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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2267


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (14:45): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Justice, the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Defence Materiel, Senator Ludwig. I refer the minister to the statement of the now foreign minister when, as New South Wales Premier, he said:

… all of these guns, the guns on our streets, the guns being traded, the guns that form this black market have got into Australia through pretty porous borders…

Does the minister believe that 'porous borders', as put by Minister Bob Carr, are allowing illegal weapons to be smuggled into Australia from overseas and, in particular, into Western Sydney as a result of Labor slashing Customs inspections by more than sixfold?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:46): I support my colleague on this side of the chamber and I do not accept the inference by Senator Cash in her question. The work this government has done in border protection has been extraordinary. Australia has some of the toughest laws covering the importation, possession and use of semi-automatic handguns. The minister is happy to take advice from experts on this. As the minister has always said, he has an open mind when it comes to opportunities to crack down on organised crime. He will take advice from the Australian Crime Commission and he will even take advice from the opposition if they could add a positive spin.

The reality is you will not be allow to import or possess of these weapons unless you have a legitimate reason. Our borders are very secure when it comes to this issue. The reality is that police must certify a person as a legitimate user if the person is to be able to import and possess these weapons. Under our existing regulations legitimate users are limited to police or military for official purposes, sporting shooters, security firms and bona fide collectors. Australia has very tough legislation covering the importation, possession and use of firearms. When it comes to the work the Customs minister has done in this area, those opposite would want— (Time expired)

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (14:48): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the percentage of air cargo consignments inspected by Customs has been reduced from more than 60 per cent under the coalition to less than 10 per cent following Labor's budget cuts, and given the New South Wales Police Force have now uncovered what the police commissioner described as the biggest illegal syndicate—

Senator Cameron interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, I cannot hear the question. I need to hear the question.

Senator CASH: doing this type of illegal gun trafficking that Australia has ever seen, isn't Minister Bob Carr's statement an accurate account of what is happening under Labor's failed Customs and border protection policies today?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:49): The short answer to this is that in respect of parcels, letters and the importation of parcels we look—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator LUDWIG: Those opposite do not want the answer. They simply want to make a cheap political point. Customs and Border Protection Service have inspected over 20 million parcels and inspected more than 40 million letters.

Senator Abetz: That was successful, wasn't it?

Senator LUDWIG: They have been successful. There have been over 40,000 detections, an increase of 30 per cent over 2009-10. The opposition may be interested, though they have not shown any interest so far, to know that air cargo detections have actually increased by more than 16 per cent from 2008 right through to 2010-11. Customs will continue to employ intelligence based targeting of air cargo. If we look at issues such as rifle magazines—

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (14:50): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the New South Wales Police Force investigation found 150 to 220 Glock pistols were imported into Sydney through the Sylvania Waters post office in the largest smuggling operation of its kind, evading the detection of Australia's Customs and Border Protection Service, what guarantee can be given to the Australian people that similar border failings have not and are not occurring in other states and territories and in the other 4,418 post offices around Australia?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:51): There is a matter that is under police investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment in detail on the specifics of the Sylvania Waters licensed post office. However, I can say, on the measures Australia Post has in place for the security of its network and staff, Australia Post conducts pre-employment and pre-engagement criminal history checks on all applicants for work as employees, as labour hire employees, as post office licences and as mail contractors or subcontractors unless they have an existing criminal history check. These checks are done through CrimTrac by staff with access to the national police checking service. These employees' criminal checked histories date back to pre-1975. What we have is comprehensive work undertaken by Australia Post in this area to ensure the security of our mail centres. (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Sherry, Senator Cash, if you wish to debate it, debate it after question time. Senator Di Natale is on his feet waiting for his question.