Customs Amendment Bill 2014 - Second Reading

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:43): Like Senator Carr, I support this Customs Amendment Bill. I thank Senator Carr for his insightful and very academic explanation of aspects of the bill, which he is obviously very well aware of. His office, which assists him with these things, is clearly well in tune with the purpose of these amendments. The minister's second reading speech also explains the need for these amendments.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee examined this bill, which was referred to the committee by the Senate for investigation. The committee received just one submission from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service which, naturally enough, did not raise any issues with the bill. But it explained some of the aspects of the bill to the committee, and the committee is grateful for the submission as it did clarify a number of matters. Overall, the committee considered the amendments made by the bill are positive and allow for streamlining and clarification of procedures under the act

At this stage, I might pause to again thank the secretariat staff and members of the committee, assisted considerably by the deputy chair, Senator Jacinta Collins, on the work done on this particular bill. I appreciate the expertise and professionalism of the secretariat staff in the way they consider these things.

During the course of the inquiry the committee did become aware of one ambiguity in this bill that it considered worthy of clarification. The ambiguity related to proposed section 186AA, which would allow goods carried on domestic lakes of international flights or voyages to be examined by a Customs officer. As the committee noted in its report, the proposed subsection is a power to examine goods that have not yet been loaded onto a ship or aircraft, while proposed subsection (3) gives a similar power in respect of goods that have already been unloaded. Both of those provisions provide that goods are subject to the control of Customs while the goods are being examined.

The committee did raise some issues—as a helpful approach to the government—to just say, 'Have you got this right or does this need a little further consideration?' The government has responded, and no doubt the minister will refer to that in her closing speech.

This is a Customs bill, and I take the opportunity to congratulate the Customs service on the great work they do for Australia. It is a very big service. As anyone who travels overseas will know, they are very professional. We see them at airports and sea ports but they do a lot of other things besides that. I am very much encouraged by the officer in charge of the Customs service in the way he has approached his new duties.

He is relatively new. He entered the senior position at a time when there were difficulties with some internal investigations and charges raised against a number of Customs officers for what has turned out to be for illegal conduct, and appropriate enforcement action has been taken. I do want to congratulate the CEO and all of the staff for the way they have approached their activities and for the professionalism and honesty that 99.9 per cent of the very significant staff in the Customs and Border Protection Service have.

In mentioning the Customs and Border Protection Service I should also, again, give thanks to Lieutenant General Campbell in the work that he has done in Operation Sovereign Borders. They are—sometimes we forget—done by members of the Customs and Border Protection Service in association with other agencies of the Commonwealth government. I do not think we can too often thank those people for their sterling service.

Senator Carr rightly mentioned how this bill will interact with the increasing cruise-ship industry in Australia. Some of the reasons for these fairly technical amendments to this bill do relate to the increased presence of international ships and aircraft visiting Australian ports. I am delighted to say as a North Queenslander that there are increasing cruise-ship activities along the Queensland coast. More often than not cruise-ship activities used to be out of Sydney or Brisbane, heading to the Pacific. That was 10 or 20 years ago. That is where the cruise ship industry in Australia started. But I am delighted to see—and I keep an eye on these things—that more and more ships are now plying the Australian coast, and that has meant a big boost to the local economies: the Whitsundays, at Airlie Beach, where a lot of cruise ships stop; also in Townsville and Cairns; sometimes in Port Douglas; even dropping by the Torres Strait Islands. A lot of cruises are now venturing in to Papua New Guinea, and I think that can only be good for the Papua New Guinean economy. It will also make it easier for Australians wanting to explore further our associations with Papua New Guinea—some of them going back to the very significant war-time involvements with Papua New Guinea. It does allow people to get up to those parts in the comfort, indeed luxury, of some of those cruise ships.

So it is a great industry. It is working very well. Congratulations to the cruise lines. But of course those activities have to be supported by Customs, by a very intense consideration of our border protection measures, and that does not just mean Customs and imports; it also means biosecurity. And again I thank the biosecurity people for the work they do in keeping our borders secure and ensuring that Australia remains safe from imported diseases.

Tourism is a huge industry and it is likely to increase more. Mr Andrew Robb, the Minister for Investment and Trade, was indicating recently that the number of tourists coming into Australia from China alone will burgeon over the next few years. That will be give enormous benefits to the tourism industry in Australia. We have some work to do. We have to realise that tourism is a service industry. We have to make sure that Australians are trained properly in tourism and hospitality issues. We have to keep an eye on the costs of tourism and hospitality in Australia. We have to work with the many young people who are in that business to get the right sort of workplace relations regime so that we are competitive and so that they have continuing jobs. I know a lot of young people who are keen to get the work and keen to be well paid; but I do not particularly acknowledge so much that Sunday work or night work deserves the very substantial additional payments they get, which do put pressure on our competitiveness in the tourism industry in a very competitive worldwide area.

Customs plays a very significant part in building Australia's tourism. Very often it is the Customs officials who are the first contact many foreign visitors have with Australia. My own experience is that the Customs officials are pleasant and very professional in the work they do and that they are well-trained. Talking about training brings me to a question which has not yet been resolved by our government. I would hope the minister at the table will pass this on to the new minister, Mr Dutton; certainly we have had some discussions with the previous minister Mr Morrison. There are proposals for a significant new training establishment in Australia to train Customs people and try to bring them all together. I have been one of those who—naturally enough, you might say—have advocated for this new training facility to be located somewhere in northern Australia. I do not want to get into a fight with others in this chamber who may say their area is better but certainly one of the real opportunities for growth in our tourist industry is in northern Australia. We have the world famous and world-class Great Barrier Reef. We have rainforests. We have significant Indigenous art and experiences. We have the Torres Strait Islands and the outback. I think it would be appropriate to give serious consideration, as part of our Northern Australia development policy, to consider that training facility somewhere in the north.

Having directed myself to the Barrier Reef, which is one of the places that attracts millions of people to Australia, can I just say in passing how disappointed I am at the lies and misinformation that continue to be propagated by radical green movements, and by the Greens political party in this chamber, about the state of the Barrier Reef. Ask any tourist what the Barrier Reef is like and they will say, 'It is absolutely magnificent'. Ask GetUp!, or the Greens political party at the Queensland election, what it is like and they would have Australians believe that the Barrier Reef was on its last legs. It is simply untrue and simply done for crass political purposes.

I have the utmost condemnation for GetUp! and the Greens political party on running this misinformation, this deliberately lying campaign, about one of Australia's greatest natural assets. I might say that the Greens political party and GetUp! kept talking about dumping spoil on the reef—

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Macdonald, a point of order. Senator Rice.

Senator Rice: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I would like Senator Macdonald to withdraw the accusation of a deliberately lying campaign by the Greens.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Rice. Senator Macdonald, it is a reflection in an unparliamentary manner on a political party and on senators within this chamber. It would assist if you would withdraw that implication in your contribution. Thank you, Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I withdraw, Mr President, and I would ask you to review your ruling. I always understood that you could not defame a political party but you can defame individuals. I did not say that Senator Rice was deliberately lying; I was saying that the Greens political party, their supporters and GetUp! at the Queensland election—and elsewhere, I might say, such as in the UN—continue to propagate misinformation for crass political purposes. I would ask you, Mr President, if you could perhaps sometime review that. I was of the understanding that I could say—and I would not—that the Labor Party tells lies but I could not say that Senator Carr tells lies, but I leave that to you.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, there have been past rulings where it does apply to groups of senators as well as to individual senators. So, in the case of Senator Rice where she raised the point of order, it would be helpful if you withdrew that direct remark and then continued with your contribution.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I have withdrawn it.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I did that before in deference to your ruling, but I was just asking you to reflect on that and let me know, and you have done that. I find that surprising as I was not aware of it, but I live and learn. Let me say that GetUp!, which as everyone knows is just an offshoot or front for the Greens political party, were telling deliberate lies and they always do.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia's greatest natural assets. That is why people come to Australia. That is why we have to look at this Customs Amendment Bill to improve matters to allow foreign visitors, and Australians, to see great natural assets like the Great Barrier Reef. It disturbs me that, for as much as Australia promotes the Barrier Reef, you have the Greens political party and GetUp! misleading the public on this.

As I started to say, the Greens political party, GetUp! and their cohorts talk about the damage to the reef from dumping spoil. They only seem to have had this concern since the government change. When the previous Labor government dumped millions and millions of tonnes of spoil not on the reef but near the reef, you never heard a word from the Greens political party or GetUp! It is simply a political tool and action by people who I call un-Australian.

On that note, I might just congratulate the Speaker of the House, who led an Australian delegation to the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Quito in Ecuador. I congratulate Mrs Bishop on the role she played in promoting Australia and promoting the Great Barrier Reef and exposing the lies of the Greens political party—can I say that?—or exposing the misinformation of the Greens political party and the lies of groups like GetUp!, deliberately seeking to destroy Australian industry.

I just want to move on very quickly, talking about customs issues, to give all praise and credit to Mr Tony Abbott, Mr Ewen Jones, Mr Warren Truss and Ms Julie Bishop for their announcement just last weekend about the opening of the Townsville International Airport to international flight activities. One of the problems with flights out of Townsville was the cost of Customs officers, because there are not Customs officers permanently based at the Townsville Airport, and that has been a restriction or an impediment to international flights, because it meant whoever was doing the international flights had to pay to bring Customs officers from Sydney, Brisbane or Cairns to Townsville to service a three-times-a-week service. I am delighted that—as a result of the fabulous work done by Ewen Jones, the member for Herbert, by George Christensen, the member for Dawson, by Townsville Enterprise Limited and by Townsville Airport Limited—the government has agreed to assist with the cost of Customs officers so that international flights can start from Townsville to Bali, Singapore and beyond. I understand that, as well as AirAsia, Jetstar are also looking at these new services.

It will mean a huge boost for tourism into Australia and a huge boost for tourism from Australia to Bali—and anything we can do to help the Indonesians I am always very keen to support. It will build relationships between Australia, particularly northern Australia, and Indonesia, and it is a great initiative. It got overlooked a little bit last weekend, with other things attracting the news, but Tony Abbott was in Townsville with the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, with Warren Truss as transport minister and, importantly, with Mr Jones to make those announcements to really set Townsville aflame, one might almost say, in the international tourism market and in international air flights from Townsville to Asia. All credit to Ewen Jones. It is something he has worked on assiduously over many months, and I am delighted that he has achieved success. I thank Tony Abbott for his understanding and his ability to make that happen. It will pay for itself in spades over a period of time. It is a good investment, and again it is a good example of this government continuing to work in Australia's interests, continuing to promote Australia as a great tourism destination and continuing to support the hospitality industries in Australia and particularly in the North.

With those few remarks on this relatively uncontentious technical bill, I will conclude, but I again congratulate the minister on fixing these technical breaches. I thank the opposition for its support for these amendments. As chairman of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which investigated the bill, I again thank members of the committee and the secretariat for their support in looking into this bill.

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