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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4945

Senator Ludwig asked the Minister for Justice and Customs, upon notice, on 21 August 2002:

(1) How many Australian Customs Service vessels are currently deployed in: (a) Townsville; (b) Cairns; (c) Darwin; and (d) Broome.

(2) What is each vessel's size, displacement and crew number.

(3) What are the official stated tasks of these vessels and crews.

(4) Are the crews of these vessels required to perform any duties or tasks normally performed by any other Commonwealth or state departments and agencies; if so: (a) how is the Commonwealth reimbursed for these `other duties'; and (b) can the memoranda of understanding outlining these agreements be provided.

Senator Ellison (Minister for Justice and Customs) —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) Australian Customs Service vessels are currently deployed out to and sometimes beyond the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone anywhere around Australia's 37,000 kilometre coastline. The tasking and deployment of these vessels is governed by a range of factors including coastal demographics, international marine activity levels and past history of illegal activities.

With the current focus on northern operations the majority of the fleet is operating between Broome and Torres Strait. Vessels deployed in the North generally operate out of Darwin and Cairns where greater maintenance and support infrastructure exists. These vessels also conduct regular port visits to Broome and Townsville for crew changeovers, refuel/resupply purposes or to embark representatives from tasking client agencies.

(2) Customs “Bay” Class vessels have a measured length of 34.95 metres, a displacement of 112 tonnes, and a nominal crew of eight. However, depending on operational requirements up to 12 crew members may be embarked.

(3) Deployment of Customs vessels is made in response to a diverse mixture of taskings initiated by Federal, State and Local Government agencies. Taskings range from those of a highly sensitive nature to those encompassing the provision of a Customs strategic presence in areas of operational interest. “Bay” Class vessels are tasked to:

· Respond to breaches or suspected breaches of Australia's border and assist clients in enforcing legislation such as Customs, Fisheries, Immigration and Quarantine;

· Conduct operations in areas of interest for research and environmental organisations;

· Maintain an operational presence in areas designated as `high risk' by Government or by clients;

· Conduct community participation activities and public awareness programs on behalf of Customs; and

· To gather information relevant to border risk assessment.

(4) In addition to enforcing the Customs Act 1901, Customs marine crew are authorised and regularly enforce Federal Fisheries, Migration and Quarantine laws. A number of Customs marine crew are also authorised to act as park wardens on behalf of Environment Australia. Customs has an agreement in place with Environment Australia for the provision of on-site park management and protection services in the Ashmore and Cartier Islands Marine Reserve. (a) Under this agreement Environment Australia pays Customs direct for these services. Customs is directly budget funded to provide a range of services to other Commonwealth and State agencies. (b) A copy of the agreement for payment of services by Environment Australia to Customs will be provided to the honourable senator's office. As indicated because of budget funding for Customs vessels, there are no agreements with other agencies for payment of services.