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Thursday, 16 March 2000
Page: 14930

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (5:09 PM) —I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

The Customs Legislation Amendment (Criminal Sanctions and Other Measures) Bill 1999, as passed by the Senate, requires procedures to be prescribed for Customs' opening and examination of international postal articles. The government considers that this provides a suitable regime for Customs officers to examine articles if they reasonably believe that the articles contain prohibited drugs or other chemical compounds. The government has, however, noted views expressed during debate in the House of Representatives that the opening of mail intrudes on a person's privacy. The government would like to reassure the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Australian community that they need have no concerns about unnecessary intrusion into people's privacy when Customs goes about its business of protecting the Australian border.

In order to reinforce the security of the postal environment and to reduce the risk of potential corruption, the government has moved an amendment to the bill as presented to the Senate that will achieve three purposes. Australia Post would remain the sole authority to examine personal correspondence under 25 grams. Customs would have the power to open larger, international postal articles weighing 25 grams or more. A Customs officer who reasonably believed that a postal article contained drugs or other chemical compounds would have to pass the article to another Customs officer who performs duties at a higher classification. This more senior officer would verify the decision and the article would then be opened by this officer with a third Customs officer as a witness.

Customs risk assessed 160 million postal articles imported through Australia Post last year. The low level of complaints about postal examinations shows that Customs treats its responsibilities very carefully. Drugs were found in 6,000 cases. There is a fine balance to be struck between the need to deter people from importing substances that are dangerous to our community and the obligation to protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens. The government considers that it has achieved a suitable balance through the compromises it has offered in relation to Customs opening international postal articles.