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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 113


Senator PETER RAE(11.12) —I support the remarks made by my Leader, Senator Chaney, in relation to this matter. I will take certain aspects a little further, although I believe he dealt comprehensively with a large number of the matters of concern which arise in relation to this extraordinary affair. One of the first questions I raise, to which I believe we are entitled to hear an answer later today, at the conclusion of this debate if it is concluded today, alternatively without concluding the debate, is: What was the matter which caused the Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Making of a Customs Declaration to take place? Press reports indicated that some new information had come into the hands of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Button, the Minister responsible for the administration of the Australian Customs Service; that upon that information coming into his hands, to his knowledge, he had further consultation with the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke); and that as a result of that Mr Black was instructed to undertake the inquiry.

Reports in the media state that Senator Button said yesterday that he would have given evidence to the Black Inquiry on the Mick Young affair if he had been asked to do so. However I have looked through the list of witnesses who were contacted by Mr Black and I do not find Senator Button's name on it. I wonder why Mr Black thought that it was not necessary to call him when we have been given information that it was something that came to the knowledge of Senator Button which caused the very inquiry to be made. Why, one wonders, would one not ask of the person who received the knowledge which caused the inquiry to be made something about that knowledge? I find that extraordinary and a matter which requires an answer.

I find is equally extraordinary that yesterday during Question Time when the Minister was repeatedly asked certain questions he deliberately avoided answering the questions. A long established concept in relation to the administration of Customs law is that there is an onus on the person making the declaration to tell the truth. There is an onus which is imposed by law, there is an onus imposed in the form itself and there is an onus imposed in the general morality of the community. By law it is a form of statutory declaration. It is a declaration which is required to be made under the Customs law. As Senator Chaney has already mentioned, the form concerned, which is set out at the back of the Black report, refers to Michael Jerome Young and gives his address, date of birth, passport number and what have you. It states that he arrived on flight QF002 on 29 June 1984 and that the packages which arrived on that flight and were consigned to Mr Young 'contained my bona fide unaccompanied baggage for the above mentioned voyage.' I stress the words 'my bona fide unaccompanied baggage'. The statement continues:

I declare that the statements made on, and the answers to questions in this form, are to the best of my knowledge true and correct in every particular.

A large warning on the form states:

A FALSE OR MISLEADING STATEMENT TO A CUSTOMS OFFICER IS AN OFFENCE AND MAY INVOLVE HEAVY PENALTIES, INCLUDING FORFEITURE OF ANY GOODS CONCERNED.

However apparently if one is a Minister in the Hawke Government making a false statement does not incur any penalties. That is the difference between what happens to an ordinary citizen and what has happened in this case. On the form this advice on clearance of baggage is given to passengers:

Unaccompanied baggage may be cleared by the owner, his nominee or a licensed Customs agent.

I checked to find out what would happen if a licensed Customs agent were to clear baggage for a person and I was told that a similar unaccompanied baggage statement would need to be completed and handed in by the licensed Customs agent . The advice continues:

Agents and removalists normally charge for this service. If the owner wishes to clear the baggage or to nominate a relative or friend to do so, he or his nominee should seek advice from Customs at the port or airport of importation.

On the following page of the illustration of the form in the report, in a box with the heading 'Important', in large print, this appears:

YOU MUST ANSWER EACH OF THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS BY PLACING TICKS . . . IN THE APPROPRIATE BOXES. IF YOU TICK ''YES'' IN ANY BOX IN QUESTION 3 TO 6, OR IF YOU ARE IN DOUBT WHETHER ANY PARTICULAR EFFECTS SHOULD BE DECLARED, PLEASE GIVE DETAILS IN SPACE PROVIDED UNDER EACH QUESTION OR ON A SEPARATE ATTACHMENT IF THE SPACE IS UNSUFFICIENT.

UNACCOMPANIED BAGGAGE MAY BE EXAMINED. PLEASE ENSURE THAT KEYS ARE AVAILABLE AT TIME OF CLEARANCE.

I emphasise that part of the form in particular because I think it is of the utmost importance that Mr Black failed to deal with that matter. What is said there in the form is that if one is in doubt about whether any particular effect should be declared, please give details. What was found by Mr Black was that Mr Young did not know, was in doubt, about what was in the baggage. In fact there is reference after reference to this in the report. I will start at page 55, where Mr Black states:

I conclude that Mr Young's approach to the whole problem that the form posed was to answer the question to the best of his belief . . .

At page 56 Mr Black states:

I consider that Mr Young turned his mind quite specifically to the question about gifts and made a conscious choice as to how he should fill in the question .

At the bottom of page 56 he states:

I consider that he honestly sought to come to grips with the problem the question posed to someone without direct knowledge of the contents of the baggage.

Yet here we have in the form itself the express suggestion that people in such a position of doubt should give details and seek assistance from Customs. The form also says-Senator Chaney referred to this-in question 6 in particular:

Does your unaccompanied baggage contain any of the following goods:

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Goods you are importing on behalf of any other person

Clearly, within Mr Young's own knowledge, the answer to that was yes. Yet he ticked no in what Mr Black finds was his own handwriting, his own pen. Everybody knows and everybody accepts that the goods did not belong to Mr Young, yet he said that they did. The form also states:

Goods intended as gifts.

According to Mr Black, he again applied himself to the question of whether they were gifts. Extraordinarily Mr Black said that he was satisfied that Mr Young had no knowledge that there were gifts in the bags. Equally he had no knowledge that there were not any gifts in the bag. As I said yesterday-I believe it is extremely important-does that mean that somebody can act as an unknowing courier for the importation of drugs by not knowing specifically that a bag is loaded with drugs?


Senator Button —It doesn't mean that at all. That is just a silly question you got out of the Australian Financial Review.


Senator PETER RAE —I am glad that the Minister is coming round to the point of answering the question. I would be most interested to know his answer to the question. The finding of the Black inquiry is that it apparently does not matter if one does not know what is in one's baggage and one takes no steps at all to find out what is in the baggage and then one misstates on the questionnaire what is in the baggage. Finally, there is a note on the form which states:

Customs concessions do not apply to gifts, souvenirs, household goods less than 12 months old and other dutiable goods unless you have come to Australia to take up permanent residence for the first time.

Right through the whole form warnings are repeatedly given as to the importance of accuracy. Warnings are given that one may be involved in heavy penalties for misstatements. Advice is given about how to clear baggage and how to answer the questions. Advice is also given about the fact that concessions do not apply to gifts. There is a whole lot of specific questions which I would have thought someone with a very moderate education and a moderate form of literacy would have been able to understand and answer, in particular this question:

Does your unaccompanied baggage contain any of the following goods:

. . . . . . . . .

Goods you are importing on behalf of any other person.

When one knows and everybody agrees that the goods that one is bringing into the country are not one's goods how can one still say that they are not? I find, as Senator Chaney said, that Mr Black was extraordinarily generous. Mr Black, at page 66 of his report, after referring earlier to two departures from normal Customs practices which had occurred-I will not go into the detail of those at the moment-said:

Mr Young told Mr Jennings that the luggage belonged to his wife and that he did not know what it contained.

Mr Jennings is a Customs officer. Mr Jennings had the form which had been filled out with the misstatement to which I have referred. Yet apparently no concern was expressed by Mr Jennings to the Minister that the form was inaccurate. No concern was expressed by Mr Jennings that perhaps Mr Young should make some other sort of statement, such as an accurate one, as to what was contained in the bags, that he was importing the goods for somebody else, namely, his wife, that he did not have any knowledge of the contents of the bags and if he made reasonable inquiries he would have been able to find out what was in them. He did not contact his wife to find out after the matter was first raised because, as Mr Black finds, he did not want to worry her. I would have thought it would have been a fairly simple thing, if Mr Young was genuine, if he had to fill out the form he could have found out from his wife what was in the bags or he could have left the goods until she returned knowing that they were her goods, that she was coming back in a few days and she could fill out an accurate form. But no, that did not happen.

If we go a little further through this extraordinary report we find, at page 69 , a reference to Mr Jennings's diary:

Mr Jennings' diary refers to a telephone conversation with Mr Young at approximately 4.00 p.m. on Thursday 5 July. The relevant part of the diary note is in these terms: 'I spoke to Mr Young again. Explained breach of Customs Act . . .'

I stressed the words 'explained breach of Customs Act'--

had occurred and most probably penalty rates would apply. Mr Young explained that it was his wife's baggage and he wasn't aware of contents. He said that he had completed the declaration. He asked whether he could complete another declaration. I said No as we had accepted the declaration.'

That is the end of the diary note. The report continues:

Mr Young has no specific recollection of any conversation about another form. He told me, however, that it may well have been that he asked if Mr Jennings wanted him to fill out a form with all the dutiable items on it.

What on earth was going on as far as the Australian Customs Service was concerned? Members of the Service tell Mr Young that he has committed a breach of the Act. They know that he has made a false declaration, yet there is no suggestion that any action will be taken other than that the goods will be assessed in value in the extraordinary way to which Senator Chaney has referred, the $20 store operation whereby all the items cost $20, to keep them below the amount where there would be an automatic prosecution. We then find, at pages 78 and 79 of the report, that Mr Black says:

I have already referred to the fact that there were two departures from normal Customs procedures. The unaccompanied baggage form was not stamped with the Adelaide Customs stamp and the form left the possession of Customs and was returned to Mr Young's office.

One hates to say this, but one wonders why the form should not have been stamped . Why should it have been sent back to Mr Young's office? Was it, in effect, an invitation for him to submit a different form or was it a trap to see whether he would submit a different form? It may be that the Customs Service was being very smart. It may be that it was being very negligent. But for Mr Black to say that it just did not matter and that it was a matter of no real consequence I find quite extraordinary. Mr Black just said:

Mr Mundie was asked to explain the departures and his explanation was inadvertence on his part.

How inadvertent can one be about something where a furore is already going on, where to-ing and fro-ing has been taking place in relation to the various sections of the Customs Act and, in particular, section 209 of that Act? A file has already been opened which refers to section 209. That is the section which talks about the power to impound certain forfeited goods and release them upon payment of duty and penalty. All these things have been taking place, yet Mr Mundie was apparently inadvertent in not stamping the Customs declaration form and he was inadvertent in letting it go back to Mr Young's office.

The matters which have been dealt with contain an extraordinary series of events, none of which is satisfactorily explained by the Black report. The Black report is another extraordinary part of this extraordinary series of events. It is inexplicable and unjustifiable. It finds in favour of Mr Young on every single point where there is any dispute as to credibility. It finds in favour of Mr Young in every way in relation to aspects of doubt. As Senator Chaney said, one could only believe that Mr Young should be grateful indeed to Mr Black for the generosity of the approach which he adopted.

I do not wish to take an undue time of the Senate at the moment because I wish to make a second suggestion. I wish to suggest that this matter be debated fully after requests, which have been made by various members, in particular, Mr John Spender and Mr John Howard, members of the House of Representatives, and by me, for various items under the Freedom of Information Act have been dealt with. They have to be dealt with. There is a time limitation. I do not know why it has taken so long so far, but I was curious to find that the freedom of information legislation and procedures manual of the Department of Industry and Commerce is about two inches thick. That may be part of the reason it takes 45 days or 60 days to be able to comply with a fairly simple request for freedom of information access to the registers and diaries which have got to be kept. The requests which I made were quite simple.

The Minister will recall that in October last year he tabled the Government's response to the Mahoney report. The Mahoney inquiry was a Review of Customs Administration and Procedures in New South Wales. The report made a significant number of recommendations as to changes in practice and procedure that should be made. The Government accepted that in relation to some of those changes a register would be kept where a search was undertaken and the register would include the reasons for the Customs officer forming the opinion that it was desirable to search the particular goods. It may be that just one out of every two or one out of every 10 unaccompanied baggage slips are stamped for inspection, but it may not be. The Opposition and the Australian public are entitled to know what is in the register as to why the opinion was formed that the baggage should be examined.

I would not have thought that it would take a great length of time to be able to provide that sort of information. There is fairly simple access to the records. As a result of the receipt and examination of the Black report Mr Spender has requested a large number of documents be made available under the Freedom of Information Act. I find it curious that the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) has been so silent in relation to the Freedom of Information Act on this particular matter when he was so enthusiastic about the Freedom of Information Act when it was being introduced. The people of Australia are entitled to see the Freedom of Information Act at work and speedily at work, not held up until long after the inquiries have been concluded and the matter swept under the carpet. The Government is attempting to delay this matter for as long as it possibly can until after the election has been called in the hope that it will all be forgotten.

I believe that this debate should continue after the requests under the Freedom of Information Act have been complied with when many more matters will be dealt with in detail. We are not satisfied that the Black report exonerates Mr Young. We are not satisfied that the Black report has made a thorough investigation. We would like access to the information to which we are entitled under the Freedom of Information Act so that we may then make a better assessment of what happened in the extraordinary Paddington Bear affair, as it has become known. I will seek to have my colleague, Senator Sir John Carrick, who wishes to speak, adjourn this debate so that when the information is available under the freedom of information legislation we will be able to return to the matter and debate it in more detail. At the moment there are many unanswered questions. I believe the people of Australia will be sold out unless the matter is pursued and pursued to a much greater depth than was done by Mr Black. I thank the Senate for the opportunity of raising and expressing a degree of concern about the extent to which there are still so many unanswered questions.