Parliamentary speeches

Customs Amendment (Immediate Destruction of Illicit Tobacco) Bill 2019 - Second Reading speech

September 09, 2019

I rise to make a brief contribution to debate on the Customs Amendment (Immediate Destruction of Illicit Tobacco) Bill 2019, in support of the legislation but more particularly in support of the amendment moved by my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The effect of the bill which is before the House would be to amend the Customs Act to enable the immediate destruction of illicit tobacco upon its seizure. I note that the provision is part of wider reforms, which were announced in the 2018-19 budget, to deal with the black economy and to combat illegal tobacco importing through introducing a prohibited report control for tobacco.

So it was intended, and indeed it is the case, that from 1 July this year tobacco products can only be imported with a valid import permit, subject to certain limited exceptions. However, the act presently provides that seized imported goods be stored for 30 days, during which period a claim may be made by the owner or purported owners for the return of these goods. This bill empowers the relevant Border Force officer, the Comptroller-General of Customs—a matter of great interest to the member for Greenway—to deal with such goods as he or she deems appropriate, including by destroying them, a measure and a power which are already in place for certain other prohibited substances.

I note that in the examination of the bill by the Senate Standing Committees on Legal and Constitutional Affairs some process concerns were put forward, in particular by the Queensland Law Society. I note also the committee's confidence that these matters can be addressed through the substantive provisions that are contained in the bill. However, more concerning to me is that these measures were introduced way back, well over a year ago, followed by an original bill that was introduced into this House on 14 February, which lapsed without being brought on for debate by the government. This failure—or delay—is really something that requires attention, and this is part of the issue which is really being put before the House by the second reading amendment moved by the member for Corio. It is more than something that is just disappointing. In this House, regularly, we see the government talk about setting tests for Labor. It is really all the Prime Minister wants to talk about. But here, this bit of legislation demonstrates that the government and this minister have failed a test of their own, and this failure is to all of our cost.

The original bill, of course, was intended to have been operational on 1 July this year. Indeed, the operative date is the only difference between the bill we are debating now and that which was introduced in February of this year. The original bill was intended to have been operational to match the other elements in the black economy package; this is now more than two months ago. In federal Labor we talk about hastening slowly, but this member for La Trobe, the assistant minister, is taking it a bit too far. We have before us the ludicrous proposition where a bill about streamlining a process has not exactly progressed at a pace consistent with its objects—the objects we in this place are fully supportive of. This has also had the effect of exacerbating, potentially, rather than relieving the operational burden on the ABF, which this act is intended in part to address, for no good reason at all, or really for one reason—the lack of attention to the Minister for Home Affairs to managing the demands of his portfolio, a portfolio that is so important to every Australian, to our security, to our wellbeing and to our confidence in the administration of government. Perhaps it shows that there is a big reason members of this government like talking about the Labor Party. It is because they have very little to talk about when it comes to their record in government, and the record of administration—or rather maladministration—in the Department of Home Affairs under this minister is quite shocking. It is overseeing a $300 million ABF budget blowout resulting in the ABF fleet being ordered to stop patrols to save money on fuel and putting the border at risk. My favourite is the $7 million wasted on what was referred to as a strategic review of the Department of Home Affairs that turned out to be one page only. And a series of ANAO reports highlight significant mismanagement and waste across the department.

So, in supporting the substance of this bill, I put again before the House the issues the deputy leader has put before it: why has it taken so long for this regime to be brought into effect? It is way past time for the government to get on with its job, its responsibility of governing. I call on members opposite to recognise this in supporting the second reading amendment by the member for Corio.