Consideration in Detail

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (11:52): This question will also be to the Minister for Home Affairs. It is in relation to cargo screening. In relation to the budget cuts, from previous budgets, of $58.1 million and the fact that air cargo is going to increase by almost 45 per cent over the forward estimates in this budget, I am wondering if the minister can inform the House what percentage of air and sea cargo is screened and what percentage is physically examined. Has the reduction in air cargo screening resulted in more illegal contraband being smuggled undetected through customs? Referring to the Attorney’s media statement this morning on tobacco smuggling, will the minister be able to outline whether this measure will come with additional funding for Customs to screen cargo so they can stop illegal tobacco being smuggled through our borders?

Given that on 14 March a report from the New South Wales Police on the investigation into weapons smuggling undertaken by a criminal syndicate through the Sylvania Waters Post Office highlighted that 220 Glock pistols had been illegally imported into our country by the air mail undetected by Customs, can the minister explain how and why weapons components were able to be imported into Australia in this case and evade the detection of Customs? Can the minister also confirm whether the $4½ million in funding that the government has committed to Task Force Polaris is additional funding, or are the agencies involved expected to find this money in their existing budgets? If that is additional funding, could he point out where in the budget that funding is to be found?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice and Minister for Defence Materiel) (11:54): I thank the member for his question. I might do it in reverse order. The $4½ million for Polaris is money that has been already allocated to Polaris through the proceeds of crime fund. It is money that was allocated before I became the Minister for Home Affairs. In relation to the weapons that were seized in March, this question gives me the opportunity to provide the member with some additional information which I am sure he is not currently aware of. He would not be aware that in July and in August of last year, Customs seized a number of Glock parts and magazines. The person that was importing those weapon parts had an authorisation for an import permit given to them by the New South Wales police. Customs advised the New South Wales police and they subsequently cancelled the authorisation. Customs and the police then executed search warrants and arrested the man and the matter is now before the courts. I cannot provide to the House additional information on this at this time because it is before the courts, but I ask the shadow minister to reflect very seriously and very carefully on the information that I have just provided.

In relation to the seizure of firearms on 12 April by the New South Wales police, I have got some more information which may be of interest to the House. When they seized the weapons they found information at the scenes in Port Macquarie and in Sydney that indicated that firearms had been illegally imported. The police then provided this information to Customs. Customs have examined the documents and they have advised me that the weapons linked to these documents were indeed illegally imported. These were AR15 semi-automatic military style rifles. The advice of Customs is that indeed the weapons that were linked to these documents were illegally imported. They were illegally imported under the Howard government. So it is to put that information into perspective when understanding this issue. This was at a time when 100 per cent of international mail was X-rayed. It shows the limitations of X-raying. In both these cases of the Glocks and military rifles, X-raying was done. That is why I have said that finding metal gun parts in a box of metal machinery is very difficult. You need to know what you are looking for. That is why I asked for advice from law enforcement agencies. Their advice was that intelligence is the key to seizing drugs or to seizing guns. That is proven by the facts.

The shadow minister asked me about air cargo. I have got for him the following information that he might find instructive. In 2007, the last year of the Howard government, Customs inspected six million air parcels and detected 870 parcels that contained drugs or other prohibited items. In 2011, Customs inspected 1½ million parcels and, by using profiling and intelligence to target the right parcels, they seized 1,741 parcels containing drugs or other prohibited items. In other words, Customs are now seizing double what they were in air cargo under the Howard government. They are seizing double the amount of illegal goods that they were when the member was in government, and that is because of the use of intelligence and targeting. The more intelligence that law enforcement agencies have the more drugs and the more guns they seize, whether it is on the street or at the border. That is why I then asked officials that report to me whether in the budget we should be increasing investment in screening, as the shadow minister proposes, or investing in intelligence. They all said we should be investing in intelligence. That is why I have established an intelligence and targeting team inside Customs, because that is the way to seize guns. It is the same model that we have applied to drugs and it comes with a Customs officer who is now embedded inside the New South Wales Police Force, and the advice to me is that is a model that we should be implementing, not just there but across the country. It is about information sharing and agencies working more closely together. It is also why in the budget you see money allocated to a forensics facility for the Australian Federal Police. That will get involved in things like firearm tracing and so forth. The approach that I have taken here is to listen to the facts and listen to the experts, and I encourage the shadow minister to do the same.