House of Representatives

Border Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2002

Second Reading Speech

Mr Williams (Attorney-General)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill, the Border Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2002, contains amendments to the Customs Act 1901, the Customs Administration Act 1985, the Migration Act 1958, the Evidence Act 1995 and the Fisheries Management Act 1991.

The purpose of this bill is to implement the government's election commitments to increase national security by further protecting our borders.

This bill contains amendments to a range of Customs activities that contribute to the security of our borders.

The amendments deal with border surveillance, the movement of people, the movement of goods and the controls Customs has in place to monitor this activity.

In implementing these measures the government is mindful of the need to find a suitable balance between measures which detect and deter illegal activities and the needs of legitimate travellers and commerce.

The first set of amendments enhances the capacity of Customs officers to more effectively monitor and enforce security requirements at our borders.

The amendments establish processes to define parts of international airports where access is restricted for border security purposes, require international airline operators to provide Customs with information about passengers and require employers of workers in the secure areas of international airports to provide Customs with information about their employees.

The Chief Executive Officer will have the power to gazette areas within international airports where access is restricted for the purposes of border security.

Persons other than arriving and departing passengers and aircrew will need to be authorised by Customs to enter these areas and officers will have the power to remove unauthorised persons.

The government has decided that, for border security reasons, it is important for Customs and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs to be able to assess any risks that passengers and crew might pose before they arrive in Australia.

The amendments enhance Customs's and Immigration's ability to assess passengers and crew prior to their arrival in Australia.

Operators of international passenger ships and aircraft arriving in Australia are already required to report all passengers and crew to Customs.

They now will be required to provide similar passenger and crew reports to Immigration.

Currently these reports can be made to Customs electronically or by document.

In most cases these reports will now have to be made electronically to Customs and Immigration prior to the ship or aircraft arriving in Australia.

While this scheme provides for advance passenger and crew reports to be made by the operators of aircraft and ships to both Customs and Immigration, measures have been put in place to ensure that those operators do not have to duplicate their reports.

If an operator provides information to Immigration under the Migration Act, that operator will not be required to provide the same information to Customs.

In addition, Immigration will be required to provide to Customs any information that it receives under the advance reporting provisions.

In the circumstances where the operators of aircraft and ships give information to Customs but not to Immigration, Customs will be required to give that information to Immigration.

International airline operators will also be required to allow Customs access to information about passengers in their computerised reservation systems.

This will help Customs to better identify high risk passengers who need further assessment on arrival.

This not only means Customs can concentrate its resources on the highest risks but also means that the vast majority of travellers can be processed with minimal intervention and delay.

Penalties will apply where shipping companies and airlines do not comply with all the reporting requirements.

In keeping with the need to closely monitor activities at airports these amendments will also provide Customs with the authority to obtain information about people who work in the secure and restricted areas of international airports.

Employers will be required to provide Customs with details, such as name, address and date and place of birth, of new employees commencing work in these areas.

Authorities who issue aviation security identification will also be required to provide details when these identities are issued or renewed.

The use of this information will fully comply with the provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 and the requirements of section 16 of the Customs Administration Act which governs the disclosure of information.

To assist with monitoring the movement of goods across our borders it is proposed to make reporting of in-transit goods that pass through Australian ports or airports mandatory.

Currently there is no requirement for reporting of in-transit cargo.

This means that Customs has no knowledge of prohibited goods that transit our borders and this undermines our antiterrorism strategies and inhibits the capacity to monitor the movement of goods on behalf of other countries or as required by international agreements.

The amendments will make in-transit cargo subject to Customs reporting requirements.

The amendments will also provide a power to seize, under warrant, in-transit cargo which is connected with a terrorist act or prejudices Australia's defence or national security or international peace and security.

The amendment relating to electronic reporting of mail will address a risk associated with the reporting of international mail.

International sea mail is electronically reported to Customs on arrival in Australia but this is not the case for any international mail carried by air.

This amendment will remove the anomaly with airmail through mandating the electronic reporting of all mail.

The next set of amendments simplifies the administration associated with giving authority to persons to perform the functions of a Customs officer.

Under the Customs Act 1901 the Chief Executive Officer of Customs may authorise a class of persons to perform functions under the act.

The power however does not apply to a person joining that class of persons after the authorisation is made.

This amendment will allow an authorisation made by the chief executive officer to apply to persons who become a member of the class after the authorisation is made, thus simplifying the administration involved.

The amendments relating to undeclared dutiable goods will remove an anomaly between the treatment of these goods when found in the possession or baggage of a person arriving in Australia and similar goods found in baggage that is sent to Australia as `unaccompanied baggage'.

Dutiable goods that have not been declared by a person on arrival in Australia are forfeited goods.

The amendments will allow Customs to treat undeclared dutiable goods in the same manner, whether the goods accompany the person to Australia or arrive separately.

It is also proposed to enable these forfeited goods to be impounded rather than seized where the circumstances warrant.

The amendments relating to the Fisheries Management Act 1991 will allow Customs access to the vessel monitoring system data collected by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

This amendment implements one of the recommendations made by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit in its Review of Coastwatch, report No. 384.

This amendment is necessary to provide the Australian Fisheries Management Authority with authority to pass this information to Customs.

Access to this information will enable the better management of the nation's maritime surveillance activities, as Coastwatch will have the ability to identify known vessels from potential illegal vessels and thereby concentrate surveillance activities on unidentified targets.

The next set of amendments proposes to rationalise the different circumstances where the chief executive officer of Customs considers it appropriate for a Customs officer to be issued with firearms and approved items of personal defence equipment.

Under Customs regulations, the chief executive officer authorises the carriage of firearms by Customs officers undertaking land patrols in remote parts of Australia.

Under the Customs Act 1901, the chief executive officer authorises crews of Australian customs vessels to carry firearms and approved items of personal defence equipment at sea.

The proposal will provide a single comprehensive power to enable the chief executive officer to authorise the issue and carriage of firearms and approved items of personal defence equipment by Customs officers.

The amendments will provide a framework that will clarify the obligations and responsibilities of the chief executive officer, the issuing officer and the officer authorised to carry firearms and personal defence equipment.

The amendments relating to power of arrest will restore the power of Customs officers and police officers to arrest persons who assault, resist, molest, obstruct or intimidate a Customs officer in the course of performing his or her duties.

This power was unintentionally removed by the Criminal Code Amendment (Theft, Fraud, Bribery and Related Offences) Act 2000.

The final set of amendments amends the definition of `Commonwealth agency' in the Customs Administration Act 1985 to provide that the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence is a Commonwealth agency for the purposes of section 16 of that act.

The Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence is an unincorporated organisation established by intergovernmental agreement between the Commonwealth, the states and the Northern Territory.

Amending the definition contained in this bill will clarify that the bureau is to be deemed a Commonwealth agency for the purposes of section 16.

This will provide authority for Customs to pass information to the ABCI for the purpose of intelligence and law enforcement.

Collectively, these amendments will allow Customs to make a more significant contribution to protecting Australia's borders.

I commend the bill to the House. I present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Melham) adjourned.