have received warnings. The fine and warnings have been issued under Civil Aviation Rule 19.357(b), which reads:
(b) Subject to paragraphs (c) and (g), no person shall enter or remain in any security area or security enhanced area of any designated aerodrome or designated installation, unless that person—
(1) wears an airport identity card on the front of his or her outer garment; or
(2) has in his or her possession another identity document or other identity documents for the time being authorised under paragraph (a).
Yes, Gerry Brownlee was in a security area without an ID that had been authorised by the Director pursuant to Rule 19.357(a), but para (g)(3) gives Mr Brownlee an out clause. It reads:
Nothing in paragraph (b) shall apply to any passenger who enters or leaves a security area or security enhanced area for the purpose of joining or leaving a flight, if he or she is in possession of a valid boarding pass for that flight or is being escorted by a crew member or a representative of the operator.
Now, in this particular case, Mr Brownlee was attempting to board a flight that he and his staff had been running late for. They approached an airport security officer, and that security officer allowed them to duck through a side door, bypassing the security gate in order to to get to the plane in double-quick time. Mr Brownlee and his staff were in possession of valid boarding passes. Furthermore, they had the consent of the airport security officer to be where they were.
What does this mean? Well, it means that Gerry Brownlee is entirely innocent of the infringement that he’s been fined for. Nonetheless, it’s not a criminal conviction, and Mr Brownlee is no longer Minister for Transport (the role having gone to Simon Bridges, post-election). For political purposes, Brownlee will take the fine on the chin. He’s been seen to be punished; our authority figures are seen to not be above the law, even if the law has been incorrectly applied.