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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1406


Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(6.33) —I move:

That the Bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows-

CUSTOMS ADMINISTRATION BILL 1985

This Bill proposes to implement the Government's decision, announced on 12 March 1985, to establish the Australian Customs Service (The ACS) as a separate identity within the industry, technology and commerce portfolio.

Before I detail the matters covered by the Bill I will take a few moments to mention some important background points relating to the Customs' functions.

The Australian constitution gives this Parliament the exclusive power to impose duties on customs and of excise, and to grant bounties on the production or export of goods.

Administration of the Parliament's powers in this regard has traditionally been performed by the Customs.

In addition to its role in administering these industry assistance measures the Customs is charged with enforcing measures to control the import and export of goods and on behalf of other agencies the movement of people and ships and aircraft into and out of Australia. In this regard it has a significant role in the Government's overall strategy against illicit drug trafficking and illegal drug importation.

More than 5,000 members of the Australian Public Service are engaged in Customs and Customs related functions. The majority of the Customs staff are located in custom offices in the States and the Northern Territory. There are in excess of 100 airports, seaports and inland sub-offices, staffed on a full or part time basis.

Representatives of the Customs are also stationed in Auckland, Brussels, Hong Kong, London, New York and Tokyo.

Responsibility for the Customs function has, until now, been transferred six times amongst various Australian Public Service Departments in different guises. For 55 years it was located in a department called Trade and Customs. It was for another 19 years in the Department of Customs and Excise and has been with the Industry portfolio since 1982.

The Government believes that the Customs should now be established on a permanent basis with a permanent identity.

An important role of the Customs is to implement industry assistance measures. The close co-operation between the customs and industry policy areas of the Department arises from its present location within the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce which has considerably enhanced its performance in this role.

The Government does not wish to disturb this arrangement and it is for this reason that the proposed independent ACS will continue to be responsible to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce.

I now turn to the main features of this Bill.

Clause 4 establishes an Australian customs service and the office of the Comptroller-General of customs.

The appointee to that office will, under the minister, control and direct persons employed in the ACS.

The companion to this Bill, which I will introduce shortly, proposes to invest the general administration of the legislation to be administered by the ACS in the Comptroller-General. That legislation includes the various bounty and subsidy schemes and of course the Customs Act and the Excise Act.

By the provisions of clause 15 the Comptroller-General is to be invested with all of the powers of a secretary of a Department of the Australian Public Service so that he may have direct control over the staffing and other resources required by the Australian Customs Service.

Similar to other statutory appointments it is proposed that the Comptroller-General of Customs be appointed for a period of seven years with salary and allowances being determined by the remuneration tribunal and the usual provisions relating to leave of absence, resignation, outside employment, portability and acting appointments being applied.

To provide maximum flexibility for the recruitment of appropriate staff at all levels within the ACS clause 15 of the Bill also provides for the staff of that body to be appointed and employed under the Public Service Act.

Two other important provisions in this Bill are clauses 16 and 17. Clause 16 will permit the Comptroller-General or an authorized member of the ACS to, in very limited circumstances, pass on certain information received by the ACS in confidence. This will be particularly relevant in connection with the Government's efforts to combat illicit drug trafficking. It will facilitate exchanges of information between the ACS and other law enforcement agencies in Australia and overseas.

Under the provisions of clause 17 the Comptroller-General is required to furnish an annual report of the operations of the ACS to the Minister. The report will be tabled in accordance with normal procedure.

It is appropriate that I mention it is proposed that the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce and the ACS will have separate management services and other support services. The sharing of such areas might initially seem attractive but experience has shown that generally speaking such arrangements are of limited effectiveness and practicability over any extended period.

I mentioned earlier the importance of close co-operation between the industry policy areas of the department and the customs. It is essential that this be maintained. The government considers that such co-operation should be placed on a firm basis by the preparation of a document detailing the working relationship between the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce and the Australian Customs Service. Such a document is currently being prepared and when appropriate I will arrange to have it tabled for the information of honourable senators.

The creation of the office of Comptroller-General of Customs and the establishment of the Australian Customs Service will provide a number of benefits including relieving the minister and secretary of the department of the routine of customs administration with greater opportunity, in consequence, for both to concentrate on the major and complex issues facing industry in this country.

Financial Impact Statement

The measures contained in this Bill have no direct financial implications. The division of the support services between the department and the ACS may however involve the creation of new positions within each body. Details in this regard have not yet been finalized.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

CUSTOMS ADMINISTRATION (TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS AND CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 1985

This Bill is the companion of the Customs Administration Bill 1985 which proposes to establish an independent Australian Customs Service (ACS) and create the office of Comptroller-General of Customs for the purpose of that service.

The main purpose of this Bill is to invest the general administration of the legislation to be administered by the ACS in the Comptroller-General of Customs. That legislation which is listed in the Schedule to the Bill includes all of the legislation traditionally administered by the Customs. The legislation includes the Customs Act and Excise Act and a number of bounty and subsidy Acts.

Australia's Customs laws contain a wide range of powers conferred upon the Minister the majority of which have been delegated to Departmental officers for the efficient administration of the Customs.

The Government believes that these delegated powers should now be transferred to the Comptroller-General of Customs. The provisions of the Schedule to the Bill propose to effect this transfer.

I might mention that the Comptroller-General will in turn, by virtue of the provisions of Clause 14 of the Customs Administration Bill 1985, be able to delegate the transferred powers under a general power of delegation.

In relation to the transfer of other powers of the Minister that have not at this time been delegated, a review is currently under way to determine whether there are any of these powers which ought to be transferred to the Comptroller-General of Customs. I expect this review to be finalised prior to the Budget Sittings this year.

Consistent with the general power of delegation by the Comptroller-General the opportunity has been taken to transfer, where appropriate from the Minister to the Comptroller-General the power to appoint person to perform particular powers or functions.

Finally, I draw to honourable Senators attention the proposed amendment in the Schedule to Section 8 of the Customs Act. The purpose of this amendment is to remove from that Act the statutory requirement that there be a Collector of Customs for a State or Territory. This will give the Comptroller-General flexibility to designate such Collectors of Customs as are required for the efficient management of the Customs similar to the provisions in the Taxation Administration Act 1953.

Financial Impact Statement

The measures contained in this Bill have no direct financial implications.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Kilgariff) adjourned.