Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of interview with Chris Uhlmann: 7.30 Report: 21 December 2012: Customs corruption allegations



Download PDFDownload PDF

Michael Keenan MP - Federal Member for Stirling 7.30 Report Interview with Chris Uhlmann December 21, 2012

Topics: Customs corruption allegations

Chris Uhlmann

Earlier I spoke with Michael Keenan the Opposition spokesmen on border protection. Michael Keenan welcome.

Michael Keenan

Good to be with you Chris.

Chris Uhlmann

Do you concede that alarm bells were ringing in Customs a long time before this Government, up to a decade ago?

Michael Keenan

I think that is a bit of a red herring. The Government changed in 2007, we are now on the eve of 2013 and it has been revealed yesterday that they have been presiding over a culture in Customs that has been infiltrated by organised crime. They need to account for what has occurred here. I think to point back to the previous Government after being in office for five years is not a very satisfactory response to what is, from what we know to date so far, one of the worst incidences of corruption within the federal government in living memory.

Chris Uhlmann

The Minister has acted now to ensure there will be background tests, there will be drug and alcohol testing, he has set up a commission that will look into all the way that Customs operates. Is there more that you would do?

Michael Keenan

I think there are other things that we can do. The first thing we must understand is how this has been able to occur. I welcome those announcements from the Minister and we have supported those measures in the Parliament where we have had the opportunity to do so. The point is, since the Labor Party came to office they have significantly attacked the Customs and Border Protection Service in terms of the personnel that it has and it terms of the funding it receives. They have cut 750 staff out of an agency that only has just over 5000 people. We need to understand how that has had an impact here. When you stretch an agency so thin then clearly that creates opportunities that can be seized on by organised criminals and it is a contributing factor to the announcements made yesterday and the reports we have read in the media today.

Chris Uhlmann

But over that time we have seen the internal affairs capacity of Customs stepped up and will you return all the money to the Budget if you are elected?

Page 1 of 3 7.30 Report Interview with Chris Uhlmann > Michael Keenan MP

16/09/2013 http://www.keenan.net.au/DesktopModules/DnnForge%20-%20NewsArticles/Print.as...

Michael Keenan

We will return some of it and that is part of our policy. I don’t think we will be able to undo the damage that the Labor Party has done overnight but we will always prioritise these frontline services. We have committed to returning in particular the $58 million that was ripped out of the budget that Customs has for cargo screening, which means when cargo comes through our airports its got a 75% less chance of being screened, through our ports its got a 25% less chance of being

screened. Clearly when you are making cuts to those frontline services then your ability to pick up corrupt activity is significantly lessened.

Chris Uhlmann

Just looking at what we have seen now, we have seen the problem at Sydney airport which has been flagged for some time, we have seen now problems on the wharf, do you believe that we need a Royal Commission into what has been happening in border protection?

Michael Keenan

I think the first thing we need is a full and frank explanation about has gone on. They did a press conference yesterday that outlined incidences of corrupt activity at Sydney airport. We have now had revelations in the media about corrupt activity at Sydney Port and we need the Government to actually explain to the Australian people what’s gone on here. They must account for it, they are responsible for the supervision and oversight of this agency and I think we need to do that before we look at having any third party inquiry.

Chris Uhlmann

Now former Customs officer Alan Kessing wrote two reports detailing major problems at Sydney airport in 2002 and 2003. Those reports were printed in The Australian newspaper in 2005 and Mr Kessing has always denied leaking those reports. In 2007 he was convicted for it, should he be pardoned?

Michael Keenan

I think that is a very separate issue to what we are talking about with revelations in the media and by the Government yesterday and today. Those incidences occurred a long time ago and I have always said when they have been raised with me, that I think it is appropriate and I would do this in government that they be referred to ACLEI. That is the body with the appropriate over sight for these things and if anything has been done from a government perspective then they can investigate that.

Chris Uhlmann

Certainly now though everything that he was pointing to at that time would appear to have born fruit. He was right about that, he has been punished for it, surely he should be pardoned?

Michael Keenan

We do have a standing body that exists to look into these things and I think it is appropriate that it is referred through to them.

Chris Uhlmann

Just going back for a moment to the budget you were talking about. You said you would restore some of that budget but

Page 2 of 3 7.30 Report Interview with Chris Uhlmann > Michael Keenan MP

16/09/2013 http://www.keenan.net.au/DesktopModules/DnnForge%20-%20NewsArticles/Print.as...

not all of it so clearly you agree with the Government that all of it wasn’t necessary?

Michael Keenan

No I don’t but the point is that we are going to inherit a very tough budgetary situation from this Government. They have wasted so much money that we cannot get into office and reverse all the damage they have done overnight. We will prioritise frontline services. We will restore the $58 million that was cut out of the budget for cargo screening but no one could expect that the Coalition as an incoming Government can undo all this damage overnight although clearly we would look to resource the Customs and Border Protection Service in an appropriate way for them to be able to do the things that the Australian people expect of them.

Chris Uhlmann

Then even by your own measure you will be $70 million shy of where you need to be by way of spending on border protection and really can Australia afford not to spend that money?

Michael Keenan

I think clearly the fact that the personnel have been slashed so significantly, the funding has been cut so harshly by the Labor Party has contributed to the fact that organised crime has been able to infiltrate the agency. We will obviously look to reverse that and we will do it as quickly as we can but we cant do it overnight just because of the restricted budgetary situation that we are going to inherit from a Government that has wasted tens and tens of billions of dollars.

Chris Uhlmann

Michael Keenan thank you.

Michael Keenan

My pleasure.

Ends…………………………………………………………………….

© Authorised by Michael Keenan MP, 203 Wanneroo Road, Tuart Hill WA 6060

www.keenan.net.au

Page 3 of 3 7.30 Report Interview with Chris Uhlmann > Michael Keenan MP

16/09/2013 http://www.keenan.net.au/DesktopModules/DnnForge%20-%20NewsArticles/Print.as...