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Transcript of interview with Tim Webster and Tracy Spicer: 2UE: 20 December 2012: Serious allegations of corruption within the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service



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Michael Keenan MP - Federal Member for Stirling 2UE Interview with Tim Webster & Tracy Spicer December 20, 2012

Topic/s: Serious allegations of corruption within the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

Tim Webster & Tracy Spicer

(inaudible)

Michael Keenan

Organised crime has been able to infiltrate the agency and has been able to take root and I think a lot of the blame lies in the fact that the Labor government has treated this agency very poorly since they’ve come to office. They have cut the personnel available to that agency, they have significantly cut funding to that agency and this is the reason why I think organised crime has been able to infiltrate in this way because they just don’t have the resources available to do their jobs properly.

Tracy Spicer

It’s interesting that you should say that Michael. I have a very good friend who works for Customs and he said to me that for the past couple of years the cuts have been savage and something like this was inevitable. Is it also a worry that it’s taken a media investigation for this to come to light?

Michael Keenan

Well, I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head there very well. The agency has suffered for a long, long time because the Government just doesn’t seem to value what it does. When the government changed in 2007 Customs funding had been built up very significantly by the previous government and the Labor party had an agenda when they came to office that they were going to reverse that trend and they have done that very significantly in a systematic way in every budget that they have brought down, so this is an agency now that is running on the smell of an oily rag if you like, its also dealing with the very significant border protection crises in the North West of Australia which is draining resources, and clearly things such as proper oversight of Sydney airport are not getting done because of that.

Tim Webster

Yes look, we should say too, protecting our borders, I mean it’s an immense country with a huge shoreline all the way around it, but surely Customs would have mechanisms in place to deal with that wouldn’t they?

Michael Keenan

Absolutely, I mean it is a difficult job but it’s one of course that we did properly when we were in government and one that we will do properly again if we get the chance to govern. Border protection isn’t easy, but the agencies responsible for it need to have enough people at its disposal and it needs to have enough money at its disposal to be able to do it properly and neither of those things is the case at the moment.

Tracy Spicer

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The Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare says there will be more stings, there of course is this crackdown involving former Royal Commissioner James Ward and former New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Maroney. Is that enough, what more can be done?

Michael Keenan

I think there is more that can be done but firstly we have got to work out what has happened, I welcome these announcements, but we have got to have a full and frank explanation about how it is, within a Federal Government Law Enforcement Agency, that organised crime has been able to infiltrate it and corruption has taken hold in this way. That is extremely shocking and unprecedented as far as I can recall, but certainly for a long time within the Federal Government. So look it is good that they are looking for things that they will do in the future, but we want a full and frank explanation of what actually happened.

Tim Webster

Yes, but Michael there are a lot of questions in there. Who do you recruit for Customs, are we recruiting the right people, I mean if you have got somebody on $60,000 a year, they are a pretty easy target for an organised crime bloke who says “mate, here’s a few grand, turn a blind eye while I bring the pseudoephedrine in”.

Michael Keenan

Well, look I think the vast majority of Customs officers are very good people doing a difficult job, but clearly they need proper oversight when they are carrying out their responsibilities

Tracy Spicer

Michael, do they go through the same checks as the police for example before they are employed?

Michael Keenan

No, I think we can certainly improve those checks. I was part of a Federal Government committee that looked at port and airport security that did raise serious concerns about security at our ports and airports. I must say that the scale of what has been announced today is still quite simply breathtaking though even what we heard from that enquiry, and its happened under the Labor party’s watch and they need to account for why it has been allowed to occur.

Tim Webster

Well, you know I just fear, and as you say most Customs officers are probably law abiding citizens and doing their job properly, but it could be the tip of an iceberg couldn’t it?

Michael Keenan

Look I think there is no question that the vast majority of Customs officers are law abiding people doing a difficult job and they are doing it well, but the conditions in which they are working have been severely hampered by the fact that they just don’t have the resources that they have had in the past to do that job. If I can give you one example of a cut, Labor party cut $58 million out of cargo inspection when it comes to Australia, that means an airport like Sydney, 75% less cargo is actually inspected and clearly that allows criminals a better chance to bring contraband into Australia, so these are constraints they are working under, that’s not their fault the fact that they are not actually being supported by this Labor government.

Tracy Spicer

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So, Michael, just finally how much money will the Coalition put into it if you are elected next year?

Michael Keenan

We will certainly reverse that cut to Customs to cargo inspection that is incredibly important. We also said at the previous election that we would allocate significant extra resources.

Tracey Spicer

What’s significant Michael, how much money?

Michael Keenan

We are going to allocate another $30 million to cargo inspection on top of reversing that $58 million dollar cut.

Tim Webster

I got a really good idea. Divert some of the billions we spend on asylum seekers to border protection.

Michael Keenan

That is a very good idea Tim. There will be some very significant savings if we can stop the boats coming to Australia, which we will do.

Tim Webster

Just on that before I let you go. It’s obviously important enough for the Government to send Bob Carr to Sri Lanka, because now we find that the major economic refugees are coming from there, some 6,500 of them in the last few months. Now to me the way to stop that problem is to stop them getting on the boats, so obviously sending Carr is a good idea, is it not?

Michael Keenan

Well it is but that is dealing with the symptoms of the problem rather than with the problem itself. The problem itself is that we have created this enormous magnet by pursuing immigration policies that encourage people to smuggle people down here illegally and that is at the heart of what we need to do, so it is important that we work with the region. I will actually be going with other Coalition front benchers to Sri Lanka ourselves next year, but we really need to talk to them from a position of strength where we have actually fixed the problems that have been created in Canberra where the creation of this huge magnet was created in the first place.

Tim Webster

Alright, thank you very much for your time, we do appreciate it, thank you.

Michael Keenan

Pleasure to talk to you

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Tim Webster

That’s our Shadow Minister for Border Protection and Customs, Michael Keenan

Ends ………………………….

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

www.keenan.net.au

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