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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 884


Senator PETER RAE —I refer the Minister for Industry and Commerce once again to the documents tabled last Wednesday by the Prime Minister which raise further serious questions about the Government's handling of the false Customs declaration by the Special Minister of State. Where breaches of the Customs Act occur, is it standard procedure to have two Customs officers present at interviews with transgressors in order to provide corroboration, and is it departmental practice not to conduct any such conversation by telephone? Why was the normal procedure not followed in the case of the Special Minister of State? Why did a Customs officer speak several times on the telephone with the Special Minister of State and visit him alone on at least one-the Minister claims two- occasions? Further, is it normal, having decided to examine a person's baggage, having actually examined it and having formed an opinion that the baggage contained goods which have not been declared, for a senior Customs officer then to ask the alleged owner of the unaccompanied baggage for permission to examine it? Is this consistent with the repeated attempts of the Minister for Industry and Commerce to assure the Senate that the Special Minister of State was treated like any other person making a false Customs declaration?


Senator BUTTON —Senator Rae has put through a sieve sections of the transcript of the proceedings of the Black Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Making of a Customs Declaration and has come out with those little selective conclusions.


Senator Chaney —If you did not want us to read it why did you table it?


Senator BUTTON —I am happy for Senator Chaney to read it. That is why we tabled it. But Senator Rae keeps coming back in his question to whether Mr Young was treated like any normal passenger. I suppose that in some respects Customs officers extended courtesies to Mr Young because he was a Minister, courtesies which may not be extended to everybody but which would certainly be extended to many people. I am sure all those sorts of things happened. I want to make it quite clear, because apparently the penny still has not dropped, that the phrase that Mr Young should be treated like a normal passenger was used by me on 5 July . That was my instruction to the Comptroller-General of Customs. Customs officers, in the course of that day-the instruction was issued very late that day-or the following day, indulged in the activities which Senator Rae seems to suggest are so heinous. I do not regard that as being in any way inconsistent with the carrying-out of that general instruction. I have never said in this place that Mr Young was treated in all respects like any normal passenger. Of course he was not. He was treated less like a normal passenger in respect of a number of matters of detail, I suppose, because he was very quick to acknowledge the fact that his Customs declaration was incorrect. He was very quick to make the matter public. He did not try to conceal it month after month as Ministers in Liberal governments did.


Senator Peter Rae —No, he sought to put in another one and withdraw the false one.


Senator BUTTON —That is a very shonky reading of the evidence, but I am not surprised at that from Senator Rae. The fact of the matter is that Mr Young was very quick to acknowledge publicly what had taken place. That is the difference between us and the Opposition.


Senator PETER RAE —I ask a supplementary question: Having finally admitted that Mr Young did receive special and different treatment, will the Minister now answer the question of why he has not taken any action in relation to the Customs officers who disobeyed his instruction not to treat Mr Young any differently from any other person importing goods?


Senator BUTTON —I suppose the essential answer to that question is that I am not as small-minded as Senator Rae. As far as I am concerned, the point is that Mr Black investigated this matter very thoroughly and found that there was no dereliction of duty and no abnormal departure from practice by Customs officers. If these scourges of public morality on the other side want Ministers of this Government to race around disciplining Customs officers or anybody else for behaviour which has been found by a reputable inquiry to be quite normal behaviour, they can keep on with that effort but they will not get much comfort from me.