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Tuesday, 21 August 1984
Page: 7

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Industry and Commerce and follows the question asked by Senator Peter Rae. I repeat part of the question asked by Senator Rae which was not answered by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I ask the Minister: Is he aware of the concern of Customs officers that, in accepting Mr Young's defence of not knowing, Mr Black has challenged the long-standing concept that the onus should be on the person making the declaration to be aware of the contents of his or her baggage and that the Government's acceptance of Mr Black's report similarly challenges that concept? I ask the Minister: Does not this interpretation mean that a person could claim no knowledge of a quantity of drugs contained in unaccompanied baggage and be regarded as innocent? Is this not a very significant difficulty for the Customs Service?

Senator BUTTON —I am not aware of concern amongst Customs officers on this matter . I think that if there was concern it would have been drawn to my attention.

Senator Durack —You ought to be concerned.

Senator BUTTON —If I can answer the question in my own way, dopey, I will do it.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The response of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, in referring to another honourable senator as dopey, I really find objectionable. I ask that the remark be withdrawn.

The PRESIDENT —I suggest that the Minister withdraw the reference.

Senator BUTTON —Mr President, I withdraw unequivocally. The point I was making when I was interrupted is that no concern by Customs officers has been drawn to my attention. That is a fact. Of course, a person could be in the position of filling in a Customs declaration and giving particular answers to the questions on that declaration, which answers may emerge to be incorrect. Of course, in Mr Young's case the point was that the answers were admittedly incorrect and Mr Young paid a penalty in respect of that matter. The same situation would apply to anybody else in that circumstance. Whether the matter is one which requires further examination is one that the Government will examine in the context of the Black Report on an Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Making of a Customs Declaration. But at this stage I can take the answer no further.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the Minister for Industry and Commerce: Does he not agree that it is a farce if we can be permitted to have a situation whereby somebody does not know the contents of a bag and yet can make a declaration as to the contents of the bag and not be regarded as having committed an offence?

Senator BUTTON —I assume that these questions are not being asked in totally hypothetical terms. The situation to which I adverted was that concerning Mr Young and this was the purport of Senator Rae's question in particular. In that circumstance the Minister made a declaration which was incorrect and paid a penalty as prescribed by the Customs Act for that. That is the penalty which is prescribed for any citizen in that circumstance, and it would be in the hypothetical situation to which Senator Chaney adverts.