20 December 2012
Topics: Australian Federal Police arrests, Customs Reform Board
JASON CLARE: Good morning everyone
This week four people have been arrested in relation to allegations of the importation of narcotics into Australia. One of those people is a Customs officer, two of them are members of the general public and one of them is an AQIS officer.
In August and in October of this year four more people were arrested and one of those people is a Customs officer. This is the result of a two year operation headed up by a special taskforce that is made up of the Australian Federal Police, Customs and Border Protection and ACLEI our corruption watchdog. This is an ongoing operation and more arrests are possible.
We have been delayed this week in providing this information by a suppression order that has been placed upon us by a Victorian Court. That court case has now concluded, the suppression order has been lifted and we are now able to provide you with this information.
Let me give you some more background on this case.
In January of 2011 the Government expanded the jurisdiction of our corruption watchdog to include Customs. At about that time Customs identified what it believed was potential evidence of corruption at Sydney Airport and immediately reported that to ACLEI our corruption watchdog.
ACLEI has the powers of a standing Royal Commission. It has the power to coerce people to give evidence, to hold public hearings, to execute search warrants, to tap phones and to conduct digital and physical surveillance and it has used these powers in this case.
I was first briefed on this case in December last year in my first week in the job as Minister for Home Affairs and I haven’t been able to speak publically about this case until now. I can tell you now that this has driven all of the work that I have done this year.
Over the course of this year I have rolled out stage one of our reforms to Customs.
That includes the introduction of integrity testing, they are covert operations designed to test if someone is corrupt. I have also implemented drug and alcohol testing, the ability to dismiss someone for serious misconduct and mandatory reporting of serious misconduct. The sort of reforms that were recommended by the NSW Royal Commission into the Police Service and that we are implementing now for Customs.
I have done all of this because of this investigation. The overwhelming majority of our law enforcement officers are good, honest and hardworking people.
But we can’t be naive.
There will always people who are tempted. There will always be the risk that organised criminals will target law enforcement officers. There is always the risk that out law enforcement officers can end up working for the crooks and where that happens you have to hunt them down and weed them out.
And that is what we are doing. That is what this operation is all about. This is what these reforms are all about. But this is just the start; there is a lot more work to do.
In September I advised the Parliament that I was starting stage two of the reforms to Customs. I can provide you with more information on that today.
This will involve root and branch reform to Customs, changing the structure, the integrity culture as well as the systems of operation. We need to improve Customs law enforcement capability, its business operations and its integrity culture. I will release the full details of these reforms next year but today I can give you more information.
Today I can announce that I am establishing a Customs Reform Board. This Board will report directly to me. The job of the Board will be to provide me with advice and recommendations of further reform that is required and help drive the implementation of the reforms that I have already announced.
The Board will be made up of three distinguished Australians. Australians with expertise in fighting corruption, expertise in law enforcement and expertise in improving business operations. The first of those people will be Justice James Wood, the former Royal Commissioner in charge of the Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service.
The second of those will be Mr Ken Moroney, the former Commissioner of the NSW Police Force.
The third will be Mr David Mortimer, the former CEO of TNT, Deputy Chairman of Ansett, and the former Chairman of Laytons and Australia Post.
These are men with the skills and expertise to help me get the work done.
In the case of Justice Wood you have Australia’s best corruption hunter. The man who was the architect of corruption reforms here in NSW. The best of the best and that is why I have appointed him to this job.
Before I hand over to the Commissioner and Mr Pezzullo let me just make this point.
There will be thousands Customs Officers who are waking up, putting on their uniforms and they will be disgusted with what they see in the newspaper.
My message to them is this: you can expect more stings, more arrests and more reform. And if you are a corrupt officer you can expect to get caught. I am serious about this. There is no room for corruption whether it is in Customs or in the Federal Police or anywhere else. If you are corrupt we will hunt you down and lock you up. That is what this operation is all about and that is what the reforms that I have implemented today to date are about and the reforms that I will implement next year.
TONY NEGUS: Good morning. Thank you Minister.
This morning I would like to advise you about a number of serious arrests that the Minister has already touched on but I would like to give you a little more detail.
This results from a major two year investigation by the AFP, by ACLEI and by the Australian Customs and Border Protection service. I would like to state from the outset that this investigation is ongoing and that is an important component of this it is an ongoing investigation and remains active so I am somewhat limited in what I can say here this morning.
This week the AFP arrested a 28 year old serving customs officer. He has been charged with corruption offences, alleging the abuse of a public office and with receiving bribes. He is also facing drug possession and commercial drug importation charges as well as charges relating to the possession of criminal weapons.
This week the AFP also arrested a 35 year old AQIS Officer and two Sydney women for alleged corruption and or drug importation charges.
These charges followed three arrests in August and one in October this year where a 25 year old Customs officer and a further two man and one woman all from Sydney were arrested. These four were also charged for various arrests relating to corruption and/or drug importation.
The arrest of the 28 year old Customs Officer this week occurred on Monday and it will be alleged that he conspired to import commercial quantities of a precursor chemical in both 2009 and 2010.
It will be alleged in court that the Customs officer facilitated this importation of approximately 10 kilograms of pseudoephedrine in 2009 and 2010 through Sydney Airport.
Four search warrants were executed across Sydney on Monday 17 December and the man was subsequently arrested.
The arrest of the AQIS officer occurred yesterday. She has been charged with received a corrupt benefit and other corruption offences. Further enquiries into her alleged involvement in the wider conspiracy are also underway.
The two alleged drug couriers were arrested on Tuesday; one is Adelaide and one in Sydney. Both have already appeared in court in both those jurisdictions. The woman in Adelaide will be sought to be extradited back here to Sydney for further court.
The investigation began as the Minister mentioned after Customs notified ACLEI of suspected corrupt activity almost two years ago. The AFP was brought into that investigation after that point and so far this investigation has resulted in eight people being arrested.
As I’ve stated this investigation is still ongoing and further arrests are anticipated so therefore as I have said we are limited in what we can say today but we are happy to answer any questions at the end. And I will pass onto Mr Pezzullo for further information.
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: Thank you Commissioner. Minister, ladies and gentleman.
This morning 5000 hard working professional and committed officers of the CBP Service are as disappointed as I am in the alleged activities being both of the subject of the announcement this morning by the Commissioner as well as the alleged activities covered in the media reports that you are all aware of.
I am disappointed but I am not surprised. I am not so naïve as to think that criminal elements would not attempt to penetrate this service, its systems and its staff.
We have not had out heads in the sand on this question. The active investigation that the Commissioner has just briefed you on, and that the Minister announced at the start of this press conference, is not something that I can comment on in any more detail than has already been stated. Other than to say that the CBP service assisted initially in the identification of this cell and notified it to the ACLEI when we came under its jurisdiction in January 2011.
Since that time we have actively supported that investigation and since becoming the acting CEO of Customs and Border Protection in September this year I have been briefed on its ongoing evolution.
I wish to make two point in concluded these remarks. My job now is to drive further integrity reforms that have been enacted by the parliament. Next year CBP officers will be the subject of drug tests, alcohol tests. They will be the subject of CEO directions including in relation to the mandatory reporting of fraudulent, corrupt and of similar behaviour on pain of severe consequences. They will be subject to the possibility of dismissal powers that have been given to the CEO for acts of serious misconduct and they will be the subject of integrity tests.
My other job next year will be to support the reform program that the Minister has just indicated and the details of which he will further announce in the New Year. Within that reform program we will be specifically focuses on culture, management practices and leadership. Thank you.
QUESTION: The Opposition has said that this is one of the most serious incidences of corruption in the Federal Government, would you agree?
JASON CLARE: Well, what I would say is that the opposition doesn’t have any credibility on this issue. When we came to Government five years ago there were five people in the integrity branch in Customs, there are now 42. And over the next few months that will increase to 48. When the Opposition were in power, they didn’t find any corruption – because they weren’t looking for it.
It was this Government that put Customs under the oversight of the corruption watchdog. That didn’t happen under the former Government, because they didn’t think this was important.
You find corruption when you go hunting for it, and we are hunting for it. And that’s why you’re finding potential corruption like the arrests that have been made this week.
QUESTION: But you have also cut funding. Will you increase funding to the Customs service to improve prospects of rooting out corruption?
JASON CLARE: The Customs budget is bigger now than it was under the former Government, and Customs is now seizing more drugs than it was under the former Government.
Don’t conflate issues here between funding and corruption. What this is about is resolve. And I am resolved to weed out corruption wherever it occurs. Now if that means putting heads on stakes and locking people up for up to 25 years than so be it.
QUESTION: Look, you’ve had enquiries in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Here we are the end of 2012 and you’re saying we’re going to have probity tests on staff. I mean, isn’t that scandalous to think that you’re only doing that now, considering there are law enforcement officers that have been demanding that for years?
JASON CLARE: Almost twenty years ago I worked on the implementation of the recommendations of the Police Royal Commission here in NSW. I’ve been in this job for twelve months, and I have used the experience I have had in NSW in this job as Minister for Home Affairs. And so I have taken the reforms that were recommended by Justice Wood then and I’m implementing them right now. And that includes integrity testing. That’s designed to put the fear of God into people. If you’re thinking of taking a bribe, then think again, because the next time you take a bribe it could be off a police officer.
QUESTION: That’s great, that sounds fantastic, but why wasn’t it done before, before you got the job?
JASON CLARE: Well I can only speak for my responsibility as Minister for Home Affairs. . .
QUESTION: That’s very weak, I mean that’s weak.
JASON CLARE: Hang on a second . . .
QUESTION: You’ve been in power for three years, four years, I mean why wasn’t something done then?
JASON CLARE: It was. Customs was placed under the jurisdiction of corruption watchdog two years ago, and immediately then referred this matter to the corruption watchdog. It’s led to a two year investigation.
Over the course of this Government the number of people in the integrity branch in Customs has gone from five to 42. As the Minister for Home Affairs I have led the biggest reforms to integrity inside Customs in generations. Integrity testing, drug and alcohol testing, summary dismissal powers, mandatory reporting, and as I’ve said today, more to come with the assistance of the man that knows more about corruption fighting than anybody else, Justice James Wood.
QUESTION: Minister it’s been reported that up to 20 Customs Officers were allegedly involved in this, what of the other officers, you’ve only arrested eight?
JASON CLARE: Well, eight people arrested, two of those are Customs Officers, and as I’ve said, there’s the potential for more arrests to occur in the future. I won’t go into more detail there, because this is an ongoing operation.
I want to make sure justice is done. It’s important that I don’t say anything today that may prejudice this ongoing operation.
QUESTION: You talk about putting heads on stakes, was Mr Carmody’s head put on a stake?
JASON CLARE: No.
QUESTION: His departure had nothing to do with people being locked up?
JASON CLARE: Not at all. Mr Carmody was responsible for recommending that Customs go under the jurisdiction of ACLEI, he was also responsible for helping to set up Operation Polaris.
Let’s be very very clear about this. More needs to be done. The reforms that I have implemented this year and much more.
QUESTION: Mr Clare, Customs is also proposing job cuts at Sydney Airport, 20 frontline staff, and 38 people from the National Intelligence division, are those going to go ahead?
JASON CLARE: Thank you for that question, it gives me the opportunity to talk about some of the reforms that are needed right across Customs. It’s about improving integrity culture, but it’s also about improving business operations.
Over the course of the next ten years the number of passengers coming through our airports is going to increase by 50 per cent, the amount of cargo is going to increase by about 90 per cent. At the moment if you come to Australia, Australian citizens and Kiwis can use their passport if it’s got a chip in it to swipe their passport at a Smartgate rather than wait to get their passport stamped.
Now we need to use technology to improve the way we operate our airports, so people can swipe their passport rather than getting stamped on the way in and on the way out. That’s what I mean when I talk about improving business operations.
Now, we’ve just almost doubled the amount of Smartgates at Sydney Airport, and we’ve doubled them in Melbourne. That technology – automating the system – has meant that you need fewer people to stamp passports at the airport.
QUESTION: So those job cuts are going ahead then?
JASON CLARE: Well, that’s part of automating the system at the airport.
QUESTION: How pervasive is this problem? You’ve disrupted one obviously very organised and serious syndicate at Sydney Airport, are there other syndicates or other corruption problems of this type in other parts of Australia, at other airports, other ports?
JASON CLARE: Well, we just cannot be naïve. You’ve got to expect that where law enforcement officers, with all of the powers that they have, are acting to protect Australia, that organised criminals will target them, that people will be tempted, and that some people may end up working for the criminals.
We’re hunting them down and finding them because of this operation. That’s the point I think, that needs to be made. You don’t find any corruption, you don’t find any criminals, if you don’t do this work.
QUESTION: But is this investigation, or other AFP investigations, targeting other airports, or other staff members in other locations?
JASON CLARE: We’ve got joint investigation teams imbedded in every single airport. Joint investigation teams that are made up of state police, and federal police, with the support of Customs, that are designed to identify just this. And it was the joint investigation team at Sydney Airport which, working with Customs and Police, identified this potential corruption and referred it to the corruption watchdog.
QUESTION: Can you give us a better of the methodology of how these monies and drugs were smuggled out of the country?
TONY NEGUS: As I said, I am somewhat constrained about what I can say, but certainly what has been alleged before the courts so far is that the Customs officers involved in this would meet drug couriers of the plane, they would then walk them through the primary line of Customs, and then out into the awaiting hall. They would facilitate their entry through the normal checks and the normal law enforcement processes that everyone goes through when they enter this country. So that’s how they were alleged to be facilitating the imports.
QUESTION: Were they also organising the importation [inaudible] secondary country?
TONY NEGUS: It is alleged they certainly played a role in organising the couriers themselves to go overseas and to actually facilitate their collection of the narcotics overseas, and then again play a key role in bringing them back through the airport without any detection or any scrutiny from the normal process.
QUESTION: Did this stop at drugs? Or are we talking about weapons [inaudible].
TONY NEGUS: The investigation so far has only identified drugs, I mention that one of the individuals has been charged with possession of prohibited weapons, but they do not relate to firearms they relate to things like knuckle-dusters and those sorts of things.
QUESTION: What security measures did they have to slip past in order to conduct [inaudible]?
TONY NEGUS: Well, the Customs Officers in this area are trusted. They’re trusted to make judgements about passengers, and they really act in those areas as the gatekeeper.
Now what these people have done is let everybody down in that process, by allegedly bringing people past those barriers and past that process without any individual scrutiny.
QUESTION: What quantity of drugs is it believed got into Australia ?
TONY NEGUS: The two charges that have been put forward relate to ten kilos on each occasion, of pseudoephedrine. But as I said, we’re currently investigating a whole range of leads that may result in further charges being levied, and also further individuals being arrested.
QUESTION: About 20 kilos, what does that equate to from those precursors, what dollar value?
TONY NEGUS: I don’t have a dollar value on that, obviously they’re precursor chemicals to go and make other drugs, and I’d have to get those details for you after this.
QUESTION: So those people have been caught, we can get their names eventually, how long have they been with Customs?
TONY NEGUS: The last person that was arrested has been with Customs for six years. I don’t have the details of the man from August.
QUESTION: And the investigation went for two years, any idea of how long the ring was operating for?
TONY NEGUS: As I said, the last individual that has been arrested has been with Customs for six years, our enquiries really started around that two year mark, and we’re looking back further than that to see what we can find.
QUESTION: We read in the paper that Lebanese gangs and Commicheros, can you confirm that?
TONY NEGUS: No, I can’t, I don’t want to give away where this investigation might go, can I say that nothing I read in the paper this morning surprised me, but we continue to make further enquiries about the scope and other people that might be involved in this.
QUESTION: Were you surprised that there were no probity tests on people that work as Customs Officers?
TONY NEGUS: That’s a matter for Customs, in the law enforcement arena we do substantial probity checks on our own people. As Customs is playing much more of a role on the national law enforcement space, as the Minister said this was always going to be something that was to be bought forward.
QUESTION: Mr Pezzullo, they’re your people, it’s a pretty dark day for Customs.
MICHEAL PEZZULLO: It’s a disappointing day, but we’re not surprised, we’ve been actively involved in this investigation. We’re going to root out these cells, there’s more to come as the Commissioner has indicated, there’s the prospect of further arrests, and next year the real game will be to reform the culture of the place, and also address the leadership and management deficiencies that in part have led to this circumstance.
QUESTION: Have you sacked any of the people [inaudible]?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: I’m not going to comment on any disciplinary actions that might arise out of this investigation.
QUESTION: Can we say how it began two years ago? Can you give us a snippet, was it a Customs officer that came forward and said we’ve got a problem?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: I can’t comment on . . . the Commissioner can speak for himself, all I can say is what’s been released this morning in the press statement, is that certain facts came to our attention in the period just on the eve of coming under ACLEI’s jurisdiction, and in anticipation of the notification protocols that the Parliament had set down in the legislative amendment, we prepared a notification which went to ACLEI in the January of that following year, 2011.
QUESTION: Your people have been accused of everything apart from murder basically, do you think a Royal Commission should be looked into Customs, or a Royal Commission would be better?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: The Minister has announced a comprehensive reform program, which will be overseen by a reform board that will report to the Minister. I of course will support that board and support that Minister as I would the Minister of the day in each and every instance.
QUESTION: This has happened under your watch, does your job feel secure?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: I won’t comment on the security or otherwise of my job, that’s not for me to indicate confidence in myself. I’ve been there since mid-2009, in that time I’ve noticed, or I’ve been part of the leadership team and overseen the implementation of the reforms the Minister talked about – the expansion of the profession standards branch and all the other measures that were indicated earlier, and I’ve been the interim or acting CEO for three months.
QUESTION: We’ve heard about the level of sophistication of the investigation, can you tell us a little about the level of sophistication of actual syndicate, what it took for them to pull this off, and involve all these people?
TONY NEGUS: Look, unfortunately the facts have been put to the court about the arrests that have been made, but it’s difficult to go into too much of this because there’s much more work to be done and we don’t want to telegraph what we are likely to be looking at, or what we know and what we don’t know at this stage. But suffice to say we are continuing the investigation and we are well advanced on a range of targets, and I think it’s inevitable that further arrests will be made.
QUESTION: In terms of the methodology again, do you believe members of the general public, was their luggage used, or was it specially packed?
TONY NEGUS: No, no. These were people who were allegedly identified, sent overseas on a task and then facilitated back through the Customs barrier by people in trusted positions who had the authority to do so.
QUESTION: What country were the drugs coming from?
TONY NEGUS: The last one was alleged to come from Thailand, and the earlier ones I don’t have full details on with me, but were alleged, the couriers were sent to Thailand and returned the pseudoephedrine from there.
QUESTION: Is your investigation including staff from any other border control agencies?
TONY NEGUS: As I said earlier, we have arrested a 35 year old woman from AQIS earlier this week, she’s been charged with corruption offences, but her involvement in the wider conspiracy is still being investigated.
Wherever this investigation takes us, across any agencies to do with the border controlled areas, we will take action appropriately, but at this stage it has been limited to Customs and one AQIS woman. And I should say too, that we have not seen any other people from the AQIS area, or AQIS service involved in this, it’s been very much an individual who was tied in with this other group.
QUESTION: Minister, the reform board includes a former Royal Commissioner identified as one of the country’s best, why not go all the way and have a Royal Commission and have those services available?
JASON CLARE: Well, two things there. We already have, in ACLEI, the corruption watchdog, the powers of a standing Royal Commission. They’re got the powers to coerce people to give evidence, to hold hearings, to tap phones, to conduct digital and physical surveillance.
They also have the power to seek advice from the general public and to hold hearings. They’ve got all of those powers already. What I’ve done is identify the reforms that Justice Wood recommended in the NSW Royal Commission and implement them here at a Commonwealth level.
This idea that Commonwealth Officers are immune from corruption is naïve, and people in the past that have had their head in the sand and didn’t think that law enforcement agencies needed oversight, were just plain wrong. That’s why I’ve driven the implementation of all of this, it’s also why I’ve expanded the jurisdiction of ACLEI this year.
At the moment ACLEI has responsibility to oversight the Federal Police, the Crime Commission, and Customs. I’ve doubled that jurisdiction. It will now oversight AUSTRAC, CRIMTRAC, and AQIS as well.
In addition to that, I’ve asked Justice Wood to provide me with advice on further recommendations for reform needed. And this is the man who helped clean up the NSW Police Force, is the best of the best, that’s why I’ve asked him to do this job.
QUESTION: Minister, do these arrests indicate that whistleblower Alan Kessing [inaudible]
JASON CLARE: I don’t think you should conflate the two issues. What we’re got here is something extremely serious. There are big challenges for Customs, and big reform that is needed. It’s bigger than just improving the integrity culture inside the organisation.
QUESTION: If you’re talking about arrests inside Sydney Airport, he was right about concerns he had over security [inaudible].
JASON CLARE: I think I’ve made it very clear that I’m concerned about security, whether it’s at Sydney Airport or anywhere. Now, where you’ve got people in uniform whose job it is to protect the Australian public, wherever they act in a way that helps criminals, that’s the most serious thing that I could possibly imagine, and it requires the harshest and most serious approach. That’s why I have taken the action that I have to date, and that’s why there’s more to come.
QUESTION: What does it mean . . . [inaudible] . . security [inaudible]?
JASON CLARE: I think what this shows is that there are always people that are likely to be tempted. In this case people that are tempted, as you say, to make a few bucks to bring drugs into the country.
Now that’s always going to be the case, you see that overseas as well, you see corruption wherever people are in a position of power, and could abuse that position of power.
That’s why the reforms that I have implemented so far are so important. We’ve got to get rid of this idea that you can turn a blind eye to corruption. That’s why mandatory reporting is so important. If you identify someone acting in a corrupt way, and you don’t report it, then you could be terminated from your employment as well. That’s why integrity testing is so important as well. A covert operation designed to test if someone is corrupt – leaving money somewhere, or putting false information on a database. As I said before, this is designed to put the fear of God into people, that if you are thinking of acting corruptly, if you are thinking of committing a crime, then think again, because now if you think you’re taking a bribe of a criminal you might be taking a bribe of a Federal Police Officer.
QUESTION: Minister, are you confident [inaudible] . . . with respect the measures that you are describing are pretty weak, in contrast to the level of corruption that have been described today. I mean it seems to me that [inaudible] . . . background checks [inaudible] . . . do you need to go further back the chain to [inaudible] . . . connections to organised crime?
JASON CLARE: There’s two stages to this. The reforms I’ve implemented to date that I wouldn’t describe as weak, they’re the sort of recommendations Justice Wood put forward in the NSW Police Royal Commission.
And then there’s bigger reforms, broader reforms that I will implement next year that go to the heart of this – root and branch reform of the culture of the organisation.
You ask a good question though, and that is about making sure that you weed people out from the very start. I think this is an area of reform, we need to lift our standards here, we need to make sure that you only have people of the highest integrity that are working for our border control organisations.
The Federal Police has got a different standard here, my view is that Customs need to be at that same standard, because they’re at the same risk of being corrupted by organised crime.
QUESTION: Customs is a massive operation, previous corrupt enquiries, even in NSW [inaudible] . . . there’s multiple cells going on [inaudible] . . . what’s the potential that there are more of these cells that have operating, and have been operating inside of Customs [inaudible]?
JASON CLARE: Well, two things. One – you need a corruption hunter out there identifying where people might be acting corruptly, and we’ve got that with the joint investigation teams at every airport and with the corruption watchdog ACLEI. They’re the ones who are responsible for bringing these people before the courts this week. So you’ve got those people in those positions at the moment, to arrest people where they act corruptly.
But bigger than that, beyond that, you’ve got to change the culture of the organisation. You’ve got to create an organisation where it’s not acceptable to turn a blind eye, where it’s not acceptable not to report something where you see it happening. That’s why the reforms that Justice Wood implemented in NSW are so important, but more needs to be done, and that will be part of the package I bring forward next year.
QUESTION: Is that acceptable now? That’s a question for Mr Pezzullo. How would you describe the state of your service today in light of these disclosures?
JASON CLARE: I might ask Mike to answer that question, I’m talking about what’s happened in the past, and I think this organisation is changing over the back of the reforms that have been implemented over the last few years.
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: Thanks Minister. That’s a very good question. Fundamentally, in addition to all these coersive powers, the sorts of tests and other measures that have been described that have either been implemented or will be implemented, what is really needed is a rebasing and a change to the culture. The uniform part of Customs and Border Protection needs to become a professionalised border protection service with the skills, attitudes and values that mean it is a disciplined service that self-corrects in these matters – where supervisors step in, where they issue commands and their commands are adhered to. Not unthinkingly, but in an active sense where everyone supports the culture, supports each other.
Part of the problems of what’s happened here is that people have stood aside in some cases, maybe with a generalised sense that something was amiss.
A few people have come forward to open up this investigation. I don’t want to say anything more than that, that goes to the investigation. We need that courage, that is located across the agency, to become the universal norm, not a broken up, fragmented, dispersed norm. It needs to become how we all think, how we all operate.
QUESTION: Are you saying that your officers routinely turn a blind eye to . . .
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: No, I am not saying that at all. I’m not saying that at all. The service though, needs to be lifted to that standard of being a self-regarding law enforcement service.
QUESTION: What’s the standard now though?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: The standard now is good in parts, less good in other parts. The reform program that more detail will be announced about next year will take it to a universal standard.
QUESTION: When you say it’s not good in parts, what do you mean? Which parts?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: Over the course of the early part of next year we will be announcing major reforms that aren’t just simply pulled out of the blue sky, they are based on experience we have gained from these investigations and other matters, and which will come together in a major reform program that we will have more to say about next year.
QUESTION: You’re constantly saying that you need better team work and a better culture, so what do you have? An amateur rump?
MICAHEL PEZZULLO: No, we’ve had hardworking, committed individuals who will now be lifted to a collective standard that’s world’s best practice.
QUESTION: How can the public be confident that will happen from an organisation . . . the ability of that organisation to implement those reforms when it’s essentially failed and allowed this to go on for so long?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: Again, more details will be announced next year, but as the Minister has indicated, the Government of Australia is behind this, they’re leading this with a major reform effort that will be further announced next year, there will be a reform board, as I heard the Minister announce, there are three pretty eminent Australians committed to change in this area, I’m sure they wouldn’t have signed up otherwise, you’ve got a leadership team in place which is committed to making this change.
I’ve made it very clear to the current leadership team that over summer you need to reflect on this. If you get help out great, turn up to work over the holidays. If you feel that you’re not on the right path, then I will assist you with alternative employment.
QUESTION: Are there people that are going to lose their jobs over this from the top end?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: I’m not going to talk about specific disciplinary action that might flow from the investigations per say, but on the culture reform side the leadership, the middle management and the frontline staff will all be bought into one culture.
QUESTION: Tell me, have border security measures suffered because your agency has been so busy intercepting asylum boats, and working on the asylum issue?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: In term of our maritime operations, which are the part of the agency that deal with the irregular maritime arrivals, there’s a dedicated part of the agency that does that, Border Protection Command, which is a joint venture between ourselves and the Department of Defence.
Those guys are at it 24-7 everyday, and they’ll be at it Christmas Day, and I just thank them for in advance for that. They’re a discreet and separate part of the organisation that is focussed on that challenge.
QUESTION: Question again for the Minister, you’ve indicated that the Government will accept Customs proposals to cut 58 staff, now the Coalition says that the Government has cut up to 750 officers since it came into office, and tens of millions of dollars from it’s budget. Is that accurate and [inaudible]?
JASON CLARE: Well as I said before, I think it was the first question, the Opposition don’t have any credibility on this issue.
When we came to power there were five people in the integrity branch of Customs – there’s now 42, and they’ve been quarantined from any of the savings that have been made in the budget.
We didn’t find corruption a couple of years ago, because we weren’t looking for it before. When you go hunting for corruption you will find it, and that will lead to more arrests.
That’s what we’re doing, and that’s what didn’t happen ten years ago.
QUESTION: Have 750 people been cut?
JASON CLARE: There’s been reductions in staff from over 5,000 workers that work in Customs. Part of that is through savings, part of that is through the automation I talked about earlier on.
JASON CLARE: I think it’s about that number.
QUESTION: So how can we trust that Customs will be able to safeguard itself from this type of corruption when staff are cut?
JASON CLARE: Well, as I said before, five people involved in oversighting integrity five years ago, it’s now 42, it’ll go to 48.
It’s this Government that’s serious about corruption. That’s why we have made sure Customs was under the jurisdiction of ACLEI. Didn’t happen before – there was no one oversighting Customs before, until this Government took power.
JASON CLARE: Well, as I’ve said, I’ve been in the job for 12 months, and I was briefed on this . . .
QUESTION: Your Government has been . . .
JASON CLARE: And two years ago Customs came under the jurisdiction of ACLEI. At that time Customs identified what it believed were corrupt activities at the airport, and referred them to ACLEI. That led to the establishment of this taskforce which has built up over the last two years, conducted investigations, used the special powers that ACLEI has available to it, and it’s led to arrests in August, in October, and now.
I became the Minister in December last year, I was immediately briefed on it, and made the decision then that we needed to implement a range of major reforms to tackle corruption – not just in Customs, but right across our law enforcement agencies. I’ve implemented them over the course of this year, legislation went into the Parliament in September and it was passed by the Parliament in November.
QUESTION: Mr Pezzullo, we’ve heard that up to 20 Border Protection Officers are believed to be involved in this drug smuggling [inaudible]. What are doing, given that only two have been arrested, the others are still at large?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: Well, I’m not going to comment on the specific investigation, it’s ongoing and I’m briefed on full detail of the investigation itself, and the Commissioner, and along with his partner the Integrity Commissioner, ensure, as the Commissioner was indicating before, that all leads are actively run down, criminal behaviour is dealt with to the point where a brief of evidence can be out forward, and then people bought before the courts.
I can’t comment beyond that, beyond what the Commissioner has decided to do in terms of charging people and bringing them before the courts – it’s an ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: Two people have been arrested, have any people been stood down . . . [inaudible].
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: As a result of this investigation? No, not at this time, and we consult very closely with the AFP and with ACLEI about what disciplinary action we should be taking in a way that doesn’t compromise investigations. That’s actively under review.
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: Sorry, just to be clear, in some cases the taking of disciplinary action might tip off the very targets who are the subject of criminal investigations.
QUESTION: So the two people that were charged, were they working up until they were charged?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: Yes.
QUESTION: You have the power, as the law stands, to stand down officers that have lost your confidence?
MICHAEL PEZZULLO: It’s not expressed in those terms. Officers can be suspended as a result of matters being bought under the Code of Conduct, the general APS Code of Conduct, the Public Service Code of Conduct, they can be suspended already, that’s stood down power.
The Code of Conduct does not operate at a criminal standard of proof, it’s a civil standard of proof.
QUESTION: Tony, just on the investigation we’re talking about, the couriers, are they the people that have been arrested?
TONY NEGUS: They are. The two woman I mentioned, one in Adelaide and one in Sydney this week, were both alleged to have couriered the drugs back into Australia, yes.
QUESTION: You’ve obviously looked at their travel patterns, have they made other trips before this operation?
TONY NEGUS: Again, look, I don’t want to go into that. They’re charged on the basis of the charges as they stand before the court, and those facts will be available to you.
We’re continuing to look into enquiries about what their previous travel history was and who else they may have travelled with, those sorts of things.
TONY NEGUS: One’s an Australian Citizen, and one’s a French National that lives in Australia.
QUESTION: How many drugs [inaudible] . . . do you think they smuggled in successfully [inaudible].
TONY NEGUS: Look, very difficult to tell, there’s a range of other enquiries underway as I’ve said. Certainly, we would never allow any drugs to come into the country where we identify that those things would be there we take them out, whether it would affect the operation or not, so we would never allow any drugs to transit through into the community just for the investigation’s sake.
But there are a range of other enquiries, and a range of other allegations against these individuals, going back over time, so we expect further charges might be laid.
QUESTION: Do you suspect that they successfully smuggled drugs into the country?
TONY NEGUS: Yes, we do suspect that, and again that’s what these lines of enquiry are about. We’ve charged them with two counts, but we suspect there’s been more.
QUESTION: Roughly how much?
TONY NEGUS: Look, I’m not prepared to go into that, and again they’re charged with two counts, and really that’s what we’re alleging at the moment, but further enquiries are underway in regards to what may be additional importations.
QUESTION: Tony, are these media reports bad timing for this investigation?
TONY NEGUS: No, look, I should say the journalist involved did hold off at our request on publishing this so we could take action, so we do thank them for that, for holding off until this week because there was a whole range of operational activity that was at a critical point over the last few weeks.
QUESTION: Just very briefly, any of the people arrested, are they on remand, or are they on bail?
TONY NEGUS: There’s a variety. The two main Customs people are in custody, some of the others have been bailed and some of the others are at various stages of remand – we can give you those details.
QUESTION: On that, are there any relations here, any brothers and sisters . . . [inaudible].
TONY NEGUS: In the cell there are certainly friendships and those sorts of things, and some relationships, but again, with the eight people there are a variety of different inter-relationships between the two of them.
QUESTION: Commissioner, on the head of the drug ring, do you believe they are based in Australia, or overseas?
TONY NEGUS: What we’ve seen so far, we think this has been organised from Australia, and again this is using people in entrusted positions to really facilitate the importation of narcotics into this country.
TONY NEGUS: We will allege that they were principles, yes.
JASON CLARE: Thanks very much everybody.
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