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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 24

Mr HURFORD - The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs will be aware of grave allegations made by undercover agents and other members of the New South Wales branch of the Customs Officers Association of Australia of corruption and deliberate incompetence at more senior levels of the Bureau of Customs, with the. life of one informant apparently being threatened since the allegations were made. I ask the Minister: Is it a fact that these allegations include claims that heroin, which was worth as much as a billion dollars at street value, was smuggled into the country despite the foreknowledge of the Bureau of Customs? Is it also a fact that another claim is that senior Customs officials have instructed their juniors to turn a blind eye to other breaches of Customs regulations, for instance those relating to pornography ? When did the Minister first learn of these allegations? What action has the Minister taken or what action does he propose to take as a result of these allegations?

Mr GARLAND (CURTIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister Assisting the Minister for Industry and Commerce) - Some representatives of the Customs Officers Association made a number of general allegations of the kind referred to by the honourable member. These allegations were first made about 18 months ago, so I am informed, and certainly were made earlier this year as well, about the administration of that part of the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs known as the Bureau of Customs. Some of the allegations occurred during the industrial disputes in January and February of this year. In August last year, following very similar claims about corruption in the Bureau of Customs, the then New South Wales branch secretary of the COA reported in writing to the Department that he had been misrepresented. The COA representatives had the opportunity of giving evidence about these matters to two royal commissions of which the honourable member will be aware. But from the reports of the commissions there is nothing to suggest that there is any substance in the allegations or claims, as far as I can see.

No details of the alleged corruption have been furnished to the Department in spite of a number of written requests being made to the COA and officials to give particulars in support. I am advised that the present secretary of the COA has declined to respond to requests from the senior officer in New South Wales, the New South Wales Collector of Customs. There has been a lot of contact between those officials and the Department. Mr Speaker, I seek permission to table some correspondence between officials and Mr Spanswick of the COA. Before I do so I refer, Mr Speaker, with your permission to a sentence in one of the letters which is dated August of last year. It states:

In closing I would like to say that you should rest assured that if I was aware of any so called corruption in the Bureau of Customs I would comply with Departmental requirements and inform the Chief Officer of same.

I have asked the head of the internal affairs unit of the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr R. A. Wilson, who is a former Commissioner of the Australian Capital Territory Police, to go to Sydney and seek to interview these officials and to report to me on these latest allegations. I believe it is the duty and responsibility of those officials to co-operate with Mr Wilson after these even greater allegations have been made, though they would not do so with the New South Wales Collector of Customs. In conclusion, I say that the Government is determined to have the Customs section of the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs effective. No government, I believe, has done more to endeavour to prevent illicit imports, including drugs. All the information before me indicates that Customs works well and towards longstanding objectives of successive governments. If anyone really has any information he or she should come forward and advise either Customs or the Federal Police of precise details.

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