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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 669

Senator CHANEY —Since the Leader of the Government in the Senate has taken to answering questions directed to the Attorney-General, I will ask the Leader of the Government a question. I again refer the Minister for Industry and Commerce to the documents tabled by him on Wednesday which raise further serious questions about the Government's handling of the false Customs declaration by the Special Minister of State. In particular I refer the Minister to a three- page submission by the Comptroller-General of the Australian Customs Service, Mr Hayes, to Mr Black, QC, dated 13 August 1984 in which Mr Hayes stated that Mrs Young and her sister 'provided advice as to the purchase prices of the items' to a Customs officer which were accepted by him as accurate. Is the Minister aware that the documents tabled by him on Wednesday reveal that Mrs Young did not give any purchase prices and on the contrary told the inquiry 'I cannot remember what I have paid for anything'? Is he aware that she responded to Mr Black's question whether a lot of what she was saying was guesswork by stating: 'Yes, it just did not occur to me to try to remember prices' and that she had kept no receipts? As the valuation of the imported items was central to the decision to exempt Mr Young from prosecution under section 209 of the Customs Act, will the Minister explain why the Comptroller-General of Customs incorrectly advised the Black Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Making of a Customs Declaration? Did the Miniser for Industry and Commerce know, or give his approval to, or participate in any way in the preparation of the Comptroller-General's submission.

Senator BUTTON —There are all sorts of tendentious assumptions in that little speech just made by the Leader of the Opposition, but the answer to the last part of the question is no, I had nothing to do with the Comptroller-General's memorandum to Mr Black. I did not see it. I am not even sure that I have seen it now. I probably have in the course of looking at the documents subsequent to the Black inquiry. I remind the Leader of the Opposition that the Comptroller- General of Customs has an independent statutory role in relation to the administration of Customs and he was exercising that role in any report he put in to Mr Black. Of course, whether there is inconsistency in statements taken out of context out of transcripts and other documents is a matter about which I would not wish to give an answer without perusing those documents carefully. If Senator Chaney regards any of those inconsistencies as material to the central issue which Mr Black addressed himself to, it did not emerge from his question.

The valuation of goods by Customs officers at the barrier-I think it was the same in Mrs Young's case as for anybody else-involves the passenger being asked to give estimates of what he or she paid for particular goods, and so on; and that process was followed. That has nothing to do with the assessments of duty which are made by the Customs officer. The passenger is not in a position to deal with those things. I really would commend the Opposition to a much more careful reading of the Black report than is apparent from any questions that have been asked to date, because the question of the valuation of goods by Customs officers in the circumstances in which it took place does not appear to have been understood by the Opposition at any time in questions that have been asked here. I will look at whether there are any inconsistencies in what the Comptroller-General of Customs did and what Mrs Young said in the course of the Black inquiry. If the Opposition thinks that is relevant to any conclusion which was ultimately drawn, we can debate that issue at a later time.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I thank the Leader of the Government in the Senate for saying that he will examine that matter in detail, which I agree he should. But I ask him: Does he agree that the question of value was relevant to the central question which was posed to Mr Black by the Government as to whether or not there had been a breach of the Customs Act by Mr Young? If he does agree with that, does he agree that an admission by Mrs Young that she could not remember what she paid for anything, that it did not occur to her to try to remember prices and that she had kept no receipts seems to be fairly central to determining whether a reasonable value was placed on these goods?

Senator BUTTON —I am now asked whether the question of the valuation of the goods was central in this issue to the question of a breach of the Customs Act by Mr Young. I thought it was common ground in this chamber that Mr Young on 5 July, I think it was, admitted a breach of the Customs Act. That has been common ground, I think, throughout the whole Australian community except in respect of the Opposition in this chamber; that is to say, the declaration was not correctly filled in. That was admitted on 5 July. The question of valuation goes to how the matter is dealt with by Customs.

Honourable senators interjecting-

Senator BUTTON —I am being helped a lot by interjections in this matter, but the question of valuation goes to how the matter is dealt with by Customs.

Senator Chaney —And the level of penalty.

Senator BUTTON —The method of penalty. I think the method of penalty is more relevant to the honourable senator's question than the level of penalty. The method of penalty is of course of crucial importance because if the valuation for duty is in excess of $500 the matter has to go to court; there is no discretion in the Customs officer beyond that point. That is not denied in any way. That is dealt with in the Black report, and, of course, that question was at all times important. It is not a question of the level of penalty; it is a question of how the matter is approached under the provision of the Customs Act. Those things, I agree, are important. But it is not Mrs Young who makes a valuation of the goods for the purposes of the legislation; it is the Customs officers who do that.

Senator Chaney —That is not what is said by your Comptroller.

Senator BUTTON —I am not helped by Senator Chaney frantically brandishing in his efforts a document which he clearly has not read and I of course have not read.

Senator Chaney —Here, read it.

Senator BUTTON —I am not going to read it here. I told the honourable senator in the early part of my answer to this question that I would look at the inconsistencies which he alleges between various documents. Even if those inconsistencies exist, there is really no point to them in the context of what I think the Opposition is trying to establish.