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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 3026

Mr KEENAN (10:00 AM) —I rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (Serious Drugs Detection) Bill 2011. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service is responsible for managing the security and integrity of Australia’s borders. Customs officers work hard day and night to detect and deter unlawful movements of goods and people across the border. Customs have responsibility for protecting Australians through the inspection of cargo to try to find illicit drugs, weapons, unauthorised boat arrivals, postal items and also target high risk travellers. Australian Customs officers do a great job under tough circumstances day in and day out. Unfortunately, they are given very little help by this current government, which is stretching their capacity to do their job, particularly to manage our borders.

Since Labor changed our immigration laws in 2008 relating to asylum seekers, there has been an influx of unauthorised boat arrivals putting an enormous strain on Customs and leaving Australia a soft target for organised criminal syndicates seeking to profit from human misery. Last week we witnessed the largest boat arrival since February 2010—this boat carrying 145 people. We also witnessed a government that had completely lost control over our immigration detention system. We witnessed a large outbreak of asylum seekers from the Christmas Island detention centre, which resulted in a violent confrontation with Australian Federal Police officers, with detainees setting fire to the main buildings, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, whilst rioting and setting fire to furniture and bins. The problems certainly were not limited to Christmas Island, with protests, breakouts and disturbances occurring throughout the mainland detention network.

Under this Labor government, breakouts, riots and complete chaos reign. They have allowed people smugglers to dictate to the Australia government who comes to Australia and people smugglers are now in charge of our immigration policy. Since August 2008 we have seen the arrival of 215 boats carrying over 10,500 unauthorised people. Since Julia Gillard knifed former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the now foreign minister, and took control of the Labor Party saying that it had lost its way, 74 boats carrying over 4,000 unauthorised arrivals have come under her watch.

Without a strong border protection policy, these numbers will continue to increase and more people will risk their lives and the lives of their families trying to enter Australia illegally. Labor’s weak stance on border protection has fuelled the abhorrent industry of people smuggling. As we have stated many times in this House, the coalition believe in an uncompromising approach to protecting Australia’s borders and keeping Australia safe. The integrity of our borders cannot be maintained without a properly resourced Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

Since coming to office over three years ago, Labor has cut funding for the Customs service for cargo screening, making Australia’s borders less secure and our nation more vulnerable. In the 2009-10 budget, Labor cut the budget of Customs for cargo screening by $58.1 million. This cut to screening by the Rudd-Gillard government reduced the number of potential sea cargo inspections by 25 per cent. Labor’s cuts also resulted in a reduction of 75 per cent of air cargo inspections. In the recent Customs annual report, it was revealed that only 4.3 per cent of sea cargo is X-rayed and only 0.6 per cent of sea cargo is physically examined. It was concerning to find out that a whopping 95.7 per cent of all sea cargo consignments are not X-rayed. It is no wonder that illicit drugs are slipping into Australia and onto our streets under this Labor government when only 13.3 per cent of air cargo consignments are X-rayed and only 0.6 per cent of air cargo is physically examined. This means that 86.7 per cent of all air cargo consignments are not X-rayed. What has become quite clear is that Labor’s cuts to the Customs cargo and vessel inspection system has put Australians at risk by giving a boost to organised criminal gangs that smuggle illicit drugs and weapons into the country.

During last year’s election campaign the opposition committed to restoring Labor’s cuts to cargo screening at ports and airports and committed an additional $35 million to increase Customs resources for cargo screening. This over $93 million funding increase would have enabled the Customs service to inspect an additional 52,500 sea cargo consignments and at least 7½ million additional air cargo consignments. Unfortunately, under a Labor government, these cuts to Customs cargo screening means that more drugs will flow onto our streets and will allow the organised criminal syndicates that smuggle these drugs to thrive.

As noted in the bill’s explanatory memorandum, currently under the Customs Act an internal search, including an internal scan, can be carried out only by a medical practitioner at a place specified under regulations. The Customs regulations of 1926 specify a hospital, surgery or other practising rooms of a medical practitioner for this purpose. The explanatory memorandum explains that, once detained, an application can be made to a judge for an order for an internal search of the detainee by a medical practitioner. Internal searches can be carried out by various means, including by conducting a scan of a person’s internal cavities. A detainee can also consent, in writing, to be subject to an internal search. The amendments in this bill allow, in addition to the existing internal searches by medical practitioners, internal non-medical scans to be done in limited circumstances by an officer of Customs using prescribed equipment. The former search will be renamed medical internal search and the latter will be called non-medical internal scan.

According to Customs, last financial year 205 people were taken to hospital for examination under suspicion of having concealed drugs internally. Upon medical examination, less than a quarter were found to be carrying drugs. In light of these statistics it makes sense to the coalition to support the changes proposed in this bill in order to streamline the process for Customs and enable funds to be saved where possible. We believe that these changes are quite reasonable as, when a suspected person does not consent to having the non-medical internal scan, they can opt to have the medical internal search at the hospital as per current practice. The coalition supports the enhancement of security at Australia’s airports, including the introduction of these non-medical scans. However, the parameters under which these scanners are operated must be monitored and given careful consideration.

The coalition has a long history of keeping Australia safe. Border protection and national security always remain at the forefront of our priorities and we support the progressive enhancements and security being made at Australia’s airports every day. We therefore support this bill.