Ministerial Statement

Ministerial Statement

House of Representatives

12th February 2013

In December last year four people were arrested on offences relating to the importation of narcotics into Australia, including one Customs and Border Protection Officer.

I said then to expect more stings, expect more arrests.

Today five people have been arrested, including two employees of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, and their employment has been suspended.

It will be alleged that those arrested today are part of the same drug importation ring.

Seventeen people have now been arrested as part of a two-year investigation, codenamed Operation Marca, involving the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

I would like to use this opportunity in the House to congratulate the officers of this taskforce.

You find corruption when you hunt for it and they are hunting. They are doing a very good job, but their job is not done yet.

The Acting Chief Executive Officer of Customs has also made the decision today to suspend two officers for potential breaches under the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct.

I have said expect more arrests. I have also said expect more reform.

The reforms that were put through the parliament last year come into force this week.

That includes drug and alcohol testing, mandatory requirements to report serious misconduct and the power to terminate officers for serious misconduct.

I am advised the first drug and alcohol testing will start next month.

The task of root and branch reform of Customs has now also begun.

Major structural and cultural reform of Customs and Border Protection is required. This includes its law enforcement capability, its integrity culture and business systems.

Late last year, I announced the establishment of the Customs Reform Board. It take this opportunity to thank the Opposition for their support of the establishment of the Board.

The board is made up of three distinguished Australians: the Honourable James Wood AO QC, former Royal Commissioner of the NSW Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service; Mr Ken Moroney AO APM, former Commissioner of the New South Wales Police Force; and Mr David Mortimer AO, former Chief Executive Officer of TNT, former Deputy Chairman of Ansett, former Chairman of Australia Post and Leightons Holdings.

The board met for the first time this month and it will meet every month and report directly to me.

It’s top priority is to provide me with advice and recommendations on further reform to aggressively target corruption, weed it out and prevent it from coming back.

It will provide me with an interim report mid-year.

Justice Wood and the other members of the board have already provided me with a number of valuable ideas, which are being worked on right now.

Mr Deputy Speaker, let me make this point: the overwhelming majority of Customs and Border Protection officers are good, honest, and hardworking people. They want corruption weeded out, and let me assure them that that is happening.

After the announcement of the arrests in December, my office received a call from a serving Customs officer. He said that he had been a Customs officer for 30 years and that he got his cup of coffee from the same café every working day. He said that he always walked into the shop wearing his Customs uniform; he was proud to wear it. That day, for the first time, he wore a T-shirt over his uniform.

Custom officers want us to weed this out.

Over the Christmas break, I was at Sydney airport and spoke to a number of Customs officers, and their message was the same: good on you; go get them.

That is exactly what we are doing.

– ENDS –