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A Story of Trucks, Tractors and Injustice

Wed, 7 July 2004

Import News from the Importers Institute of New Zealand 7 July 2004 -

A Story of Trucks, Tractors and Injustice

A Southland farmer claims that Customs perverted the course of Justice thirteen years ago. He has been battling with officials and politicians ever since.

It all started in 1991, when Wallace Drummond imported a Mercedes-Benz Unimog (www.unimogtrucks.com). Customs called it a truck, the importer called it a tractor. The dispute went to Mike Bungay, who was then the tariff classification arbitrator. Bungay agreed with Customs and Drummond appealed to the High Court.

Mike Bungay told me that the Minister of Customs (at the time, Murray McCully) had tried to get him to change his ruling. I don't know where exactly Bungay told the Minister to file that plan, but I do know that he was not at all impressed with what he saw as an attempt to influence a judicial officer.

On the steps of the High Court, Customs withdrew the case, refunded $3,615 duty that it had collected from Mr Drummond and offered him $50,000 in compensation. That amount was then the highest amount that Ministers could pay out, without having to go to Cabinet for approval.

It was around this time that our alarm bells started to ring. Why would Customs go to such lengths to stop this matter from going to Court? The answer became clear later. A low-level Customs official had doctored some crucial evidence. His managers tried to cover that up.

As the classification matter never went to Court, Mike Bungay's binding decision means that the Unimog is still officially classified as a truck in this country. Because it is left-hand drive, it is a prohibited import. In the absence of a Court ruling overturning Bungay's decision, the duty refund was illegal.

Mr Drummond has been seeking redress of the injustices done to him ever since. He finally petitioned Parliament. A Select Committee headed by Peter Dunne recommended:

"That the Government compensate Peter Wallace Drummond for actual legitimate costs incurred by him in the course of obtaining the correct classification from the New Zealand Customs Service for his Unimog tractor." http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/Content/SelectCommitteeReports/fdpet 99199.pdf

The ball is now in Helen Clark's court. As is her wont these days, she passed it on to an underling to front up, in this case Jim Anderton, who in turn consulted his farmer wife and decided that the Unimog is a truck after all. Anderton decided to reject the Select Committee's recommendation and said that Drummond will receive no compensation.

Anderton is merely the last in a long line of fools who think that Drummond will give up. He won't. He uncovered highly questionable conduct by officials and deserves to get the independent inquiry that he has been asking for all these years. Helen Clark should get someone competent to look into her government's response to the Select Committee's recommendation to compensate Wallace Drummond.


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