Monday 22nd Oct, 2018

Increase container x-raying at smaller ports, Ombudsman recommends

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

INCREASED X-RAY capacity at smaller ports was one recommendation handed down by the Commonwealth Ombudsman following a report into the administration of the Customs Act.

According to a document released by the office of the Ombudsman, representatives of the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Council of Australia approached them in late 2016 concerned about unnecessary delays from the Australian Border Force’s administration of its customs-related powers.

“Since July 2012 and prior to the commencement of this investigation, the Office has received 356 approaches related to the border control area of the ABF,” the Ombudsman reported.

“The issues complained about were varied, however some of the reasons for delays in inbound freight raised concerns regarding the reasonableness and consistency of the ABF’s handling of the clearance of inbound containerised sea cargo.”

In May 2017 the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office began an investigation, a report being released a year later.

Recommendations included:

  • The Department increase x-ray capacity at smaller ports to increase inspection capacity and reduce inspection time frames and the need to physically unpack containers and pallets;
  • The ABF, in consultation with industry, develop and make publicly available on its website plain English guidance information on the potential messaging capabilities of the Integrated Cargo System when used in conjunction with appropriate software;
  • The Department consider one or more of the following: (a) increasing staffing levels at CEFs by placing a lower operational priority on another activity, or (b) proactively adjusting the number of containers inspected in line with operational capacity, or (c) better utilising the surge model at CEFs to increase inspection capacity in periods of peak work load, and (d) increasing the pool of ABF officers who are trained in the inspection and examination technologies employed at CEFs;
  • The Department: (a) introduce service standards for container inspection based on the three day free storage period that require the majority of containers selected for inspection to be processed within three days, unless a detection has been made, and  (b) maintain annual statistics on the time taken to inspect containers;
  • The Department improve complaint handling by providing timely and detailed responses to complainants using subject matter experts;
  • In cases where the ABF has been unable to process containers efficiently, consideration should be given to advising complainants of compensation schemes available under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013;
  • The ABF work with industry to improve asbestos risk assessment to reduce the repeated targeting of importers with a history of compliance, except where new information suggests such targeting is appropriate;
  • The ABF review its website to increase its functionality and user-friendliness for those seeking to import freight by sea and ensure information and links are clearly laid out and updated on a regular basis;
  • The Department and DAWR increase collaboration for container inspections and where possible, conduct inspections in the same location and at the same time;
  • DAWR revise its cost recovery model to ensure importers are charged the same for the assessment of identical import declarations based on the real cost of proficient operational activity.

“This investigation sought to gain an understanding of how the ABF manages border compliance in the containerised sea cargo environment, and how this affects the legitimate supply chain,” the Ombudsman noted.

“We expanded the investigation to include the biosecurity functions of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) as it works collaboratively with the ABF in this space.”

The Ombudsman described the containerised sea cargo industry as “a complex commercial environment”.

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