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Wednesday, 8 May 1957


Mr OSBORNE (Evans) (Minister for Air) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Mr. Speaker,the object of this bill is to amend the Customs Act 1901-1954 in respect of certain matters concerning customs securities, the boarding of aircraft, the control of persons on wharfs and airports and the enforcement of penalties under the act. A further amendment relates to the period of operation of a customs warrant.

In regard to securities, it is proposed first to modernize section 21 relating to the carriage of goods by railway vehicles. At present the section provides that the principal official of any railway may give security for the custody of customable goods carried on the railway and on the giving of such security all carriages are deemed to be licensed to carry the goods. The position has developed whereby railway authorities in some parts of the Commonwealth now use road vehicles for the carriage of goods in conjunction with rail vehicles. To meet this position it is proposed to amend section 21 so that both classes of vehicles operated by the railway may be deemed to be licensed for the carriage of customable goods. At the same time the specific provisions relating to the giving of security by the railway authority will be omitted from the section. The revenue will be protected by the new provisions proposed in clause 5 of this bill, that is, in the new section 35a of the Customs Act.

The second amendment relating to securities, that is, the new section 35a, will attach to a person who has been entrusted with the possession, custody or control of dutiable goods the responsibility for paying the duty on any goods which are not kept safely or are not accounted for to the satisfaction of the Collector of Customs. Honorable members may recall that in 1952 the Distillation Act and the Excise Act were amended in this manner. Following those enactments, it became unnecessary, except in special circumstances, for many persons having custody, control or possession of excisable goods to furnish securities to the Department of Customs and Excise in respect of duty payable on the goods.

Experience has shown that the new practice has proved to be a great benefit to both the department and the public and at the same time adequate protection to the revenue has been maintained. For these reasons it is considered desirable that a similar amendment be made to the Customs Act to enable many existing securities to be dispensed with. However, the wording of the section is not as originally introduced into this Parliament. Honorable members may be aware that an amendment was carried elsewhere, but it is not acceptable to the Government and, at a later stage, I will move to restore the bill to its original form as introduced in the Senate. I propose at the committee stage to move an amendment for the alteration of the wording of section 35a.

In those cases where a security is mandatory the types which may be accepted by the Department of Customs and Excise are specified in section 43. In some instances it is desirable that some other legal instrument, for example a bond without surety, be accepted in lieu of the types of security authorized by the existing section. The inability of collectors of customs to depart from the requirements of section 43 can cause hardship to the individual giving the security. It is therefore proposed, Mr. Speaker, to widen the provisions of section 43 to give collectors discretion to take such type of security as they consider appropriate, having regard to the circumstances of each case.

The final amendment proposed in regard to securities is to authorize the acceptance of a single security where duties payable under both the Customs Act and Excise Act are involved.

As previously pointed out to honorable members, it is intended to add a new section to the act so that customs securities may be dispensed with in certain instances. However, where security must be taken, experience has shown that it is often in respect of both customs and excise duties. The provisions of each of these acts require a separate security to be given covering goods subject to each respective act. The new provisions will enable the taking of a combined security.

The master of a ship from overseas is required in terms of section 60 (1) of the Customs Act to bring his ship to for boarding at the boarding station appointed under the act for the port at which he enters. Under section 60 (2) the pilot of an aircraft arriving in Australia is required to bring his aircraft for boarding to the airport nearest to the place at which he enters Australia, but there is no provision to require the pilot to bring his aircraft to the boarding station appointed at the airport. It is proposed to insert such a provision and thus bring the position as regards aircraft into line with the requirements relating to ships.

A further aspect is that aircraft operating regular international services to Australia are permitted to by-pass the airport nearest to the point of entry and to land at the Australian airport specified in the itinerary approved by the Department of Civil Aviation. If the provisions of section 60 (2) regarding place of landing were strictly enforced, the airlines concerned would be caused undue hardship and expense without any useful purpose being served. The proposed amendment will bring requirements into line with permitted present-day practice whereby aircraft operating regular services may land at the airport shown on their approved itinerary.

Section 199 of the act provides that a customs warrant in Schedule IV. to the act relative to the entry and search of premises shall remain in operation for a period of six months. Certain officers of the Department of Customs and Excise are required to be in possession of customs warrants for long periods whereas other officers require warrants for short periods to meet particular circumstances. The proposed amendment will authorize the person issuing the warrant to specify the period of its duration in accordancewith appropriate circumstances.

By act 108 of 1952, a new section, 234a, Was inserted in the Customs Act to provide that unauthorized persons may be refused access to any ship, aircraft, wharf or examination place until the baggage of passengers arriving or departing on the ship or aircraft has been examined by customs officers. This action, which enables the number of visitors to be controlled, was taken as a means of protecting the revenue, minimizing smuggling by passengers and visitors and expediting the clearance of passengers' baggage. Under the terms of the present section persons who have the control or management of a wharf or airport, and their employees in the course of their official duties, could be required to seek permission to be on any wharf or in any examination place at a time when passengers' baggage was being examined. However, the Department of Customs and Excise has always recognized the right of those persons to enter a wharf or examination place and has administratively exempted them from the provisions of section 234a. The proposed amendment will provide these persons with statutory rights to enter those places at all times in the course of their duties.

Sections 258, 258a and 260 lay down certain procedures which apply in the event of non-payment of penalties imposed for offences against the Customs Act. Section 258 provides that a court may gaol a convicted person until the penalty is paid, may release him upon his giving security for the payment of the penalty or may exercise for the enforcement and recovery of the penalty any power of distress or execution possessed by the court. Section 258a provides that an offender who gives security in accordance with section 258 may be committed to gaol if the penalty is not paid and it is not practicable or desirable to enforce the security. Section 260 specifies the conditions under which a person committed to gaol for non-payment of a penalty shall be released.

The Crown Law Authorities have indicated that these sections have caused difficulties in their application. One of the difficulties is that the courts are prevented from allowing persons, convicted of offences against the act, time to pay penalties or to pay penalties by instalments. Those authorities consider it preferable for the matters covered by the three sections to be left to ordinary powers of enforcement of penalties of the courts under their State legislation. Sections 68 and 79 of the Judiciary Act would provide for the application of State laws if sections 258, 258a and 260 were repealed and this action is proposed. The necessity for the proposed amendments will. I am sure, be readily appreciated by honorable members. I commend the bill to them.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.







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