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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 198


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (13:20): The Customs Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2012 lives up to its name. It is an omnibus bill that contains a number of mainly technical amendments that would form part of any government's program of regulatory improvement. Because so many of us now watch reality TV, have watched Customs and the programs about Customs puppies and all sorts of things on television and have a little bit more of an idea about what happens in that sector, it is worth just running through some of those technical amendments for people's interest.

The amendments give officers the ability to question nontravellers, to restrict access for nontravellers or to remove them from certain areas when the officers of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service are performing their function. Also, when they are dealing with aircraft and ships carrying only crew or when processing cruise ships, the bill allows Customs and Border Protection to set up permanent or temporary Customs controlled areas. It also implements a number of measures that clarify intent, remove redundant bits of legislation and reduce the compliance burden for industry.

There is one amendment which is perhaps slightly more significant, and I will concentrate a little bit on that. It is an amendment which introduces the new offence of bringing into Australia a new category of goods known as 'restricted goods'. Currently, under the Customs Act 1901, the Governor-General can prohibit the importation of goods into Australia. Goods are considered to be imported if they are landed or intended to land. When processing commercial container ships, Customs and Border Protection may detect objectionable material such as child pornography and child abuse material in the personal effects of a ship's crew. At present, that material cannot be seized unless the owner intends to import them—that is, they intend to take them to land. The goods are considered to be in transit and can only be secured by Customs and Border Protection before being returned to the owner on departure from Australia. On occasion, possession of that material may be an offence under state or territory law and may be pursued by state or territory police, but this leads to inconsistencies between regions and relies on police resources being available. So it is not particularly effective or desirable at the moment. This bill corrects that.

The bill introduces a new offence for bringing goods into Australia, as opposed to importing or intending to land the goods. This new category of goods is known as 'restricted goods'. The restricted goods category will be prescribed by regulation. Initially, it will be limited to child pornography and child abuse material, but it sits there as a framework to be applied to any purpose related to external affairs, including giving effect to an international agreement or addressing matters of international concern. The size of the penalty, which is 1,000 penalty units, reflects the seriousness of the offence and is approximately half the penalty for importing these goods.

Industry members were given ample opportunity to provide comment on the exposure draft, which was released last year, and any impact it might have on the industry. The feedback that Customs has received from industry stakeholders such as Shipping Australia, Qantas and CAPEC is that they have no concerns with the proposed amendment.

These amendments are by no means the beginning of reforms when it comes to Customs. They follow major reforms announced and implemented last year, and the first stage of these major reforms included integrity testing. The legislation passed the parliament in November to conduct targeted integrity tests on law enforcement officers suspected of corruption. These are covert operations designed to test if someone is corrupt. They also introduce drug and alcohol testing. The CEO of Customs and Border Protection now has the power to authorise random drug and alcohol testing of all staff. There is also the power to terminate officers for serious misconduct. The legislation introduced mandatory requirements to support measures to deal with serious misconduct. The legislation introduced mandatory reporting requirements whereby Customs officers are required to report any misconduct or corruption activity. Importantly, it also included the expansion of the corruption watchdog.

The government expanded the number of agencies that are overseen by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which currently include the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, and deals with corruption issues from the former National Crime Authority. The government doubled the funding for oversight of Customs and Border Protection. All these incredibly important reforms were announced and implemented last year. And it does not end there.

In the last two days, there have been some significant improvements to the protection of our borders. In fact, just this morning the Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice, Jason Clare, introduced legislation to establish the Anti-Dumping Commission. Those of us on this side of the House are well aware of the concerns in the community and particularly the business community about dumping. Last year, the government commissioned a review into Australia's antidumping and countervailing system, which was led by John Brumby, the former Premier of Victoria. The report found, significantly, that in the last 12 months the workload of the administration had almost tripled and that this was a result of economic conditions like the high Australian dollar, surplus product on world markets and increased competition. So the problem of dumping has been increasing over the last year.

The review led by John Brumby found as its primary recommendation the establishment of an antidumping commission. That legislation was introduced this morning. The review also recommended an increase in the resources set aside for antidumping investigations. In December last year, the Gillard government delivered on that recommendation and announced a package of measures to strengthen Australia's antidumping system, including an extra $24.4 million for antidumping investigations. That new funding effectively doubles the number of investigators working on antidumping matters. This is a substantial improvement and demonstrates once again this government's ongoing commitment to strengthening our border protection.

Yesterday, there was yet more legislation introduced to improve our border protection. This legislation relates to the trafficking of firearms. For people in my electorate of Parramatta, where shootings, particularly in Merrylands and Guildford, are quite a common occurrence unfortunately, this legislation may be of particular interest. Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed legislation to create a new aggravated offence for trafficking firearms that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The legislation also strengthens laws that target the unexplained wealth of criminals. This is important in its own right, but in relation to Customs itself the recommendations also include the establishment of a firearms intelligence and targeting team inside Customs and the embedding of Customs and Border Protection officers in relevant organised crime gangs or firearm squads in states and territories. I know from discussions with my local area command that there is a need for greater cooperation and sharing of information across states and between federal and state authorities, and to have access to those state and federal authorities embedded in them so that it is very easily available.

These are incredibly important reforms and they build on work that has been done over a substantial period of time. The key to seizing drugs and guns at the border is intelligence, and over the last few years the government has implemented a focus on intelligence and targeting the right cargo. It is not just about scanning a piece of cargo. We cannot scan them all, not by any means. It is about identifying which are the most likely to contain illegal contraband. As a result of that approach, the seizures have doubled. I repeat: the seizures of drugs and other contraband in air cargo has doubled.

In 2007, Customs detected 870 parcels containing drugs or other contraband, and last financial year they detected over 1,800. Put quite simply, this is because law enforcement agencies are using the technology of X-rays, but this is backed up well and truly by intelligence to direct those X-rays at the right cargo. These are incredibly important reforms. Eighty-five per cent of the guns and gun parts seized at the border are from intelligence from state, federal and overseas law enforcement before the cargo even arrives in Australia. I commend this bill to the House. It is an important omnibus bill, an important part of the process of improving regulation. It contains one significant amendment that improves the ability for customs and border protection authorities to deal with the bringing in to Australia and Australian waters of child pornography. It builds on a substantial track record of improving our border protection through the operation of Customs.