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Wednesday, 10 March 2004
Page: 26528

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (10:23 AM) —in reply—At the outset, on behalf of the government, I would like to thank all of those honourable members who participated in the debate on these two very important bills, which are largely technical in nature: 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. In particular, I commend the previous speaker, the member for Forrest, a former minister for customs, who perhaps knows more about this area of government activity than most other members of the House of Representatives.

The two bills being debated today introduce a number of important legislative changes to further enhance and improve the movement and control of cargo across our borders and other amendments involving maritime operations. I thank the member for Barton for the opposition's support of this legislation, although the government wishes to reject the unfair criticism that he uttered during his speech.

The details of these bills have been outlined in the second reading speech and discussed in the debate in the Main Committee. The bills include legislative changes to support the Australian Customs Service's international trade modernisation—in particular, transitional arrangements for imports as well as other measures relating to cargo-reporting requirements for the new Integrated Cargo System. International trade modernisation is a major project that will significantly improve Customs processes for managing the movement of cargo across Australia's borders. The legislative framework for this project was initially provided through the Customs Legislation Amendment and Repeal (International Trade Modernisation) Act 2001.

The dates for implementing the new Integrated Cargo System have yet to be finalised. Customs has agreed a new approach with industry and will work with key industry stakeholders to ensure there is broad agreement that the new systems are ready before insisting on a new date. This way, Customs and industry can be certain that there will be time—about three months is proposed—for full deployment between systems readiness and production usage. A similar approach is expected to be adopted for the imports release. The contingency option created by last year's passage of the Customs Legislation Amendment Act (No. 2) 2003 will ensure that there is then sufficient time for all parties to prepare for imports cut-over.

Overall, the trading community has welcomed this extension of time to adapt to the new requirements for reporting cargo. This legislation also contains amendments to the Customs Act and related legislation in relation to Customs border controls. These include measures to restrict the delivery of goods where it is not in the public interest and the clarification of Customs impoundment powers, powers involving maritime operations and the transit of apprehended vessels across the high seas. The amendment to restrict the release of goods where this is considered to be in the public interest is a significant initiative to ensure that the government can more closely regulate the release into the Australian community of goods classified as prohibited imports by Customs regulations.

As you would imagine, this power will not be exercised by the minister every day and will be exercised only in exceptional circumstances. I want to reassure the Main Committee that this is not a power that can be delegated by the minister but a power which must be exercised by the minister personally. The introduction of this power will give the government greater flexibility to control the entry of prohibited imports and also to respond to community concerns at any given time.

When the member for Melbourne Ports, who is still in the Main Committee, spoke he claimed that the cost of imports and exports has risen. The situation is that the customs import processing charges have been changed for only two reasons since 1997. I am pleased to reassure the honourable member on this point. Those two occasions were entirely noncontroversial. Firstly, there was concern about foot-and-mouth disease and other diseases and, secondly, there were container X-ray facility charges. I do not think anybody, including the member for Melbourne Ports, would object to that. I am happy to point out to him that any concerns that he had are misplaced and that he can be quite happy with the bill and the government's performance in this area.

Mr SLIPPER —I thank the honourable member. The member for Barton mentioned, as I said earlier, that the opposition does support the bills, and we welcome this. He did, however, claim that he was worried about what he perceived as being the government's ongoing mismanagement of the CMR project and the negative impact on border security. The member for Barton went on to claim that he was concerned that industry had not been consulted and was bearing an additional financial burden. Just as I reassured the member for Melbourne Ports, I am also happy to reassure the honourable member for Barton. The arrangements for CMR implementation are the result of a long period of consultation with the stakeholders, including industry. Mr Deputy Speaker Mossfield, as you would know, this government does take great pride in consulting with stakeholders, and this has certainly occurred with respect to the two bills currently before the Main Committee. Also, contrary to claims made by the honourable member for Barton, these bills will allow for a continuing collaborative approach with industry, and this is the best way to facilitate a legitimate import trade and protect our borders effectively from day one. So this is the approach of the government. I believe it is a meaningful and appropriate approach in all of the circumstances.

This legislation also makes amendments to the Customs Act to rectify anomalies or inconsistencies, to allow regulations to be made exempting specified communications from record retention obligations, to address tribunal decisions about the operation of the act and to address unintended consequences imposed by other legislative amendments. In summarising, this is important legislation that supports the activities of the Australian Customs Service in regulating the movement and control of cargo whilst also clarifying and enhancing border controls. On this basis, I am pleased to commend both bills to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.