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Rick Barker: Speech for International Customs Day


Rick Barker: Speech for International Customs Day 2004

Speech for International Customs Day 2004

Members of the Diplomatic Community, Parliamentary colleagues, Customs staff, ladies and gentlemen.

Welcome to our celebration marking International Customs Day.

This year the theme set by the World Customs Organisation is Customs' role in the protection of society.

It is one I feel that we in New Zealand Customs are well qualified to address.

Customs has a broad range of responsibilities at the border and things are getting busier every day.

The key role for Customs is to protect the way of life New Zealanders value.

o This means preventing the import of drugs, pornography, weapons and other dangerous or prohibited goods.

o Preventing our taonga from illegal export. An excellent example of our success in this area is the arrest of two men on charges of orchid smuggling last month.

o Customs is also integral in the protection of our reputation for being a safe and secure place - this is an important part of attracting tourists and maintaining trade.

o And Customs protects our trade - in today's world that requires us to provide security assurance that will help keep trade flowing in times of international disruption.

This is a balancing act - we want to welcome genuine travelers and trade, while protecting against the risks associated with travel and trade.

It's a balancing act that is becoming trickier every day as we face increasing volumes of goods, people and craft at the same time as the world becomes a riskier place.

We also need to resist the natural Kiwi tendency to be complacent just because we are isolated. New Zealand is low risk, but low risk does not mean no risk.

Having an image as a low risk is an asset to us as a country and it is an asset that needs to be protected.

This Government strongly supports the work of the New Zealand Customs Service.

I could talk all night about how important that work is, but you'll be pleased that I am limiting myself to discussing three priority areas.

Drugs

It is twenty five years since the Mr Asia syndicate was closed down and again Godzone is being aggressively targeted by international gangs of drug smugglers.

Customs is making a significant dent in the flow of illegal drugs into this country. Last year Customs made 28 significant seizures at the border, with 44 smugglers ending up in court.

While the heroin and cocaine seized was destined for Australia, the amount of ecstasy and other amphetamine type substances seized was at an all time high.

This was destined for the New Zealand market, as were the precursor chemicals, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine that are used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

There can be no argument that New Zealand is facing a crisis arising from the manufacture and use of methamphetamine.

The Government has already introduced a number of measures to reduce supply, stop production, reduce demand and identify areas for further research.

These are all recommendations from the Methamphetamine Action Plan. This plan was developed by the Ministerial Action Group on Drugs led by Jim Anderton.

I want to applaud Jim's leadership on this issue.

We cannot ease off.

To protect our way of life against this modern evil, requires effort from all of us - not just the customs service at the border, not just the police and health services, but all of us.

We need our families, our whanau and our communities to stand up and say 'enough'. The best help we can give against people manufacturing, dealing and using P is not to ignore them but to report them. If they are pushing P they need to be locked up and if they are addicted they need help. The best weapon against drug abuse is for our community to say no to drugs.

This year, I commit to do what I can in my portfolio, as a member of the Ministerial Action committee and as an MP in the Government to address this issue.

Pressure at entry points

What's been an eye opener for me is how drug smugglers are constantly probing our borders for any entry point. They are not just carrying drugs through the airport - they are using the mail, and courier services, and big commercial shipments. These people are organized, they are running a business, and they will stop at nothing. They are energetic and inventive.

It is a constant challenge to Customs staff to not only be up with the methods used, but to be ahead of the game.

And drugs are not the only risk to New Zealand - terrorism requires people, money and weapons and any or all of those could move across New Zealand's borders.

This means Customs cannot let its level of vigilance slip as it deals with increasing volumes. It is a growing challenge as the volume of passengers and trade grow.

Auckland International Airport this summer has had a 13 to 14 percent increase in passenger arrivals on the same weeks last year. My colleague the Minister of Tourism is thrilled, and I also want genuine tourists to have a warm welcome to New Zealand.

But Customs must still be able to adequately screen them.

This year, thanks to advance planning, extra staff, and great cooperation between all the border agencies, we've managed. We've cleared up to 140 thousand passengers a week with very little congestion.

But we know that the increases will continue.

This year I will be working with my colleagues to identify what more needs to be done. I am not prepared to put our way of life at risk because we didn't plan properly for increased numbers of people arriving in New Zealand.

Trade security

We need to make sure genuine or legitimate travelers get a warm welcome to New Zealand and don't get stuck in lengthy queues. We also need to make sure that our trade doesn't get stuck in the queue, waiting for security clearance offshore.

That's the focus of the New Zealand Customs supply chain security strategy. In simple terms, we aim to be able to provide assurance over the security of export goods to trading partners, so that our goods will be in the green lane at their borders.

I think our plan is an excellent one - but let me take a moment to quote from the Commissioner of the US Customs and Border Patrol, Robert Bonner. He says

"New Zealand has developed and is implementing some of the world's best practices to partner with the trade sector and take a leading role in ensuring the integrity of the country's export system". This year, I want to see the Border Security Bill passed, so Customs can put this strategy into action.

Now I know the Border Security Bill has become controversial since we moved to include clauses about cost recovery.

Many of you have heard me say before, it is the Government's view that there is a benefit to trade in maintaining New Zealand's reputation as safe and secure, and therefore trade should share the cost. That will continue to be debated in another forum - for tonight, let's agree to differ.

While we have a difference over funding, I have been heartened by the widespread support from the business sector for the strategy Customs is implementing.

There has been a lot of discussion between Customs and business as this strategy was developed, and also between Customs and other agencies, especially MAF and FSA. This is reflective of the approach Customs takes across the board - to acknowledge they can't operate in isolation and to actively seek to engage.

Most, if not all of you in this room are involved in that engagement.

Tonight provides an opportunity to thank you for your cooperation with and support of the New Zealand Customs Service as it goes about the work of protecting our way of life.

But the people I want to thank are the staff of the New Zealand Customs Service itself.

It is my experience that Customs officers are an honest, dedicated team who are thoroughly professional and they compare very favorably with anything I have seen overseas.

Tonight is a time to pause and appreciate the quality of our relationship, the quality of our Customs Service and how this protects the quality of our way of life.

Thank you for your part in that and for being here with us tonight

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