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Barker Speech: New Dunedin Customhouse Opening

Rick Barker: Speech notes from the opening of the new Dunedin Customhouse

Kia ora and thank you Kuao, Comptroller Robin Dare, my parliamentary colleague David Benson-Pope and to all the Customs staff and clients here today. It is indeed a pleasure to be here in the deep south on this memorable occasion for the opening of the new Dunedin Customhouse.

I am heartened to have heard that the new base for Customs in this historic and economically important region has already been of great interest to local people and businesses, as Robin has just said this is Dunedin's first purpose-built Customhouse for over a century.

This fact was also underlined in preparations for this event. One of my advisors informs me that when she spoke to the Chief Reporter of the Otago Daily Times recently to let him know about the opening he replied that of course the ODT would be there. "That is because", the Chief Reporter replied, "We are indeed a newspaper of public record."

And what a day of public record this is. Since 1858 when Customs officers were first delegated powers to collect in Dunedin under the Customs Act, Otago and Southland Customs staff have been at the forefront of New Zealand's Service activity and critical to the smooth flow of trade and commerce in the region.

In my 11 months as Minister of Customs I have got to know many of you, not just around Wellington, but also through my trips to Customs offices throughout the country.

I had some exposure to the Service when I served as the opposition Labour Party Customs spokesman and sat on the Commerce Select Committee considering the Customs and Excise Bill in 1996.

But now that I am the Minister, I appreciate much more the breadth of your loyalty, the integrity and knowledge that I believe makes Customs staff outstanding in the public sector. This year has already been marked as a watershed for Customs. You have produced and launched a major and influential document on the growing issue of illicit drugs in New Zealand while staff continue to make many seizures leading to arrests.

The Service was allocated a substantial funding injection from this year's Budget, which will mean more technical equipment and over 150 new Customs staff.

We have hosted the US Commissioner of Customs to our shores who was impressed with both the warm welcome and the work NZ Customs is continuing to undertake in regard to secure exports to the US; and I have introduced the Border Security Bill to Parliament, currently at the Government Administration Select Committee.

You have also successfully helped keep the SARS epidemic from our borders.

Meanwhile, like the many thousands of people who gather in front of their TVs on a Monday night, I've been enthralled by the weekly foray into your work through the top-rating reality series Border Patrol and I know there are staff here today who featured in the Queenstown stories so let me take this opportunity to say well done!

Given your chosen occupations, you know better than most that the world is a different place than it was less than two years ago. Yet, the New Zealand Customs Service has tackled these challenges head-on, while still maintaining a high-level of service through client programmes such as Frontline, through to the general public at arrivals halls and through contact at Customhouses such as this one.

I am particularly interested in the Secure Exports Partnership scheme and urge those exporters here today to consider joining so we can work together to make sure this country's valuable trade with the US and other trading partners continues unimpeded.

There is still much work to be done for customs staff and myself as your Minister but today, in recognition of all the hard work and loyalty of all staff, and in anticipation of the new and exciting era ahead for the Service, I dedicate the opening of this new building to you, the Customs team and wish you all the best as you continue to serve your clients and your region.

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