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House of Representatives

Customs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1990

Explanatory Memorandum

(Circulated by authority of the Treasurer, the Hon Peter Costello, MP)



On 2 November 1997, the Prime Minister announced the National Illicit Drugs Strategy (NIDS). As part of this Strategy, this Bill proposes amendments to the Customs Act 1901 and the Customs Administration Act 1985 which are designed to augment the powers of the Australian Customs Service (ACS) in relation to the detection of illicit drugs. The more significant amendments are set out below.

Amendments to the Customs Act 1901 (Customs Act) to:

1. Extend the frisk search powers of officers of Customs to allow the search of persons with access to ships and aircraft. These persons include crew of ships and aircraft and airport and port employees. This extension is being made within the context of the current frisk search regime under the Customs Act, thereby ensuring that the dignity of a person being searched+ is maintained;

2. Extend the frisk search powers to allow the frisk search of a person on a ship for concealed weapons when a ship is boarded by Customs or when a person boards a Customs vessel. This extension is also being made within the context of the current frisk search regime and is also designed to protect the safety and welfare of Customs officers operating at sea in an isolated environment;

3. Insert a new power to allow officers of Customs to read and copy documents found in baggage and cargo searches. The concept of documents is to be expanded to include paper, photographs and computer images;

4. Insert a new power to allow officers of Customs to take into custody firearms which are on ships and aircraft and which, if imported, would be prohibited imports. This power only can be exercised if Customs is not satisfied that there is secure storage for the firearms on board the ship or aircraft. Firearms are to be returned when the ship or aircraft leaves Australia;

5. Limit the circumstances where reasonable force can be used in the conduct of the external search under the detention and search provisions of the Customs Act;

6. Amend section 59 to extend its operation to foreign ships in the contiguous zone. Section 59 sets out the circumstances in which a ship or aircraft can be boarded by Customs. When a ship or aircraft is boarded in accordance with this section, the powers under section 185 of the Customs Act can be exercised, including the power to search the ship or aircraft and question persons on board.

7. In the case of foreign ships, the power can only be exercised when the ship is in the territorial sea of Australia. It is proposed to extend the operation of section 59 to foreign ships in the contiguous zone in accordance with international law;

8. Extend the operation of section 59 in relation to ships into the waters on the landward side of the territorial sea, including such waters within the limits of a State or Territory. These waters can represent quite considerable bodies of water and it is proposed the ACS have the same powers in respect of ships in these waters as in the territorial sea of Australia;

9. Amend section 175 to insert new offences relating to the transfer of goods at sea. Section 175 makes it an offence, without a Collectors permission, to transfer goods from a ship or aircraft engaging in the coasting trade to a ship or aircraft journey to or from Australia or between places outside Australia. Currently, the offence only applies to the master or owner of the coasting trade ship or pilot or owner of the coasting trade aircraft. It is proposed to extend the offence so that it equally applies to the master or owner of the ship on the international journey and the pilot or owner of the aircraft on the international journey.

Amendments to the Administration Act to:

10. Facilitate access by other law enforcement agencies to Customs information and intelligence for the purposes of carrying out mutual law enforcement functions, including:

Access by State or Territory authorities and law enforcement task forces as necessary; and
Access by foreign government agencies and international organisations.


The amendments proposed in this Bill have no direct financial implications.


Clause 1 - Short title

This clause provides for the Act to be cited as the Customs Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 1998 (Amendment Act).

Clause 2 - Commencement

This clause provides for the Schedules to the Act to commence on a day or days to be fixed by Proclamation (subclause (2)) with the standard sunset provision in Acts which are expressed to commence by Proclamation, to provide that if the Act is not proclaimed within a period of six months after the Act receives the Royal Assent, then it shall commence on the first day after that period (subclause (3) refers).

Subclause (1) provides for the machinery provisions of the Bill (short title, commencement and Schedules) to commence upon Royal Assent.

Clause 3 - Schedules

This clause is the formal enabling provision for the Schedule to the Amendment Act, providing that each Act specified in the Schedule is amended in accordance with the applicable items of the Schedule. The clause also provides that the other items of the Schedule have effect according to their terms. This is a standard enabling clause for transitional, savings and application items in amending legislation. There are no such items in this Bill.

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