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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5338


Senator SANDY MACDONALD (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The annual report of the Australian Customs Service is an important report because the government has increased the budget allocation substantially to customs and quarantine services over the last couple of years. The government recognises the importance to the community of protecting Australia's natural environment and rural industries. Effective quarantine is essential to achieving these objectives. The government has been on the front foot on quarantine because it is so crucial to protecting Australia's important agricultural industries and our unique environment. Under this government, the quarantine system has received an unprecedented level of funding, with the aim of delivering the strongest possible protection for Australia.

In the 2001-02 federal budget, the government announced a record package of nearly $600 million to substantially increase Australia's border control arrangements. Under this package, quarantine border intervention rates have been increased to more than 80 per cent at airports and 100 per cent at other border entry points, including inspection of all incoming international vessels and external examination of all cargo containers. The budget also provided Customs with additional funding for an increase in customs work arising as a result of the increased quarantine intervention measures following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom and Europe. I do not think that any of us who have travelled overseas in the last 12 or 18 months have not noticed that increased evidence of intervention.

Customs increased quarantine intervention initiatives include the X-ray of almost all passenger baggage, international mail and high-volume, low-value air cargo not selected for other forms of examination or assessment. Customs, in conjunction with other stakeholders, participated in the redevelopment of infrastructure at international airports to accommodate the increased use of X-ray equipment and changes to passenger flow within the secondary examination areas. Since the injection of this extra funding, AQIS is now screening more passengers than ever before. As I said, all arriving passengers will be screened and in most cases their baggage will be examined or X-rayed.

Over the past year, AQIS has recruited 1,200 extra staff and 34 more detector dog teams and has installed 48 new X-ray machines at airports across the nation. The additional funding has provided for a threefold increase in the presence of AQIS officers at airports and triples the number of X-ray machines in operation. Quarantine seizures at airports have increased by 232 per cent during the 2001 December quarter compared to the December quarter in the year 2000, which is a very substantial increase. It is interesting that on-the-spot fines increased by over 170 per cent over the same period. In February 2002, on-the-spot fines for travellers failing to declare items of quarantine concern doubled to $220 and, under new laws introduced by the government this year, more serious breaches can be punished with jail terms and fines of up to $220,000 for individuals. There is a lot of community support for these initiatives. We have a unique environment and we have some advantages, being an island nation. We can control our borders and quarantine and customs arrangements more effectively than a lot of other countries, but it requires money and initiative.

To conclude, the coalition government is committed to maintaining Australia's reputation as a clean and green supplier of high quality agriculture produce as well as protecting our native species from exotic diseases. The government is also committed to boosting Australia's quarantine system and providing the resources necessary to adequately protect our multibillion dollar agricultural, fishing and forestry industries and our environment. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.