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Thursday, 4 April 1968

Mr McEWEN (MURRAY, VICTORIA) (Deputy Prime Minister) - I cannot confirm the precise words used by my colleague, the former Minister for Customs and Excise, but in substance what the honourable member says is correct. The Minister, whose responsibility it was, together with the Comptroller-General of Customs, to see that our customs laws are observed, became aware that there was reason to suspect that large Japanese companies were acting in a manner so as to evade payment to revenue of customs duties and, in my opinion more importantly, to circumvent the protective intentions of the Australian customs tariff. I should say that the Japanese companies, on the evidence available, were not acting alone, but that Australian companies were in collusion, with them. My colleague announced, with the authority of the Prime Minister, that this discovery had been made, that extensive investigations had occurred and were still proceeding and that in due course the companies would be summonsed under the provisions of the law and the full rigours of the law applied.

To expedite decisions on these matters the companies were given the option of either going to the High Court or going to what I loosely describe as a customs court. The customs court can give a prompt decision from which there is no appeal and has the right to impose precisely the same fines as the High Court may impose. My understanding is that at the present time the assembling of evidence is in the hands of the Attorney-General's Department. There is not the slightest intention of departing from the substance of the intimation made by the then Minister for Customs and Excise. There was another point that I wanted to make which escapes my memory.

Mr O'Connor - Loss of revenue.

Mr McEWEN - The honourable member asked me whether I had taken this up with the Japanese Government. The answer is, yes, I did. I did so, firstly, very firmly with the Japanese Ambassador to Australia and, secondly, with the Japanese Prime Minister in Tokyo.

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