House of Representatives

Customs Amendment (Strengthening Border Controls) Bill 2008

Second Reading Speech

Mr Debus (Minister for Home Affairs)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce the Customs Amendment (Strengthening Border Controls) Bill 2008 . It contains amendments to the Customs Act 1901 that will strengthen border enforcement powers for Customs officers and implement three new regimes to allow Customs greater flexibility in dealing with the importation of prohibited imports.

Presently, Customs officers may board a ship or aircraft under the Customs Act for various border enforcement purposes. These purposes generally involve the apprehension of suspected offenders against the Customs Act, the Criminal Code or any other prescribed act, like the Fisheries Management Act 1991 or the Migration Act 1958.

Personal search powers cannot be invoked until such time as officers on board a vessel can form a reasonable suspicion that it has been engaged in the commission of an offence.

However, there have been an increased number of occasions in more recent times where officers have faced resistance when boarding foreign ships suspected of being involved in illegal activities, and where evidence of illegal activities have been disposed of before they could be secured by the officers.

The proposed amendments in the bill will enable the officers to, immediately upon boarding a suspicious ship or aircraft, search persons on board for:

items that may have helped a person escape; and
evidence of the commission of an offence.

The search powers are appropriate because they will significantly reduce the threat of harm to these officers while exercising their powers, help prevent the escape of persons detained on suspicion of committing an offence and help prevent evidentiary material from being disposed of.

Upon finding any of these items, an officer will be able to take possession and retain the item for 60 days until:

the reason for retaining the item no longer exists;
until the item is not used in evidence;
or any extension is granted from the court.

The bill also clarifies the use of the frisk powers for search by creating a single definition that applies to the whole Customs Act.

The bill also implements three new regimes to allow Customs greater flexibility in dealing with the importation of prohibited imports that are low value and low risk and provides Customs officers with additional powers to deal efficiently with prescribed prohibited imports of this sort.

Presently, Customs only has the power to seize imports, and that is a time consuming and resource intensive process.

This bill will enable Customs to establish a tiered response to sanctions for dealing with prohibited imports.

First of all, the bill allows a person to voluntarily surrender certain prohibited imports that have not been concealed.

Secondly, infringement notices might be issued for certain offences including importing certain prohibited imports and border security related offences; and, thirdly, it allows the granting of post-importation permissions for certain prohibited imports, rather than the automatic seizure of the goods.

This bill allows Customs officers to perform their role more effectively and more efficiently and I am happy to commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Randall ) adjourned.