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Transcript of interview with Luke Grant: 2GB: 20 December 2012: Customs corruption allegations



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Michael Keenan MP - Federal Member for Stirling 2GB Interview with Luke Grant December 20, 2012

Topics: Customs corruption allegations

Luke Grant

Opposition Customs spokesmen Michael Keenan said the allegations are the most significant to rock a federal agency in decades. He said Labor have cut 750 Customs officers and stripped funding from the agency since being elected, leaving it open to exploitation from criminal syndicates and Michael Keenan is on the line. Michael Keenan, good morning.

Michael Keenan

Good morning Luke.

Luke Grant

Great to talk to you. Another panel. Seems like another investigation. Isn’t it long overdue time for action?

Michael Keenan

I think that is right. The Government has known about this for some time. What I am keen to find out though is before we move onto what they are doing about it, is how this was possibly allowed to occur within a federal law enforcement agency. I think the answers to that lie on the fact that since the Labor Party came to office they have attacked Customs very significantly in terms of the personnel that they have to operate and in terms of the funding they provide to the agency. I think the reasons the Labor Party are so keen to move on and announce what they are going to do in response to this and not actually answer questions as to why this has been allowed to occur, is because those funding cuts have contributed significantly to allowing this culture within Customs to flourish, where organised crime has been able to flourish and infiltrate it.

Luke Grant

So is it your belief that amongst other things the cutting of 750 Customs officers has meant it was more possible for some of these gangs to get in there, as it was reported they cover the whole shift, get involved in hiding these and keeping these drugs and getting kickbacks, it was entirely due to Labor’s cutting of staff numbers?

Michael Keenan

I am not saying it is entirely due to that but clearly that is a factor. If there are less people on the ground and less resources around to do the job then it is going to have an impact. To give you an example Luke, in the 2009-10 Budget Labor cut $58 million from the budget that Customs has for cargo screening. That means when cargo came through Sydney airport and airports around Australia,

that cargo was 75% less likely to have been physically searched by Customs and that is a direct result of those budget cuts. I am not blaming the entirety of this problem on these cuts but clearly they have contributed in a very significant way to allowing this to occur.

Luke Grant

I heard someone say earlier on this station, a talkback caller who works in and around the wharfs, saying that there are containers inspected during the day but the night time hours they can go out of the joint and not looked at and these can be full of guns or drugs or anything. Surely that’s a 24 hour watch, is that symptom of the Government’s attitude which is more or less half hearted in this area?

Michael Keenan

What we have been saying for a long time is that the border protection crisis has been more than people arriving illegally here on boats, which is obviously very significant as well, but it is also the fact that so little cargo is inspected when it comes to Australia and that is a direct result of these funding and personnel cuts that I have been talking about.

Luke Grant

Would you restore those staff numbers if elected Michael?

Michael Keenan

We will certainly restore that funding cut. At the last election we announced that not only would we restore that cut but that we would also fund Customs more significantly to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, to be able to do that job properly. In terms of the staff cuts it is going to take us a little while when we get into government to fix the damage that the Labor Party has done. We will always

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prioritise frontline services but it is just impossible with the budgetary situation that we are going to inherit for me to, if I was given the opportunity to be the Minister, to say we can fix all the damage that Labor has done because it is just so extensive.

Luke Grant

I guess that Michael Gallagher, the NSW Police Minister, told me that there are glocks, guns arriving in Sydney a month after they were being made in the factory in Austria. You wonder how the hell they can get into our country without being properly inspected. I mean this is an area that is now very serious. There are shootings every day it seems now in Sydney. These are the kind of things that we might think a government would take care of. They are almost the easy things a government might take care of. Can you assure us that if elected next year, not that I will hold you to the fact that there would be no glocks snuck in to this country, but at least you will have a much more serious go at making sure that doesn’t happen?

Michael Keenan

There is no question Luke that we will do that. I know the sorts of problems that Mike has raised because he has raised them directly with me. The truth is Customs is not doing its job of protecting our borders as well as it can do and we will make sure those frontline services are always prioritised because it is one of the most important jobs of the federal government to protect our borders. That means being in control over who comes here and it also means stopping things from getting onto our streets that shouldn’t be here, exactly like drugs and exactly like guns and we have had very significant incidences in NSW in particular of the importation of guns, which I think should worry all Australians.

Luke Grant

Michael I am just going to get you to hold there why we cross quickly to Bob who has called in. You are a former Customs officer of twenty years are you Bob?

Bob

Yes I am.

Luke Grant

I have a time shortage so if I can ask you to be quick to make your point, go ahead.

Bob

Customs officer for 22 years and federal secretariat of the Customs Officer Association. The problem we have got here is this; that people in the Customs service are inappropriate to run it because they don’t have an attitude and an aptitude towards Customs law enforcement function.

Luke Grant

What does that mean?

Bob

It means they come from other departments. There is the ex commissioner of taxation running it. You have people from the department of health. You have the department of army. They are all clerical and administrative and orchestrated.

Luke Grant

Ok so there is no pedigree, there is no form, and there is no experience in the area of dealing with Customs. We are losing people that perhaps do learn as they go through, they get shrugged off, is that what is going on?

Bob

Anybody and everybody that makes a derogatory remark about the inability of people in Customs to run it ends up in the slammer like Alan Kessing who complained bitterly about the way airport security was at Sydney airport and what about the recent glock pistols that you spoke about that got past Customs. How do you think that happened?

Luke Grant

Ok Bob I am going to run out of time mate, I wish we had more. Michael what do you say in relation to what Bob said about how staff are progressed through the Department and perhaps arent as expert as they should be?

Michael Keenan

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I think Customs is an agency that has been under enormous pressure, as well as the cuts that I talked about, the drain on resources in dealing with illegal boat arrivals is enormous as well. I think it does raise questions as to whether Customs is operating as well as it can.

Luke Grant

Geez you have a big job if you are elected next year. You have to stem the tide of illegal arrivals and you have to deal with this problem, mate good luck with that. You won’t sleep for a couple of years.

Michael Keenan

Well we are going to do our best but the Labor Party has done enormous damage in this area.

Luke Grant

Seems like it. I appreciate your time. Merry Christmas Michael.

Michael Keenan

Good to talk to you Luke.

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

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

www.keenan.net.au

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