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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 594

Senator AULICH —Is the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce aware of criticism reported in various newspaper articles in recent months of passenger processing at Australian international airports? What measures have been taken or are planned to be taken by the Government to speed up passenger processing at Australian international airports in view of the significant increase in tourism?

Senator BUTTON —I am aware of the situation which Senator Aulich asked me about. I have taken quite an interest in this matter, as I am sure a number of honourable senators have, because it is very important. Last year, in the Budget context, the Government announced additional resources for the Australian Customs Service to deal with the increased passenger work loads being experienced. That increase is very significant because of the relatively enormous influx of tourists that took place in calendar year 1986 and is projected for this year and the following year. The Customs Service, following those initiatives in the Budget, embarked upon a campaign to improve passenger handling. This campaign has involved extensive consultation and negotiation with other agencies, such as immigration, quarantine and aviation.

More recently the Government's Efficiency Scrutiny Review Unit, headed by Mr David Block, has taken up the initiative commenced by the Customs Service for a major scrutiny of that process. The impact of additional Customs resources and the campaign to speed up processing has already had some impact. In the two weeks ended 31 January 1987 the national statistics on queueing at the primary Customs line showed that 97 per cent of all passengers had passed through the Customs line in less than 40 minutes and 92 per cent in less than 30 minutes. Those statistics are not necessarily the most outstanding statistics in the world but they are a vast improvement on what the situation was previously.

I should say also, from my own experience, that it is highly desirable that the Customs Service adapts as rapidly as possible to facilitate the handling of overseas, non-English speaking tourists. In September, I think, of last year we initiated a program of translating Customs forms into a number of foreign languages. Prior to that in Australia all Customs forms for incoming passengers were printed in English.

Senator Puplick —Some sort of English, anyway.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Puplick may say `bad' English, but it was recognisable as English. Since then we have arranged for Customs forms to be printed in Japanese, in Arabic, I think, and in some other languages. They are already in use and that is a considerable improvement. It means we are no longer insulting incoming passengers, as we would regard ourselves insulted if we had to fill in forms in foreign languages when visiting other countries. So that is an improvement. I can also commend the Queensland division of the Australian Customs Service. It has some Customs officers now in Japanese language training courses, which again is a considerable improvement on the mediocre performances of the past.