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Thursday, 27 April 1972
Page: 1364

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -

My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise. I ask: Are Cuban lobster tails, which are banned as imports in the United States of America, being exported from Cuba to Tokyo in Japan, reshipped from Tokyo to Sydney and then exported from Australia to the United States as Australian rock lobsters? Has this practice been going on for some time? Did a raid by Customs officers take place on Sydney cold stores earlier this month? Will the Minister investigate whether Cuban lobster tails exported as Australian rock lobsters have been shipped to the United States of America on the refrigerated container ship 'Sultana'? Will the Minister also investigate who has issued the export licences for these products?

Senator COTTON - I have here some papers which were given to me in the dim past, relating to Cuban lobster tails. However, I cannot refer to the vessel 'Sultana' because it is not mentioned in them. This information may help the honourable senator. Information received by officers of the Department of Customs and Excise some little time ago suggested that lobster tails of Cuban origin were being trans-shipped to the United States of America via Australia. Preliminary inquiries by the Department indicated that there might be some truth in the allegations. With the importance of the export of lobster tails - now worth in excess of $24m per annum - it was decided not to broaden the inquiry at that time as such action might prejudice the wellbeing of the trade as a whole. All the information known to the Australian Department of Customs and Excise was passed direct to the United States customs officials, and further inquiries in Australia were temporarily suspended in order that it might be confirmed whether the shipment was in fact of Cuban origin. This course of action would have enabled the United States customs officials to take any punitive action necessary. The future course of action by Australian Department of Customs and Excise is to be determined when the position is clarified following the arrival of the vessel in the United States. Needless to say, if the tails prove to be tails of Cuban origin, or indeed any other foreign origin, attempting to enter the United States market in the guise of Australian produce, steps will be taken to ensure that no shipments of this kind are made in the future. I thank the honourable senator for his later information, and I will see that it goes to the Department.

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