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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 758

Senator CHRIS EVANS —My question is directed to the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction. The minister will be aware of a report in yesterday's Financial Review referring to reform within the Australian Customs Service and an allocation of $32 million in the budget for that reform process. Is that report accurate? Are the reforms to the Customs Service to be pursued?

Senator SCHACHT —I am aware of the article that appeared yesterday in the Financial Review. I can confirm very strongly that the reform process of the Customs Service will be pursued by this government in the coming year. There were 106 recommendations in the Conroy review. The government has accepted, in total, in principle, 92 of those recommendations. Only four, I think, were not accepted by the government. Overwhelmingly, the recommendations were accepted. I point out that most of the recommendations have been supported not only by the government but also by other interested groups in the community, including the Public Sector Union, which represents most of the staff of the Customs Service.

  Regarding the figure of $32 million referred to in the article in the Financial Review, I can confirm that the government has committed that sum of money over the next two years to facilitate the transformation of the Customs Service. I would like to explain how that $32 million is going to be spent: $24.6 million relates to the cost of the redundancy packages, which includes a figure of $14 million for the superannuation payouts; an additional $5.7 million relates to the pursuit of a range of business improvements, including for EDI—electronic data interchange—the establishment and working of the advisory board, the industry panel and other areas which provide service to Customs' clients, particularly in business and industry. From 1996 onwards, we estimate that there will be ongoing savings of $3.1 million per year from these initiatives.

  In this reform process an advisory board is to be established. I am pleased to announce that Mr Barry Murphy, the chief executive of Caltex Australia, has agreed to chair the advisory board. I expect to be in a position in the next few days to announce the other members of that advisory board. With that advisory board, there will be industry panels operating in particular areas of the Customs Service. For example, in passenger processing, which is very relevant to the tourist industry, there will be an industry panel with representatives from the tourist industry and others who would be able to advise Customs and the government of the best practices to put into effect to encourage our Customs Service to provide the best possible service.

Senator Harradine —Small business?

Senator SCHACHT —As the minister for small business, I can assure Senator Harradine that I will make every effort to see that representatives of the small business community will have a chance to be represented on the industry panels. In the tourist industry, for example, many of the operators are small businesses.

  I point out that there have been some suggestions by the opposition spokesman in another place, Mr Prosser, that I have done backflips on the reform process. I want to strenuously point out that that is not the case. One day I was accused of being too harsh and of creating an industrial dispute. A week later, I was accused of going soft and giving in to the union. Mr Prosser ought to take a broader view of this process of change. I have to say that, unlike him, there are many members opposite who do support the government's initiative in reforming the Australian Customs Service. I look forward to coming back to the parliament during the next year with further initiatives and an announcement, including legislation, to complete this very important reform process.