Proposed Border Force (Customs) why this 2014-15 budget plan
for breaking up Customs is not in the national interest of Australia or its
of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia
We have outlined below our grave concerns as former long serving Customs officers about the proposed Abbott Government 2014-15 budget decisions to abolish the Australian Customs & Border Service leaving Australia without a stand-alone Customs border agency for the first time in 113 years.
Our grave concerns of the damage this will do to Australian industry & business - small & medium, agriculture and in most areas of our community including creating a major gap in federal law enforcement and national security at Australia's border which will result from this appalling bad public policy decision made for short term cost cutting gains.
Lastly the Abbott Government had no mandate put to the people in 2013 during the last election to abolish Customs in this form or any form.
This bad policy decision should be referred to a Senate or joint Parliamentary Committee hearing for examination and public submissions and any decision in the budget allowing or affecting the abolishment of Customs should be deferred until a full public hearing and debate.
The first job of our Government or any Australian one is to protect its citizen's (not the interests of other countries, friend or foe) and the second job of our Government is to do no harm to its citizen's - Australianís. This Customs break up proposal fails both those public tests - to protect and do no harm.
Please take your time to read our outlined major concerns below including the attached website links so as to see the whole decision in the context of how bad this public policy decision by the Government is when compared with the facts and other international Customs agencies
1. Australia has had Customs in place since 1901 as an Dept. of State called Customs in one form or other in accordance with our constitutional arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States, where that agency was has been responsible for the public policy advice to Government & Parliament and for the enforcement of legislation relating to Customs duties & Trade related matters is mentioned 10 times in Chapter IV - Finance and Trade via Section's 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94 and 95 of our Constitution. We believe just on those points only, any changes to Customs as proposed need a prior full public and parliamentary debate and scrutiny.
2. The proposed Budget 2014/15 changes to fold the Australian Customs & Border Service (Customs) into Immigration Department (now called Immigration & Border Protection) - IBP is just plain wrong, against the national interest and also just plan bureaucratic stupidity when compared to changes made in the last few years to like agencies in Canada & the USA. There are a number of major flaws & major issues we have outlined below why this proposal is wrong at every public policy level and where the Prime Minister, The Cabinet, Minister Morrison & bureaucracy is getting appalling bad information, advice concerning this proposed breakup of Customs .
But the Government and the Minister Morrison in particular is either not listening or I am sorry to say - the Minister and his senior public servants in Immigration & Border Protection and Australian Customs & Border Protection Service and in turn is misleading us the Australian public.
3. In his speech, Minister Scott Morrison, to Lowy Institute on 9 May 2014 (which can be seen if you go the Customs website in the right side your can bring the minister speech up or below on the link). with the proposed Border Force information when seen together with what is happen in Canada, the USA and even the UK (as per the other web links below), is just misleading the Australian public completely. http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media/sm/2014/sm214247.htm
If this proposed bill or those changes contained within the 2014/15 Commonwealth budget to abolish Customs passes the Senate without being changed or rejected in its present form, Australia will have no Customs Department or stand-alone Customs agency in cabinet, the inner or outer, for the first time since 1901.
4. This is not in the national interest of Australia for a number of major reasons including the fact we are a maritime sea trading island nation, standing apart from any European (EU) style or US/Canada trading blocks. We need all Customs and Border services & operations in one platform based on Customs not based on an proposed Immigration blocking block with Border Force (Customs officers who are law enforcement officers, fully national security cleared and covered under the anti-corruption agency ACLEI unlike the present staff in Immigration who are not cleared to the same national security across all areas or levels or covered by ACLEI powers.) reporting to senior public servants in Immigration not directly to the Minister or the Parliament as occurs now with the head of Customs and who can only be removed from office on a vote of Parliament and the Governor-General on advice of the Executive Council.
5. This current budget cuts another 180 Customs staff making the total cut since 2007 to approx. 980 Customs staff cuts and approx. over $750 million dollars of cuts when you check budget cuts over that time frame. The proposed $700 million dollars to be spent over the next six years as announced in the budget is not really the full facts as the real cost of this change in abolishing Customs in its present form has not been detailed for full public examination i.e. costs of changes to legislation, rebadged the agency, loss of current staff skill base and corporate knowledge etc. to list just a few.
No Customs or border control agency can perform under those continuing funding cuts without long term administrative damage to corporate wellbeing, morale and loss of good experience Customs staff at all levels without major impacting loss to the wider Australian community, importing & exporting community, damage to Customs revenues collection & evasion programs with the short and long term negative impacts to future Government revenue streams, damage to and loss of border related intelligence efforts in relation to organised criminal crime & counter-terrorism.
6. This abolishment of Customs as proposed will adversely impact on all future Customs investigations & prosecutions in all aspects ranging from anti-dumping offences & operations, Customs fraud offences, bio-security & quarantine, imported food, wildlife trafficking including the environment protection and biodiversity conservation Act at the border, counter piracy, intellectual property & trade commerce breaches and all matters affecting free trade agreements . The abolishment of Customs in its present form will damage full investigation of organised crime and counter terrorism activity within Customs and Border Control related areas along with negative impact on some 34 Customs related laws, regulations or legislation presently the responsibility of Customs on behalf of other Commonwealth agencies and States agencies and the States of the Commonwealth Australia.
The real losers in this are not the current Customs staff but the national interest of Australia and its people.
7. The Abbott Government and the Parliament should before any changes to Customs are commenced, have an urgent full public review of all Commonwealth federal law enforcement operations and administrative arrangements with view to rebuild & resourced them properly over the next five years or so as future budget funding allow.
Some ideas for that review of Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, their operations, their relationships with State Police, other related Agencies and the Australian Intelligence Agencies and other international partners that can be taken immediately, if the Govt wants to act in the national interest not just a short term budget view are as follows-
1. The Customs & Border Protection Service as at this date June 2014 with its present structure needs to be removed from the Public Service Act 1999 and made a fully stand-alone agency like the Australian Federal Police which can be done by simple amendments under the Customs Administration Act 1985. Then Customs can rebuild with some parts of the current reform process i.e. Border Force as was being proposed prior to the budget decision, for sworn Customs law enforcement officers in all law enforcement functions or operational areas of Customs and no-sworn members in other areas i.e. Human Services, Health Support Unit, being reassigned within Customs, trained externally & internally over the next few years as part of the rebuild.
The Government should have all Commonwealth law enforcement at the Australian border carried out by Customs i.e. visa compliance on arrival, granting of entry into Australia etc., all Customs & Border control related laws or enforcement functions, i.e. bio-security, quarantine, Customs & Border related crime including anti -dumping investigations, border related excise fraud, Border/Customs GST fraud, imported drug investigations, illegal firearms & weapons trafficking, wildlife smuggling, environment protection and biodiversity conservation offences, counter-people smuggling, intellectual property border related offences, imported food offences, trade commerce investigations etc. to be folded into the Customs & Border Protection agency from other agencies not as proposed by Minister Morrison into Immigration. These changes can be made by administrative directions, legislation or regulations.
2. The Commonwealth & the State Governments at the next meeting of COAG should also consider asap authorising by regulations or legislation having sworn Customs officers having the powers to enforce all State offences detected at the Australian border including State prohibited items offences - weapons, power arresting or detaining persons suspected of committing State offences & persons subject to outstanding State warrants detected during Customs operations or investigations at the border as occurs in the USA at this time with US Customs & Border Protection and in Canada with the Customs Border Services Agency.
At the present time Customs officers in general have no lawful authority in relation to most if not all State offences uncovered by Customs at the border, during operations or Customs investigations. This change alone would increase law enforcement detections across Australia, save hundreds of millions in public funding costs, reduce duplication & reduce courts costs and at the same time most importantly creating a hostile environment at the border for criminal gangs activity and criminals & terrorists attempting to use exit points from or into Australia.
3. The AFP college in Canberra should be reconstituted into a new Australian federal law enforcement training centre - with Customs streams & AFP streams funded by agencies, training programs for State agencies, international programs for international partners i.e. Pacific Forum Countries etc. funded as part of our foreign aid programs. Another funding source is the criminal assets seizure programs as detailed at points 3, 4 & 5 below.
The current idea for a border college for Customs as announced in the budget canít be afforded in the current budget climate but a combined federal training centre can be and would save tax payers in the short and long term millions of public funding costs which can be redirected and used more effectively for Commonwealth law enforcement. The USA did the same over ten plus years ago. See USA Federal Law Enforcement Training Centres (FELTC) systems - http://www.fletc.gov/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Law_Enforcement_Training_Centers
4. The current Commonwealth Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce should be expanded to include Customs as a task force member. The Proceeds Of Crime Act 2002 (POC Act) under current control of the AFP since 2012 should be changed back to under the control of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) http://www.cdpp.gov.au/about-us/ and http://www.cdpp.gov.au/about-us/criminal-confiscation/ then the new legislation enacted and administrative changes made to allow for Customs in its investigations to use criminal assets laws as part of its normal national operations & investigations as occurs in Canada & USA and Europe with Customs agencies there have those powers.
5. A Federal Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) enacted by the Commonwealth Parliament asap with the AFP as the lead agency responsible, but the ACC and Customs empowered to use a RICO Act in their respective investigations. The RICO Act should be linked to the Federal POC Act 2012 & State criminal assets seizure laws for both Federal & State agencies with legislation enacted to allow this. The RICO Act should also authorise State Police & the NSW Crime Commission or other like agencies to use a Federal RICO Act where they uncover such RICO offences during State related criminal investigations as happens now under the Customs Act 1901 with State Police for Customs offences. Administrative directions, arrangements and MOU's between agencies can enacted to allow this process and compliance with respective laws of the Commonwealth and the States .- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racketeer_Influenced_and_Corrupt_Organizations_Act
6. If an expanded Criminal Assets seizure within the POC Act recovery program with Customs & other agencies involved with the ACC co-ordination under the CDPP prosecution leadership where turbo-charged as in the USA, a major part of the estimated $15 billion of organised crime & fraud money reported in Australia could be captured with some of that seized money used for offsetting ongoing funding of Australian law enforcement agencies i.e. Customs, ACC, AFP, ASIC, ACCC, ATO, NSW CC, State Police and Territory Police, saving billions in taxpayers funding over many years.
If a rebuild / resourced integrated Customs & Border Control agency with its operations could not take in an additional $1-2 billion dollars in criminal assets recovery over say every three to five yearsí time frame then the SES leadership should be sacked & replaced because with real law enforcement leadership and proper trained staff with tough legislative powers i.e., RICO style laws this amount of criminal assets seizure could be achieved.
7. The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) https://www.crimecommission.gov.au/ should have the Interpol function embed within it, removing it from the AFP.
The ACC is now since 2003 made up of all State Police, the AFP, Customs & Border Protection , ASIO, and ATO, ASIC, Immigration and with partnerships with NSW Crime Commission, QLD Crime & Misconduct Commission, WA Anti-Corruption body and the Victoria new ICAC body. The ACC is where the national Interpol function and related Interpol contact point for all Australian law enforcement agencies should be, not questions or debate, just common sense !!!
8. The Australian Capital Territory & Canberra should have to pay for its own police force as the Northern Territory has to now with the current Policing function removed from the AFP and returned back to where it was in 1978. The Commonwealth Govt & the Commonwealth Parliament can grant moneys as needed to support that Police force & community policing in Canberra as the national capital it does for the NT under current ongoing police & other law enforcement national funding programs across Australia and out of an enhanced Criminal Assets Seizure recovery program.
9. The AFP should be reformed after a review and refocused to a primarily investigative body for most Commonwealth laws not trying to take over Customs functions & State Police functions which is currently occurring. The AFP should be targeting those other criminal offences / areas outside Customs related laws or operations or State Police laws / operations areas, i.e. an new RICO Act against corruption in business, unions and other public officials not covered by agencies like the NSW ICAC, joint counter-terrorism task forces etc. The only time the AFP should be investigating offences Customs or State Police offences is if the AFP, is in a joint task forces under the ACC referenced operations, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) anti-corruption operations, Australian Securities Investment Commission (ASIC) operations or Australian Taxation Office (ATO) criminal investigations, to do otherwise is duplication and a total waste of the limited public funding and resources available to law enforcement agencies.
If the current Abbott Govt needs revenue & savings to help balance our budget and reduced spending, we have just save the taxpayers about $2-3 billion dollars over the next two years with ongoing savings with the points above if they were enacted and we have more ideas to help if the Senators are interested in hearing from us.
But the major fact remains is the proposed change to Customs to Border Force is just about saving this year budget money and not in the long term in the Australia's interest but in the long term interests for international transnational corporations who pay little or no tax in Australia and other wealthy vested interests internationally and organised crime activity in Australia and outside our country.
Please have look at the web sites links below in particular Wikipedia as it points the way changes should happen not this misleading plan being put up by the Minister Morrison & those senior public servants who is either ill-informed or just cutting costs and thus is misleading the public. I hope it is not the latter.
If the members of our Commonwealth Parliament are really serious about saving public money, good transparent proper public administration in law enforcement and border control, protecting Australia, its people and its economic and national security interests then the questions & resolutions we have posed above should be aired during Parliamentary question time and during the public hearings of such Parliamentary committees such as - Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, the joint committee on Law Enforcement to name some and debated in the public arena, the more public debate, the better.
If Senators wish to contact for further information or questions we can be contacted via email or by mobile as below:
(former Customs officer over 32 years)
(former Customs officer of 23 years & former national federal secretary of the Customs Officers Association Inc.)
Note - web links below to read as part of this email: