Australia to boost intelligence sharing with US customs

australian-and-us-flag-mapsAustralia is to boost its intelligence sharing with the US customs and border protection service.

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said the Australian and US customs and border protection agencies had agreed to a formal strategic partnership from 2014, which would see two Australian officers posted to the US to strengthen intelligence co-operation.

Morrison said a trial of the closer engagement over the past year led to a crackdown on organised crime and resulted in several major drug seizures.

“These results demonstrate that governments must work together to effectively combat transnational crime and terrorism,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

The move to strengthen intelligence sharing with the US comes after a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of secret documents, including details of how Australian spies targeted the phone of the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Source: theguardian.com

Australia – Seized Customs goods stolen

Oz CustomsCorrupt customs officials have stolen – and possibly sold – seized goods earmarked for destruction, exposing ”extremely haphazard” governance within the agency charged with protecting Australia’s borders. Files from Customs’ internal affairs department also suggest the organisation had no policy to ensure its favoured gun dealers were actually licensed to sell the firearms it had ordered.

Fairfax has obtained the files after a two-year freedom of information battle. The documents reveal an agency overwhelmed by the threat of organised crime, but they also expose several serious management failures in the organisation’s senior ranks.

In the middle of 2008, for example, a licensed weapons dealer threatened to sue Customs, alleging its Weapons and Strategic Goods group, which armed front-line officers with items such as Glock handguns and capsicum spray, was buying weapons ”from a person not authorised to deal in such weapon types”. Investigators did not find any ”discrepancies”, but along the way they made a startling discovery: ”No specific checks [are] conducted regarding appropriate licensing when purchasing weapons.”

On Saturday, Fairfax Media reported that internal inquiries into Customs staff led to adverse findings in about two-thirds of 700 cases between 2007 and 2010. In one case, an officer was caught in June 2009 removing cigarettes marked for destruction from a detained goods facility. He was fined $1500, but the whistleblower had told investigators ”others may be involved and quantities could be much higher”. Internal affairs went on to identify the problem as a ”systemic issue”.

In Queensland about the same time, an audit of one of Customs’ Detained Goods Management stores ”revealed a stock shortage of 1200 sticks of tobacco from the February 2008 DGM stocktake”. A number of Customs officers working in the cargo group were identified by the investigation, the ”goods [were] established as unaccounted for”, and questions were raised about why it was that ”half of staff” in the division had access to the DGM. ”No accountability and controls in place,” Internal Affairs noted in its report. ”Procedures in place at the DGM … were extremely haphazard … poor supervisory and fraudulent records identified.”

The final reports recommended new standard operating protocols for all Customs storage facilities. Several officers may have faced disciplinary proceedings as a result of the inquiry, the files suggest.

At one point, Customs investigators feared poor control of seized goods extended to far more dangerous goods, after a February 2009 audit of the seized goods facility in Queensland reported that more than 16,000 rounds of ammunition ”with a variety of associated equipment” had gone missing. But Customs now says this was just another case of poor management, after major accounting errors were identified in the audit.

The files also raise serious questions about financial controls within the organisation. Customs chief executive Mike Pezzullo (no relation to me) said on Saturday he was planning to overhaul the organisation’s internal affairs unit. Source: The Age (Australia)

Tobacco duty-free concessions changed

For ‘smoking’ travellers to Australia, please read up on the new duty-free concessions before you decide to stock up.

The reduced tobacco duty-free limit came into effect on 1 September 2012. It was announced in the 2012-13 Federal Budget that the duty-free concession on tobacco products would change.

Travellers aged 18 years or over can bring 50 cigarettes or 50 grams of cigars or tobacco products duty-free into Australia with you. All tobacco products in accompanied baggage are included in this category, regardless of where or how they were purchased.

Be aware that if you exceed Australia’s duty-free limits, duty and tax will apply on ALL items of that type (general goods, alcohol or tobacco), not just the goods over the limit. The general goods and alcohol duty-free concessions remain the same. Source: Australian Customs Service

Australia’s high court recently upheld the government’s decision to implement a law which requires cigarettes to be sold in olive green packets, with graphic images warning of the consequences of smoking. The law is to come into effect on 1 December 2012. The South African authorities appear to be following the same route and are currently ‘testing’ the concept of the olive green packets (what’s there to test?). Despite the obvious reaction of the Tobacco Inc. to the new law, it is not difficult to see that it will make anti-counterfeit enforcement even more difficult for authorities. Perhaps the UK liquor boys are ahead in their thinking – import liquor in bulk and bottle it in the UK, this way you’re in charge of the packaging and labelling. Health officials are definitely more concerned with health than profit.