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Speech Notes: Rick Barker, Minister of Customs

Speech Notes: Rick Barker, Minister of Customs

11.30 am Wednesday September 11 2002

Christchurch Customhouse opening

I visited Christchurch Customs staff in the old-squash court building as the opposition spokesperson for Customs in 1998, so I am delighted to be here to officially open this new building that provides staff with a vastly improved base to continue serving the region.

Today’s date, September 11, is cemented in history by the terrorist attacks in the United States last year.

Since becoming Minister of Customs I have been briefed on the work Customs has done and is continuing to do to combat terrorism.

As part of the Government’s package counter-terrorism measures last year, Customs has set up a dedicated counter-terrorism intelligence unit, improved international information exchange and increased the number of hands-on inspections at the border.

We cannot afford to ease off. While New Zealand is at low risk of a direct attack, we do not want to be a safe haven or a staging post for attacks elsewhere.

For that reason, Customs is continuing to look at a range of issues including the area of export container security.

The United States Customs Service wants to increase levels of assurance about containers arriving in its ports. The United States is New Zealand’s second-largest export market, and so Customs is working with other Government agencies and key business representatives here to consider our response.

Customs is always looking for new and better ways of doing things, and this building is part of that ongoing improvement.

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The New Zealand Customs Service lays claim to being the oldest government department – coming in to being in 1840. And for many years we have benefited from having this highly efficient border control agency.

Over the last few years Customs has made significant progress in updating internal systems and structures to position the service well to carry out its role into the future.

There is much talk of the world becoming a smaller place and Customs certainly experiences this every day.

On more and more issues our neighbourhood extends to the far reaches of the globe in what is rapidly becoming a seamless world economy.

To manage this, it is vital that Customs administrations around the world exchange information and work co-operatively.

New Zealand is leading the way in our region, following the recent appointment of Robin Dare to the position of Vice Chair of Asia Pacific region for the World Customs Organisation.

Taking a regional leadership role is about being a good international citizen and enhancing New Zealand’s international relationships and reputations.

Relationships within New Zealand are equally important.

By working together we can share information to combat the threat of terrorism, drug and people smuggling and other illegal activities, while still facilitating legitimate trade and travel.

I mentioned earlier about the briefings I’ve received as Minister of Customs.

As a former opposition spokesman for Customs I had some idea of the scope of Customs activities but I’m still learning about the full extent of what’s involved.

Customs collects almost seven billion dollars a year in Government revenue; it screens over three and a half million arriving air passengers and another quarter of a million people arriving by sea; and it handles over a million import cargo transactions each year. Behind those statistics is an extraordinary amount of work.

Outside Customs most people have only a vague idea of the role it plays in protecting New Zealand. The popular TV programme Border Patrol highlighted to many people the breadth of the role of Customs staff and the professionalism with which they carry it out.

I would like to thank and congratulate staff for the important role they do – often in demanding situations. We certainly have a Customs Service we can be proud of.

Robin mentioned earlier about new beginnings. This new Christchurch Customhouse marks just one of the new beginnings for Customs. It recently opened a new inspections base in Auckland – Te Mana Arai House - and a new building is also planned for Dunedin.

These three new buildings are about providing staff with the facilities to enable them to be effective and efficient in carrying out their roles.

Another positive development is the settlement of a new collective contract that recognises the value of the work of Customs staff, through a new remuneration system.

For me, today is about remembering the past while looking forward to ensuring Customs has the resources and facilities to continue to be an effective protector of New Zealand.

So, without further ado I’d like to officially declare the Christchurch Customhouse open.

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