Helping Customs keep our borders safe

The member for Solomon, in her contribution today, demonstrated very clearly why the Customs Amendment Bill 2014 is important and also the challenges being faced by this wonderful island nation, with its extensive coastline.

I also want to commend her for her complimentary remarks in relation to the Australian Customs and Border Protection officers and their work. From Darwin and into your area they do an amazing job—and I did meet some of them when I was there previously.

They have a huge task, and clearly they are very effective. And they have someone strong to represent their issues here in the parliament, so well done, Member for Solomon.

There are many challenges, as we heard from the member for Solomon, with illegal fishing and drugs. When I was listening to the member for Solomon, one of the issues that hit me, as a farmer, was how difficult it is to protect our biosecurity in this country, with so much coastline and so many people, for different reasons, wanting to land here in Australia.

With wooden-hulled boats come a whole lot of risks and challenges, so the work done by our Customs and Border Protection officers is certainly significant.

The measures within this bill are technical amendments to the Customs Act 1901, and they will assist our Customs officers in the job that they do.

These amendments will allow class based authorisations to include future offices or positions that come into existence after the authorisation is given; extend Customs control to those places at which ships and aircraft arrive in Australia in accordance with section 58 of the act; provide greater flexibility in relation to the reporting of the arrival of ships and aircraft in Australia and reporting of stores and prohibited goods on such ships and aircraft.

These are just practical measures.

The bill will also improve the application processes for several permissions under the act. These amendments will also support initiatives to enable online applications for these permissions. That is of course a time-saving, very practical way of managing this.

The bill will also extend Customs powers of examination to the baggage of domestic passengers on international flights and voyages, and to domestic cargo that is carried on an international flight or voyage, and enhance the interaction of the infringement notice scheme with the claims process under the act in relation to prohibited imports.

A reference to ‘Customs’ in the explanatory memorandum simply means the agency continued in existence under subsection 4(1) of the Customs Administration Act 1985—that is, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. The explanatory memorandum says:

Section 31 of the Act provides that all goods on board any ship or aircraft from a place outside Australia are subject to Customs control while the ship or aircraft is within the limits of any port or airport in Australia. Under section 186 of the Act, all goods that are subject to Customs control may be examined by an officer of Customs.

Currently the Act does not extend Customs control to goods which are on board a ship or aircraft at a place other than a port or airport in Australia to which:

(a) a ship or aircraft has been brought because of stress of weather or other reasonable cause …; or

(b) the master of a ship or the pilot of an aircraft has received permission from a Collector to bring the ship or aircraft under subsection 58(2) of the Act.

As a result, goods on board a ship or aircraft in these circumstances are not currently subject to Customs control and cannot, therefore, be examined by an officer of Customs under section 186.

Goods on board a ship or aircraft brought to a place other than a port or airport in Australia pose the same border risks as goods on board a ship or aircraft within the limits of any port or airport in Australia.

To ensure that border risks and intervention activities can be managed appropriately, it is proposed that Customs control be extended to goods on board a ship or aircraft at a place to which a ship or aircraft has been brought under subsections 58(1) or 58(2) of the Act.

The explanatory memorandum also says:

Domestic cargo, and domestic travellers and their personal effects, are carried on domestic legs of international flights or voyages between Australian ports or airports other than proclaimed ports or airports by approved ships or aircraft. Domestic travellers on international flights or voyages access the Customs controlled areas of ports or airports and mix with international travellers—

you see them wandering around—

… during and after the domestic leg of the flight or voyage.

Domestic cargo can currently be loaded and unloaded from a ship or aircraft on a domestic leg of an international voyage or flight without any authority or permission under the Act.

The explanatory memorandum also says:

The mixing of domestic goods and imported goods or goods for export presents risks for diversion of goods from one stream to the other, especially if goods are of a kind that if imported or exported would be prohibited or subject to border related duties and taxes.

It is therefore proposed that the Act be amended to provide that domestic goods (which may be either domestic cargo carried on domestic legs of international flights or voyages or personal effects of domestic travellers …) can be examined by an officer of Customs.

The new subsections 186AA(1) and (2) provide for examination powers in relation to domestic goods. That is what these specific technical amendments are for.

The safety and security of the Australian people and those who are visiting our country are a priority for this government. We have heard repeatedly about some of the measures we have taken in our strong response to a range of threats, be it ISIL or other terrorist threats in Australia or overseas. We have seen close corporation to combat transnational crime with international allies and neighbouring countries. We have seen an investment of $630 million in Australian security and law enforcement agencies for counterterrorism measures. We as a government take these responsibilities seriously.

I see that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the member for Cook, is sitting in the chamber. I commend him for his outstanding effort in his quest to control Australia’s border and his commitment to stopping the boats. I think everybody, no matter where they are in the world, has a very clear message about the minister’s intent and his commitment to this task. This bill furthers his efforts to make sure that Australians are secure and safe in every way that the Australian government can contribute to that.

The Australian has made a contribution of $400,000 to support INTERPOL’s foreign fighters initiatives, over and above our ongoing annual membership contributions. The global and interconnected world that we live in basically also creates a borderless ongoing criminal threat. I see that the minister is constantly aware and working on the constantly changing threat that we in this nation face as a result of the fact that we are in a global environment and one of transnational crime. Customs and justice are a key part of that. This government takes very seriously both of those roles. We have seen that through the member for Cook and his very dedicated approach to this.

The government has also invested $20 million to boost AUSTRAC’s ability to stop cash being funnelled to terrorists and to crack down on money laundering by organised crime that funds the trade in drugs such as crystal meth and others. We heard from the member for Solomon some of the extraordinary amounts in value and weight of drugs that the Customs service is intercepting not just here but around the world. I notice that the AFP intercepted 81 credit card knives, as they are called, at airports around Australia. I hope some of the measures contained in this bill will assist with this. The knives were detected through airport screening. They are dangerous weapons.

They are illegal and are banned from being taken on domestic and international flights. Of course, buying these knives is illegal, but I note through the work that I do in the online space that most of these are bought online. All jurisdictions have offences relating to the sale of a knife that is manufactured to disguise or conceal the blade or to give the impression that it is an innocuous item such as a plastic card of similar dimensions to a credit card.

I am very pleased that the government has sourced and resourced additional Australian Federal Police offices at our airports. We also have an AFP counterterrorism officer in Turkey cooperating on global issues and concerns about terrorism and transnational crime. The AFP’s international network includes 99 positions across 29 partner countries overseas as well as in Australia.

The recent passage of the crimes legislation dealing with psychoactive substances is also part of our very direct focus on all forms of the safety and security of Australians. We have a very clear duty to protect the safety and security of Australian citizens here and wherever else we can. That has been a commitment by the minister. I think all of us took and are taking very seriously the issues surrounding the disappearance of MH370.

They are very real in Western Australia, from where the recovery effort is being managed out of RAAF Base Pearce and other parts of Western Australia.

We are aware that terrorists are constantly changing what they do and how they do it. They are increasingly sophisticated. They are constantly evolving what they do and how they do it. Our customs and border protection agencies need to be able to constantly change what they to, to adapt what they do. We need to give them the tools through these sorts of technical amendments to be able to do the job that we employ them to do. They take very seriously the job we give them.

Returning to biosecurity, we have seen so much wonderful news about three very valuable free trade agreements—those with Japan, Korea and China—and we are working on another free trade agreement, with India, in the year ahead. We will see a lot of produce and goods in and out of Australia as a result of these agreements. Yes, Australia is open for business. That is very clearly demonstrated by this government. There will be increasing demands on Customs because of the trade of goods. The amendments in this bill will assist Customs in the job they have to do in this space. I have no doubt that these measures will assist the officers in the job that they do.

Finally, once again, I have great respect for the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. I commend him on the outstanding job that he has done on border protection. I know that this is probably not the last piece of legislation that he will bring before the House.

His vigilance in his role is greatly appreciated not just by me as the member for Forrest. It is one of the matters that I receive a lot of feedback on in my electorate. It is good to know that we have such strong representation and an absolute commitment to the safety and security of Australia and its borders.