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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1869

Senator ARCHER —I direct my question to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. I refer the Minister to the findings of the recent joint task force into Customs inadequacies which found that checking procedures at most wharves and container terminals are virtually non-existent, and pointed to the Melbourne waterfront as a particular example of lax security. I also refer the Minister to a report prepared by the Senior Inspector of Shipping Control on the Melbourne waterfront, which was made public 16 months ago. In that report the officer warned that the criminal element had little to fear through its own carelessness and that the waterfront was virtually wide open. I ask the Minister: Why did the Government not act on the first report and thus save Australians tens of millions of dollars in lost customs duty, and slow the virtual uninhibited movement of drugs through the waterfront?

Senator BUTTON —As one might imagine, the world is much more complex than Senator Archer sees it as being. If we had acted on the first report we would have required an army of Customs officers to inspect containers to the extent which was suggested by implication. There are two parts to the question. The first relates to a task force which was set up following a comment by the former Special Minister of State, Mr Young, relating to evasion of Commonwealth revenue. That task force reported last week and I am quite happy to make available a copy of its findings to Senator Archer. It is a very detailed document.

Secondly, quite independently of the task force, the Government has been examining these matters and it has acted on them. Legislation will be introduced in this session of the Parliament to tighten a whole range of valuation and other procedures, and further legislation will be introduced in the Budget session. That will be very stringent legislation, particularly in relation to penalties for evasion of duty and for other defalcations in respect of the Customs legislation. I do not think a lot of people will like it; nonetheless we believe it to be important.

I think the general points in the question are dealt with in the context of that overall remark which I have made. If the honourable senator looks at the task force report I think he will find that many of the issues which the task force raised have already been dealt with or will be dealt with in this legislation which is to be introduced.