House of Representatives

Customs Amendment (Enhanced Border Controls and Other Measures) 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 (Enhanced Border Controls and Other Measures) Bill 2008.

Customs plays a vital role in preventing the illegal movement of people and harmful goods across Australia's border. The border extends to Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone where Customs has a key role in addressing threats to the maritime environment through its contribution to the Border Protection Command.

In performing its role, Customs works closely with a number of agencies and with industry, and is our trusted agent for border protection.

The measures contained in this bill, which have been developed in consultation with other Commonwealth agencies and industry, are designed to ensure that Customs can continue to effectively perform its law enforcement and regulatory roles and functions.

The bill will amend the Customs Act 1901 to:

clarify the current powers to patrol areas and moor Customs vessels;
provide that the present power to board ships without nationality can be exercised in any area outside of the territorial sea of another country;
clarify that the present power to board vessels in the safety zones surrounding Australia's offshore facilities relates to offences committed within those zones;
clarify that the present power to use reasonable force as a means to enable the boarding of a pursued ship encompasses the use of devices designed to stop or impede a ship;
require infringement notices issued by Customs to state the legal effect of the notice;
modernise the language relating to the requirement for a ship or aircraft to only be brought to a proclaimed port or airport.

To strengthen Customs ability to effectively operate in the offshore maritime and sea port environments, the bill will:

align the requirements of Customs boarding powers with other Commonwealth legislation and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea;
place a requirement on the master of a vessel that is to be boarded at sea to facilitate the boarding;
introduce a new requirement for port and port facility operators to facilitate the boarding of a vessel that is located in a port;
modernise Customs arrest and warrant powers to ensure consistency with the Crimes Act 1914;
create a new offence for intentionally obstructing or interfering with the operation of Commonwealth equipment located at Customs places; and
remove the requirement for copies of warrants to be marked with the seal of the relevant court.

In recognition of some practical constraints in providing reports to Customs, the bill will also provide more flexibility for reporting arrivals of vessels, pleasure craft and cargo.

In line with community expectations, the bill will:

strengthen Customs' ability to request an aircraft to land to include circumstances where it is suspected that the aircraft is carrying goods that are related to a terrorist act or are likely to prejudice Australia's defence or security;
protect the Australian community from goods which, if imported, would be prohibited goods, and that will be achieved in two ways. First, Customs officers will be able to seize, without warrant, goods that are located onboard a ship or aircraft and are not listed in part of the cargo report, or not claimed as baggage belonging to the crew or passengers or otherwise accounted for. This may include items such as certain types of pornography or weapons located by Customs officers during a ship search but not claimed by the crew. Second, all items onboard a ship or aircraft that has arrived in Australia that are either stores or personal effects of the crew, and would be considered a prohibited import if imported into Australia, will now be required to either be locked onboard the ship or aircraft or taken into custody by Customs until the ship or aircraft departs Australia.
Create a new offence of failing to keep goods which are subject to the control of Customs safely or failing to account for such goods if required to do so.

In conclusion, this bill allows Customs to perform its roles more efficiently and effectively to protect the community at the same time as it continues to give every support to legitimate trade and travel.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mrs May) adjourned.