THE Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Australia (CBFCA) saw a change of leadership in early July, with the announcement that Paul Damkjaer would assume the CBFCA CEO mantle.
Lloyd’s List Australia caught up with Mr Damkjaer at a recent industry luncheon in Sydney to chat about his first month in office and where the CBFCA and the industry is headed.
How has your first four weeks as CEO gone?
It’s an absolute honour to represent our industry. I have been in the industry for about 36 years, and to represent your peers is something I’m sure everyone – if they’re passionate about their industry as I am – would consider an honour.
These past four weeks have been very busy with visits to Canberra, to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources – there are a lot of issues with both departments.
There are a lot of things happening in the industry, but the main things on the board at the moment include issues with asbestos, prawn imports, and the definition of “owner”.
We’re getting out there and putting the members’ feelings forward, and with the asbestos issue, we have examples that we want to bring to customs. There has to be discussions with the ABF to ensure that they can see our members’ point of view.
What are your goals for the CBFCA?
I want to make it more member-focussed. We have always been member-focussed, but maybe we can do better by seeing members more and talking to them more. Then we can take their thoughts, ideas, wishes and wants and lobby their thoughts to the relevant departments. I want to make sure the members know that we represent them.
Anything new with the organisation?
At the moment we’re moving our head office from Brisbane to Sydney. Our training and education department will stay in Brisbane, but all the administration will come down to Sydney. Because Sydney and Melbourne are the two biggest ports, we thought we should be closer to our members. We have the infrastructure and the team, which makes us a very strong body to represent the industry.
Our industry experience in the CBFCA spans over 150, combining the experience of Megan [White, regional manager for NSW and QLD], John [Park, regional manager for WA] and Zoran [Kostadinoski, regional manager VIC, TAS and SA], and myself. This demonstrates the strength of who we are and what we are about.
What is the future of the customs broking industry?
The future’s changing so much for our industry. The traditional things you do at the beginning of your career, lodging bills of lading and stuff like that, is now all electronic. And this takes away the initial time when you cut your teeth in the industry. To get into brokerage now, you’ve virtually got to jump into a compiling job, which still exists in Australia, but is slowly diminishing.
So where is the next generation of customs brokers come from?
This is something we’re tackling now – what’s going to happen to the brokers? A lot of the brokers are over 60; there are younger ones coming through, but not as many as there used to be.
There’s only one face-to-face college that’s doing the course, that’s in Rockdale [Sydney], the rest is done online. And that’s all done by the CBFCA, we offer a Diploma in Customs Broking and a Diploma in International Freight Forwarding among other educational programs.
How did you get started in the customs broking industry?
I’ve been in the industry for over 36 years now. I started as soon as I left Year 12. I saw a position advertised for a shipping clerk, and not having too much of an idea of what I wanted to do, I applied for it. The position was in Circular Quay with a little customs agency. I learned the ropes on the wharves of Darling Harbour, walking around the streets clearing bills of lading – old things no one does anymore – and having a lot of interaction with the customs department.
That brought me into the industry, and then I took the course to be a qualified customs broker, at that stage it was the only qualification recognised in the industry. That was back in 1981, and that’s the way it worked in those days; you started out as a customs house clerk, went on to be in the office doing compiling and all that, and gradually went up to be a classifier. Once I got the licence I ventured out into different parts of the industry, to sales.
In 1990, I was transferred to Western Australia, from there I went to South Australia, from South Australia I was transferred to Melbourne, where I stayed for eight years. Then, I was transferred to Sydney, then got transferred to Melbourne again, then back to Sydney. And then I went to Brisbane, then I went to the Philippines for three years, managed a large forwarding company there.
After I came back to Australia in 2013, I saw the industry had changed dramatically; a lot of the senior management positions weren’t available. Since then I have had a few roles, and then I was asked to apply for the CEO role with the CBFCA.