Commissioner and Comptroller General address to Trans-Tasman Business Circle

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is a privilege to be here with you today and I am very grateful to the Trans-Tasman Business Circle for putting on this event.

I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people who are the traditional custodians of this land on which we are meeting and pay respect to the Elders of the Ngunnawal Nation both past and present. I extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in attendance today.

What a great opportunity this forum presents for leaders of the region’s peak organisations—both in the private and public sector—to form partnerships, collaborate with one another and share ideas.

Today I would like to discuss some of the key issues facing the Australian Border Force, innovative solutions we have underway to address these issues, and the role of the business community and industry associations in partnering with the ABF, to help ensure we meet the many challenges of protecting Australia’s border while enabling legitimate travel and trade.

As many of you would be aware, Australia’s coastline, including our islands, measures just under 60,000 kilometres. Beyond the coastline, our Exclusive Economic Zone is one of the largest in the world. Australia’s total marine area exceeds a staggering 10 million square kilometres.

The pressure on our operating environment has increased in recent years, owing to the sheer volume of travellers and trade reaching our shores.

Over the past four financial years the number of international air travellers has risen by more than 17 per cent—from 38 million to 44.7 million, while import air cargo consignments have increased by about 52 per cent—from 34.9 million to about 53 million.

In the same period the contents of 2.3 million sea cargo containers have been examined at our borders.

E-commerce is having a substantial impact on air cargo and mail, while passenger and visa numbers are escalating due to greater global mobility.

Despite the pressures this places on our operating environment, these trends are likely to continue—and this is to our benefit. There is no question that, for all of us, globalisation is a net positive for economic prosperity and social connectivity.

Australia’s two-way trade value is now worth more than AUD$800 billion, and fast heading towards $1 trillion.

Trade creates and supports Australian jobs, raises household incomes and promotes economic growth. It leads to cheaper products for Australian households and businesses, gives consumers and business greater choice, and opens up the global market for Australian products.

Access to global markets encourages businesses to be more competitive, to innovate, and to adopt new technologies and methods.

That said, globalisation also has a dark side.

Criminals are adept at identifying and exploiting perceived weaknesses in our borders for their own nefarious ends.

In the 2018–19 financial year alone, there were more than 300,000 detections of prohibited and restricted goods at Australia’s borders, with 19,440kg of major illicit drugs and precursors seized.

In the same period we made more than 286,000 detections of illicit tobacco at the border, weighing more than 633 tonnes and representing more than $670 million in duty evaded.

Dark web markets are creating opportunities for the importation of illegal weapons and drugs including ICE, hacking, money laundering and cryptocurrency movement.

We take black economy activities seriously, because they have serious consequences for us and all of you.

Avoiding customs duties gives those who do the wrong thing an unfair competitive advantage over legitimate businesses.

Trade based money-laundering is one of our greatest challenges. The exploitation of international trade to disguise the proceeds of crime is estimated by the International Monetary Fund to be worth $4 trillion US dollars globally. In 2018 the Australian component was estimated to be worth approximately $52 billion US dollars.

The ABF continues to focus on identifying serious revenue evasion that, left unchecked, would risk Australia’s economic performance. Issues related to transhipment, misclassification and under valuation of goods are not uncommon.

An unusual find last year involved ten pianos marked with fake branding including logos of a kangaroo, the Australian flag and the Sydney Opera House, arriving at the Port of Brisbane. They actually originated from China, and were intended to be transhipped back to China, and passed off as “Australian Made.”

Smuggling and illicit trading are hardly new challenges. But the enormous increase in trade over recent years, along with evolving technology, has enabled modern day smugglers to become more sophisticated.

Modern Slavery

Another worrying consequence of globalisation is the fragmentation of production processes in global supply chains, creating places for modern slavery to thrive beyond the view of governments, consumers and businesses.

The United Nations estimates there are 40 million people around the world held in modern slavery. Of these, 25 million are exploited in global supply chains.

Australian traders and other organisations have a key role to play in the global fight against modern slavery.

Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, which came into force on 1 January 2019, provides a framework for businesses to assess and address, modern slavery risks in their supply chains and operations.

One of my priorities as Commissioner is to ensure that Australian businesses are well-supported to comply with the new Modern Slavery Act. To achieve this I have established a Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking branch in the ABF.

The world-leading branch is tasked with providing advice and support to businesses and other reporting organisations, to help them understand and comply with the Act.

Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO)

For its part, Australia is working very hard to foster regional collaboration within the Indo-Pacific region through a range of multilateral fora, including platforms such as the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO).

OCO has four key strategic goals for its member states, they are:

  • improved law enforcement and border security
  • enhanced trade management and facilitation
  • strengthened revenue management, and
  • the institutional strengthening of small customs administrations.

On behalf of the OCO Secretariat, Australia has led the development of a Small Craft Mobile Application, an initiative which is sure to benefit the region.

The key benefit of the app is its capacity to allow officers from border agencies throughout the Pacific to upload reports on interactions with small craft, including vessel and crew details, arrival and departure data, and photos embedded with geo-location, time and date information.

The app’s database will be shared amongst participating OCO member states and will enable real-time sharing and download capability of profiles and alerts on vessels and crew members of interest, ensuring that our shared maritime interests are better protected.

The ABF has also just embedded a Superintendent in the new Pacific Fusion Centre, which has been established to equip Pacific decision makers with the information they need to better identify and respond to security threats, such as illegal fishing, people smuggling and narcotics trafficking.

Australian Trusted Traders

For those businesses that deal in legitimate trade, our highly successful Australian Trusted Trader program (ATT) enables members to have goods cleared through customs faster, enabling them to get to market quicker.

Trusted traders also enjoy a seat at the table to engage with Government, including through the annual Australian Trusted Trader Symposium.

There are now more than 500 businesses and service providers accredited as Australian Trusted Traders, with many more progressing towards accreditation.

The value of the program now exceeds $70 billion in two-way trade.

A key benefit includes priority treatment of goods at the borders of countries where Australia has a Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA). These countries now include Canada, the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan.

Retention of this status is of course linked with an ability to maintain the requisite standards. Aside from significant benefits for traders, the system enables the ABF to direct more energy into compliance and enforcement activities targeting those who present a high or unknown risk.

Trade Modernisation

The continued growth of the Australian Trusted Trader program is integral to Australia’s broader trade modernisation agenda. It secures international trade supply chains, facilitates trade, and offers a trusted environment to test and trial new trade modernisation initiatives.

We are entering exciting times.

Modernisation of our processes will deliver integrated and automated border examination processes, and improve our intelligence and risk-assessment capabilities by using new and emerging technologies.

It also includes opportunities for better alignment and coordination across relevant agencies, enabling faster border processing.

A key success for the Portfolio has been the alignment of the ATT program and the Known Consignor Scheme. Aligning the Portfolio’s border management program is more efficient and ensures our service delivery is more effective.

Since March 2019, the ABF has been leading the whole-of-government Border Permits Review to examine legislative frameworks and business processes for imported and exported goods subject to border controls.

The review’s outcomes will be reported to Government by the end of next month and will inform customs and border modernisation reforms.

Having modern and effective regulations and business processes for controlled goods will underpin and enable digital transformation.

The ABF is working with over 16 government agencies and regulators, such as the Department of Agriculture as an example, to ensure a whole-of-government approach to better leverage our respective modernisation initiatives and holistically improve Australian Public Service delivery.

The ABF is working with our key international partners, including New Zealand, Singapore, Canada and the United States, to test cross-border modernisation initiatives.

For example, we continue to work the New Zealand Customs Service on a digital Secure Trade Lane trial.

We are also working with Singapore Customs on digital trade initiatives to support the recently announced landmark Australia-Singapore digital economy agreement.

Australia’s current trade regulatory environment is complex—involving more than 30 different regulatory agencies and 200 pieces of legislation.

Trade modernisation will reduce, streamline or eliminate interactions between traders, government, service provider and third parties. It will also reduce the costs of trade, and relieve the regulatory and administrative burden for both industry and government.

At the same time, it will be harder for unscrupulous traders, organised crime and threats to national security to penetrate our networks.

Importantly, trade modernisation will be co-designed, tested and funded with industry.

We are also currently considering how automation through the use of Artificial Intelligence techniques could support improved identification of items of interest.

SmartGates and automation have helped manage growth in traveller numbers over the past ten years. To continue the modernisation of customs and border procedures in the next ten years, industry collaboration is imperative.

Billions of dollars are being invested in new international ports such as the Western Sydney Airport and Brisbane International Cruise Terminal. At the same time, existing ports are undergoing major redevelopments.

We must continue to ensure the security of our borders and community while improving passenger and cargo facilitation and experiences.

Australia welcomes opportunities to collaborate with New Zealand on seamless border initiatives that reflect our joint priorities to:

  • minimise security risks
  • effectively manage border processes and costs, and
  • enhance the relative attractiveness of our market to travellers and traders.

We have been pleased to partner with New Zealand in cruise ship passenger facilitation trials and provide data to support and streamline processing of cruise ship passengers at the New Zealand border.

In the 2018/19 cruise season, 36 cruise ships departed Australia arriving directly in New Zealand.

Using ABF supplied information, approximately 51,000 passengers were processed and provisionally cleared by the New Zealand Customs Service prior to arrival.

Upon arrival, those passengers were fast-tracked through immigration processes and were only required to present an arrival card to ensure criminal and customs declarations were made.

Following the success of previous seasons we have agreed to continue the trial for the current cruise season 2019/20.

The ABF is eager to continue working with the New Zealand Customs Service to improve the efficiency and integrity of trans-Tasman travel.

We look forward to exploring further opportunities for seamless trans-Tasman travel.

Conclusion

As I said at the outset, the challenges are great and there is much to be done, but we can achieve greater results by leveraging opportunities created by new investments, and working together to navigate our way through an evolving trade environment.

Such endeavours will maximise the economic potential of international trade and ensure we are well placed to make the most of new opportunities as they arise.

The next two decades will see a transformation in the way we do business at the border, a transformation that will lead to major opportunities for business and trade, with flow on benefits for the country and economy more generally.

Exciting times indeed.

Thank you.

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