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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1249

Mr HALE (8:21 PM) —I rise to support the Customs Amendment (Enhanced Border Controls and Other Measures) Bill 2008 and I acknowledge the contribution from my colleague the member for Oxley, who is very passionate about border control. We were having a discussion in his office regarding this issue prior to coming down to the chamber and we both agreed that the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon. Bob Debus, has done a fantastic job in putting this bill together. I welcome the support that it is receiving from both sides of the House, because border protection is not a political issue, it is an issue for all Australians.

Whilst I am speaking about the amendments to the bill it would be remiss of me not to thank all the hardworking Customs officers in my electorate. There are many Customs personnel in Darwin and Palmerston who are primarily engaged in illegal foreign fishing surveillance and enforcement activity. I have good friends working at Customs, and when I do catch up with those guys it does not take me long to realise what a fantastic job they do when they tell me some of the stories of what they apprehend and what sorts of things are found moving around our coastline.

Like us parliamentarians, these officers are often away from their families for weeks at a time, so we can relate to that side of the job. Like us, many Customs officers often miss out on milestones and family events. They go about their business without any fanfare. They do not often get the accolades that they deserve for carrying out the extremely important job of managing our fisheries and looking for illegal activities. Their jobs are becoming increasingly dangerous. I hear stories about the improvisations to illegal fishing boats, including the welding of spikes on the sides just to make it a little bit more difficult for Customs officials to get on board. Illegal fishers are very innovative. They have GPS, they know a lot of the illegal fishers and they know how to just sit outside the zone and then go in quickly. They will leave the parent boat outside the zone and then go in quickly to fish and try to get out before they are detected.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the member for Holt, discussed this issue with me as well. He is quite passionate about border protection, and that shows its importance. It is good to see someone with that passion for border protection in the Prime Minister’s office. I had the pleasure this year of going with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry over to the Kimberley area with Nick Paspaley. We spent a day there looking across Nick Paspaley’s pearl operation. It was with awe that I sat back at about 6 o’clock at night while we were fishing in the Kimberley. You can just picture it: your mind wanders a little bit and you start to think to yourself, ‘I wonder if anyone has ever walked on those cliffs,’ and you see how awesome the Australian landscape and coastline is. I do not know if it is the most beautiful part of the world, but it would certainly make the semi-final. It is just wonderful. Sitting there, I thought about how much we needed to protect our coastline. I know that most members here will be jealous of this, but to drop a line over the edge and pull up some red snapper is just fantastic. We sat there with Nick and we spoke about the Kimberley and just how awesome it is—and it needs to be protected not only for us but for future generations.

Darren Kimmorley and Paul Seden are two Indigenous guys who work in the Customs industry. They are very close friends whom I grew up with. Darren is fantastic, and he works down here in Canberra. Paul Seden was a very good sportsman in his day. I saw him the other day. He had his day a fair while back I think; he looked like he had been in a good paddock! But Paul is very committed, and Indigenous people have a real innate sense of protecting the country. As we try to give Indigenous people opportunities in remote communities, Customs and border protection is something that they can be very good at. They know if the coast has been broken; they know if people are moving around. They have a sixth sense to it. Aboriginal communities working in consultation with Customs and the ADF, and especially with the NORFORCE guys, really do have a sense of knowing what is going on. That is really important.

Being on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, we often get briefings on Operation Resolute, the joint operation between Customs and Northern Command. They are looking for people smugglers, drugs, illegal fishing and all that sort of stuff. Since the emergency response last year they are also looking for pornographic material as well as illicit drugs, alcohol and kava going into Aboriginal communities. There was recently a big bust of some 150 kilograms of kava up in Darwin. I would like to mention the member for Forrest’s contribution to this debate. She touched on the problems of illicit drugs and what they are doing within our community, especially cocaine and ecstasy. There is a danger within our community of these drugs coming in. Anything that we can do as a parliament to enhance our laws and continue to enhance the operations of Customs, we should.

Protecting our borders is an ever evolving and growing industry. It changes a lot. I am sure that this will not be the last time that we talk about Customs and border protection, because it is so important that we get it right. We must continually revisit it. This is not the sort of legislation that is set in concrete because the people who are breaking the rules are continually looking to change the way they go about it. That is what we are up against. I saw a documentary recently about Mexico and what cocaine and the cartels have done there. Over 3,000 people have been murdered there in the last 12 months or so. Anyone who reports it, anyone who tries to stop it, is basically taken out of the picture. We need to make sure that we are vigilant. As a former elite sports coach I detest drugs. And as a parliament we must continue to work hard to make sure we make it even tougher and harder for people to bring illicit drugs into this country.

In 2006-07, approximately 230 vessels were apprehended in Australian waters and in 2007-08 over 130 vessels were apprehended. Given that the Northern Territory coastline spans some 10,000 kilometres, the ongoing challenges faced by the federal agencies in maintaining effective surveillance operations is significant. A reminder of how important the role is that Customs play in the north is highlighted in a story I read recently about three foreign ice boats being successfully treated for serious bivalve pests found in their hulls—another one that can come in. The black striped mussel was found in one boat and the Asian green mussel was found on another boat. The three boats were treated with chemicals outside Darwin Harbour in an operation lasting seven days. Customs are out there doing their job and this legislation will go a long way to improving their capacity to protect our borders.

There is a raft of things that can go wrong and certainly the job that Customs do with Northern Command in Operation Resolute is an important job. I had the pleasure this year of going out on an Armidale class boat—a fantastic bit of kit that the Navy has based up in Darwin. The Navy guys go out for between two to three weeks, so it is a long time out there. It is a big commitment and they are looking for and apprehending people all the time. I have noticed in some of the graphs that they are not getting in as far as they used to. That means that the laws are working well and this legislation is going to continue to enhance the power that the Customs people have in apprehending illegal fishers and anyone that is moving illicit drugs. As a Northern Territorian, and with the Northern Territory probably very often the first point of call for this type of behaviour, it is heartening to see that this legislation put together by the Minister for Home Affairs will continue to evolve and protect our coastline in Australia from unwanted visitors and people who are not doing the right thing. I commend the bill to the House.