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Transcript of interview with Laura Jayes: Sky News Lunchtime Agenda: 20 December 2012: Allegations of corruption within Customs



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Michael Keenan MP - Federal Member for Stirling Sky News Lunchtime Agenda with Laura Jayes December 20, 2012

Subjects: Allegations of corruption within Customs

Laura Jayes

Joining me today is the Shadow Justice Minister Michael Keenan from Perth. Now today we did hear the Chief Operating Officer of Customs and Border Protection say he’s disappointed but not surprised by this. Are you surprised?

Michael Keenan

Well I’m very surprised. To have one or two individuals involved in corruption would be pretty shocking, but to have it revealed that there is systemic corruption across a federal government law enforcement agency is really something that we haven’t seen at a Commonwealth level for many, many years. I don’t think we should accept that corruption is going to occur. Most of our federal government agencies operate in a corruption-free environment and we should expect that of all of them. We’ve had the Minister come out today and say he’s going to take some action, I think the question is though how this has been allowed to occur under the Labor Party’s watch. Part of the answer to that is they’ve had these savage budget cuts that clearly has made the job of Customs a lot more difficult and has made it harder for them to enforce some the of integrity that we would expect to see at a federal government law enforcement agency.

Laura Jayes

But Michael Keenan, criminal elements are always going to try to infiltrate Customs, can it ever be impenetrable or is it naïve to think otherwise as Jason Clare suggested today?

Michael Keenan

I think it is very shocking, the systemic nature of what has been revealed so far that is the shocking element. It’s the fact that it seems to be cultural within the organisation that this has been allowed to occur. It is absolutely not the case that we would expect federal government officials to behave in a corrupt way and that it should be something we just have to live with. There’s no way that I would ever accept that - and what we need to do is stamp this out and make sure that it never happens again. But if we’re going to do that, we need to understand why this has happened, and the way that the Labor Party has treated Customs and Border Protection is one of the reasons this has been allowed to occur.

Laura Jayes

Ok in part you do blame budget cuts, but the cuts you are talking about aren’t directly related to this. If there are corrupt officers, how is money being taken out of cargo surveillance and going to more automated systems - how are the two related?

Michael Keenan

Well you’ve mixed up two things there. The point is there’s been $58 million taken out of the budget Customs has to inspect cargo. Now what that means is that cargo coming into Sydney airport is 75 per cent less likely to have been inspected by Customs officers, so clearly that does give the criminals an opportunity to get contraband into our country. That wouldn’t be the case if those budget cuts hadn’t been made. So the budget cuts and the very extensive personnel cuts relate back directly to this, and that is why the Labor Party has today been very keen to outline what it’s going to do, but not so keen to examine why this has actually occurred.

Laura Jayes

You say this has been all under this Government’s watch but it spills over into the Howard Government. Let’s look at the Allan Kessing case, he wrote two reports about airport security in 2003, they were leaked to the Australian newspaper in 2005 and these reports included information about drug trafficking. They were largely ignored by the Howard government.

Michael Keenan

Well they weren’t ignored by the Howard government. The Howard government actually had a review into airport security and then implemented most of the recommendations from that review. We also have a very proud record of resourcing Customs and Border Protection in a very significant way, so they could do their job properly. Our record on border protection I think is a very good one and that contrasts of course with the Labor Party whose record on border protection is a very poor one. Customs did have the resources under us to do the job required of them, and sadly that is currently not the case.

Laura Jayes

So you can guarantee that none of this corrupt behaviour would have happened at all in the past, because it’s under the

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Labor Government’s watch as you put it that caught these officials out. Are you saying that this is just a new phenomena?

Michael Keenan

Well I can’t obviously categorically say that. But the Labor Party have been in office for five years and this corruption has been occurring under their watch. They have oversight for the federal government and clearly have oversight for this particular agency.

Laura Jayes

But Michael Keenan in 2003 Allan Kessing wrote this report and part of his report went to allegations of drug trafficking at Sydney airport, that was under the Howard government?

Michael Keenan

Yes but we did have a significant review into airport security which was brought down in 2005. So we took airport security very seriously and we did respond to the problems when they were raised.

Laura Jayes

Ok so looking at this broader issue of whistleblower protection, should the Opposition and the Government now be supporting Andrew Wilkie’s bill for whistleblower protection in the Parliament, given that Allan Kessing has now been vindicated?

Michael Keenan

The allegations today haven’t come as a result of whistleblowing as far as I’m aware, they’ve come as a result of some investigations by ACLEI, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, so I think the two issues are quite separate. However in regard to the Kessing matter, as I’ve said in the past, we are very happy for ACLEI to have a look at that to make sure Customs have behaved appropriately in their dealings with him.

Laura Jayes

Ok and Tony Negus today has said he expects more arrests, do you have any other information on that or have you been briefed on matters of this kind?

Michael Keenan

No we haven’t, we would seek to do so at some future date. What we already know is that this is one of the worst cases within the federal government that has happened in living memory. Clearly we only know the tip of the iceberg in terms of what has actually occurred, and there needs to be serious questions asked about how it has been allowed to occur and then we need to look at what we’re going to do in the future. But we must understand what’s caused the problem before we can craft an appropriate solution.

Laura Jayes

But you’re largely supporting Jason Clare’s measures that he had put forward, both the retrospective ones and the taskforce set up?

Michael Keenan

I think what has been announced today is a step in the right direction but it is also a bit of a distraction from the questions that we should be asking, such as how this has been allowed to occur? How is it possible that organised crime can infiltrate a federal government law enforcement agency and that it can happen on such a widespread and systematic basis? These are the questions we need answers to and these are the questions which have been avoided by the Government today. We welcome some of the measures going forward, but we need to understand and get a full and frank account of what has actually occurred to date.

Laura Jayes

Michael Keenan the Shadow Justice Minister joining me from Perth. Thank you so much for your time on Lunchtime Agenda today.

Ends……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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

www.keenan.net.au

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