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Thursday, 5 December 1985
Page: 3062


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(5.40) —The Opposition proposes to oppose clauses 4, 6, 7, 12, 17 and 18 and to vote against those clauses in the Customs Excise Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2), and to vote against clause 13 and schedule 8 of the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1985. The reason for that is that all of those clauses and that schedule relate to the Government's proposal to institute inward duty-free shopping. I do not wish, at the Committee stage, to go back over all the ground that has been canvassed in the second reading debate but I should like to touch on some of the matters which have already been raised.

I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, in his defence of what is proposed, express his confidence in the Australian Customs Service. I do not in any way demur from that expression of confidence or disagree with it, but I draw the Minister's attention, the Senate's attention-that of the Australian Democrats in particular-to the views of the Australian Customs Service in which the Minister has so much confidence. The Customs Service made a submission to the Industries Assistance Commission. That submission is a public document. I should like to advise the Committee of one of the views expressed by the Customs Service with respect to this matter. I quote from the submission:

An additional problem is that inward duty-free shopping staff would be located within the Customs area leading to an added risk of narcotics and message exchange. This would require additional customs surveillance workload and increased manpower. The security screen would have to extend to checking inward duty-free shopping staff each time they left the premises (for example, lunch, visits to toilets, leaving work for the day). Monitoring would be required of deliveries to and from the inward duty-free shopping and rubbish removal. There would be a requirement of police/character checks on inward duty-free shopping staff.

Later in the same submission, the Customs Service said:

In the circumstances of resource pressures resulting from a particular concession regime, there is some risk that the increased emphasis on veryifying passenger concessions usage could be detrimental to Customs effectiveness in the high priority areas of narcotics, quarantine and community protection.

I do not seek to overemphasise or in any way to misrepresent the views that are put forward by Customs. They refer to `some risk'; they refer to the fact that it `could be detrimental to Customs effectiveness in the high priority areas of narcotics, quarantine and community protection'. That is a view which seems to be reflected and has been accepted as a consideration worthy of being put forward by the Industries Assistance Commission. The simple point which the Opposition makes is that we do not believe that in circumstances of doubt we should simply pass these provisions and hope for the best.

I am totally unimpressed, and indeed I am somewhat taken aback, by the attitude which was evidenced by the speaker for the Australian Democrats. His rather contemptuous pushing off of the views which I put forward, on the basis that this was an aviation matter and not a Customs matter, I find very hard to understand. Frankly, I think that the obviously quite marginal advantages which accrue or may accrue to aviation if this change is made just do not weigh very heavily in the balance when held up against the possibility that there will be further weakening of barrier controls against the possible introduction of narcotics and other matters. So I express considerable surprise that the usually would-be idealist Australian Democrats should take the stance that was put forward by Senator Sanders, and I would express the hope that it does not represent the view of his Democrat colleagues.

Again, I do not wish to flog the horse; I hope it is not a dead horse. I hope that honourable senators are alive to the arguments which have been put forward and will see it as a desirable matter that there should be careful consideration of the barrier control aspects of this legislation.

I do not wish to expend much time on the other many arguments which are available as to the advantages and disadvantages, but perhaps I may quote from one other submission to the Industries Assistance Commission, that put in by the Department of the Treasury. In its penultimate paragraph, its says:

The extension of taxation concessions is not considered an appropriate response to passenger in-flight behavioural problems or rising airline fuel costs. In regard to fuel savings, the argument is simply ludicrous when the value of fuel savings is set against the amount of Commonwealth revenue foregone. Further, the reduction in Commonwealth revenue collections must outweigh any increase in on-airport duty-free licence revenue. In any event, extra licence free revenue collected by the Department of Aviation would primarily benefit international airline operators and international air travellers by allowing airline rentals and airfares to be lower than otherwise. In effect, ordinary taxpayers would be subsidising overseas travel.

I just wonder at the priorities of the government and at the priorities of the Australian Democrats. I commend to the Committee the proposition that we should vote against those clauses and should subsequently refer this matter to the Standing Committee on Industry and Trade so that that Committee can examine the proposed establishment of inward duty-free shops and its impact on Customs administration and barrier control. We have a duty to do that, for to do otherwise is to be careless.