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Tuesday, 8 February 1994
Page: 506

Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Science and Small Business as the Minister responsible for the Australian Customs Service. Earlier today the minister released the report of the independent review into the Australian Customs Service which was headed by Frank Conroy. Is the minister able to provide any information on the major recommendations of the report and its implications for the Customs Service? Secondly, what benefit does the minister expect from this important review?

Senator SCHACHT —Earlier today, as honourable senators will be aware, I circulated to all members of parliament and to the press a copy of the Conroy review of Customs, The turning point, a copy of which I will table at the end of question time. I thank Mr Conroy, Mr Ian Macphee, Ms Susan Ryan and members of the secretariat for their contribution to preparing the report over the past seven months. It was a very wide-ranging report in accordance with the wide terms of reference.

  The report deals with relations with industry, the public and government agencies. The broad themes of the report are: the need for Customs to establish closer links with industry in Australia; the value of good public administration; and the better use of technology. I have already announced that I have accepted the broad thrust of the report, which can be best summed up as trying to achieve a cultural change in the operation of Customs. That would be well recognised by members on both sides of the parliament who have been involved with such issues as the Midford report. All of those reports dealt with the need for a change in the culture of Customs, its style of operation and how it relates to the community.

  There are many recommendations, a number of which will quite clearly be controversial. I will ask the Department of Industry, Technology and Regional Development in consultation with Customs, the PSU and other interested parties to prepare a considered report on each of the recommendations, which I hope to take to cabinet within about six to eight weeks. I will then make further announcements about the outcome of those recommendations.

  This morning, I had the opportunity to speak in Canberra to the senior management of Customs and to several hundred of its staff and to explain my view about the implementation process and preparation of the cabinet submission. I told them that I was sympathetic to the broad thrust of the report. Many people in Customs welcome this opportunity to be involved. I emphasised the need that, for the successful implementation of this report, it must be driven from the ground up within Customs as much from the top down to get the needed changes, which I think all sides of parliament would support.

  I also announced today that the Comptroller-General of Customs, Mr Frank Kelly, has resigned from the position. I have recommended the appointment of the Deputy Comptroller-General, Mr Chris Doogan, to the position of Acting Comptroller-General. I made it clear to Mr Doogan and to others in the service that this is an acting position and that, as we develop the cabinet submission, we will look at the arrangements for the appointment of a new chief executive, a post for which he and other senior officers would be eligible to apply. But that will come after we make decisions in cabinet about what structure we want for Customs, not before.

  I want to place on record that Mr Kelly was a long-time member of the Customs Service and, despite the criticisms that some members of parliament have raised, he has done a number of things that have been good for the Customs Service.