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Thursday, 4 March 2004
Page: 26101

Mr McCLELLAND (12:17 PM) —On behalf of the opposition, I rise to speak on the Customs Legislation Amendment (Application of International Trade Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2003 and the Import Processing Charges (Amendment and Repeal) Amendment Bill 2003. The opposition supports these bills, which are largely technical in nature. I note that this is the fifth package of legislation necessitated by the Customs Cargo Management Re-Engineering project, known by the acronym CMR, which aims to replace the existing Customs computer platforms with a new computer system for the better management of imports and exports. This project is more than $100 million over budget and 12 months overdue. This circumstance and the negative impact it is having on the finances of Customs and other operations is of grave concern, given the central role of Customs in Australia's border protection security.

The most significant aspect of these bills deals with the transitional arrangements for the handling of imports during the changeover between the customs legacy electronic systems and the new Integrated Cargo System. The current legislation provides for no overlap in the operation of the two systems and assumes that the transition occurs immediately upon turning off the former system. Not surprisingly, consultation with industry has highlighted the importance of smooth and efficient transitional arrangements. Importers need to be assured of continued operation, with minimal interruption of the flow of international trade. In particular, a period of time for the finalisation of import transactions commenced in the legacy system is required to allow for compliance with reporting requirements.

Among the amendments in these bills are provisions that, firstly, clarify the operation of the legislation that implements the international trade modernisation of Customs, particularly with respect to communication of manifest detail and the release of goods; secondly, enhance Customs border controls in relation to certain restricted goods, such as firearms, whereby the minister is given additional powers to withhold restricted imports; thirdly, clarify cargo reporting requirements and record retention obligations, certain maritime powers, empowerment provisions and charges payable for in-transit cargo reports; fourthly, clarify the basis for calculating customs duties on certain alcoholic beverages as a result of appeals on duty calculation on stated or actual alcohol content; and, finally, enable the collection of duty in the period of overlap between Customs legacy system and the new system.

In conclusion: while the government's ongoing mismanagement of the CMR project and its negative impact on Australia's border security is worrying, both to the opposition and the community, we support these bills, which are intended—we acknowledge—to put in place arrangements to manage the transition to the new Customs computer system.

I should indicate that we do recognise the need for the introduction of this technology, and indeed experience overseas says that having accurate records of the manifest of goods being transported into and out of the country is vitally important. Cross-comparing those manifests with relevant bills of lading to ensure accuracy in the identification of both the material and the source of the material is vitally important. Indeed it is probably one of the most vitally important starting points in the proper screening of potentially dangerous material coming into Australia—material that could be used by terrorist organisations.

While we say that the introduction of this technology is vitally important, it is a shame that it has not been handled as well as it could have been. It is regrettable that the industry has been so burned in the process, because ultimately—with these measures and other security measures that will be required as we undertake more research in combating the potential threat of terrorism—we will need the industry's cooperation. I trust that the government will do everything in its power to rectify the problems that have occurred and to assist industry to cope with these transitions and the cost imposts that are required but which could certainly have been minimised from the point of view of the industry.