Grand Hyatt, Melbourne, VIC
Welcome and Acknowledgements
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
I would also like to acknowledge the Aboriginal Elders of other communities who may be here today.
This morning, I thank and acknowledge those international delegates in the room; World Customs Organization members; as well as trade enforcement and canine experts from all around the world.
In particular, I would like to acknowledge:
- Secretary-General of the World Customs Organization, Dr Kunio Mikuriya;
- Commissioner of the Australian Border Force and Comptroller-General of Customs, Michael Outram;
- Acting Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Karl Kent;
- Emergency Management Commissioner of Victoria, Andrew Crisp; and
- Assistant Commissioner of Victoria Police, Chris O’Neill.
It is a privilege to be here with you this morning in my capacity as the Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs.
As the first Minister in some time to have ‘Customs’ explicitly named in my Portfolio, I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to address the World Customs Organization’s Fifth Global Canine Forum.
As the only international organisation exclusively dedicated to Customs matters, fora operated by the WCO present the greatest opportunity to address the collective risks facing our borders.
With more than 180 member nations, the WCO actively fosters capability development in customs management practice.
In recent times, Australia has experienced a sustained period of trade volume growth, resulting in record volumes of goods arriving at our borders.
Thankfully, the forward outlook suggests that this trend toward increasing volumes will continue in the years ahead; and our safe and secure borders ensure that Australia continues to thrive.
But rising volumes contribute to an increasingly complex trading environment.
While supply chain agility and strong growth trends benefit the Australian—and global–– economy, they are also the enablers for those who would threaten the prosperity, security and unity of all our countries.
The enormous increase in trade over recent years, coupled with evolving technology and business models, have simultaneously driven economic benefits and enabled modern day smugglers to become more sophisticated.
For example, transnational, serious and organised crime groups are diversifying their criminal activities to take advantage of multiple avenues to profit.
These include—and this is by no means an exhaustive list—the smuggling of prohibited goods; duty fraud and evasion; and money laundering.
However, the trade of illicit drugs remains a key revenue market for criminal syndicates.
Australia’s leading border law enforcement agency, the Australian Border Force, along with the law enforcement and border protection agencies of our international partners—many of whom are represented here today––continue to detect the attempted importation of increasing quantities of illicit and controlled drugs at the border.
In the 2018-19 financial year, the Australian Border Force made almost 36,000 detections of illicit drugs and precursors, exceeding 19 tonnes in total weight.
The social and economic harm that these illicit drugs would cause our communities cannot be underestimated.
In addition, the Australian Border Force detected more than 630 tonnes of illicit tobacco in the last financial year. This represents nearly $670 million in attempted duty evasion, up from almost $385 million for 2017-18.
The challenges of smuggling and illicit trade are not new; they have existed for as long as societies have had formal customs functions. These challenges are shared amongst World Customs Organization member nations; and fora such as the WCO Global Canine Forum, allow us to further develop shared solutions to threats at our borders.
The importance of the role that our customs services play in securing our borders has not diminished over time.
An emerging threat—trade-based money laundering—has become one of our greatest collective challenges.
And the Australian Government, through the Australian Border Force, continues to focus on identifying serious revenue evasion that, unchecked, would risk Australia’s economic performance.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the estimated amount of money laundered globally annually is anywhere between 2 and 5 per cent of global GDP.
The exploitation of international trade to disguise the proceeds of crime is estimated by the International Monetary Fund to be worth approximately $4 trillion US dollars globally each year.
And in 2018, the Australian component of this figure was estimated to be worth approximately $52 billion US dollars.
Issues related to transhipment, misclassification and under valuation of goods are all too common.
Countering illicit financial flows and the trade in illicit goods are global challenges best conquered through collaboration.
The Australian Border Force continues to work with Australia’s financial regulator—AUSTRAC—along with partner agencies within the Home Affairs Portfolio, and our international partners to identify threats and criminal abuse of Australia’s trade system.
Through their facilitation of legitimate trade and travel—and the simultaneous protection of our borders—our customs officers efforts are critical to protecting our communities; our economies; and to level the playing field for legitimate traders.
Detector Dog Program
Today, a crucial element of Australia’s border protection operations is the Australian Border Force’s Detector Dog Program; just as it has been in the past.
First introduced in 1969 as part of work to establish a Narcotics Bureau within the then Department of Customs and Excise, the Australian Border Force—and its various predecessor Customs agencies—have successfully utilised Detector Dogs in the fight against the importation of prohibited substances for the past fifty years.
Detector Dogs and their expert handlers completed more than 24,000 targeted operations right around Australia in 2018 alone, with Detector Dog Units located across all major Australian ports.
These operations included the mass screening of passengers, cargo, postal items, and arriving vessels and aircraft.
Currently the program utilises in excess of 50 specialist trained Australian Border Force officers to deploy around 60 operational Detector Dogs nationally.
In the early years of the program, dogs were sourced from pounds, local breeders and a collaboration with the Australian Guide Dogs Association.
In 1993, the program joined forces with Melbourne University to create a selective breeding program. The breeding program was supported by the Queen and donations from two of her prize Labrador Retrievers fused Royal bloodlines with Australian Customs stock.
Since inception, the breeding program has bred, developed and trained in excess of 3,000 Detector Dogs.
Operationally, the Australian Border Force continues to develop its Detector Dog capabilities; in the last financial year alone the Detector Dog Program was responsible for more than 800 illicit drug detections; detected more than seven million dollars of undeclared currency and interdicted more than four tonnes of tobacco products in the air and sea cargo environments.
Over the years, the Detector Dog Program has constantly evolved; learning and adapting to a constantly challenging and shifting environment at the border.
In 2003, after an escalation in international terrorist activities, Australia introduced a Firearms and Explosive Detector Dog capability.
And in an attempt, primarily, to deter the movement of excess currency across Australia’s borders—interrupting money-laundering activities—dogs trained to detect Australian currency were introduced to the Detector Dog Program in 2013.
Additionally, in response to the rapidly growing threat posed by tobacco smuggling, the first tobacco detection capability was introduced to the program in 2014.
Today’s Detector Dogs are trained to identify a total of 21 odours; and alongside their handlers, remain crucial to our border security.
Historically, the Australian Border Force—and the Customs agencies that preceded—have benefitted greatly from the sharing of information and learnings with our international partners.
Similarly, the Detector Dog Program was strengthened and expanded through information shared; and lessons learned by our domestic and international partners.
I am optimistic that one of the outcomes to come from Australia hosting the Fifth World Customs Organization Global Canine Forum is the continued development of collective best practice.
This optimism stems from the fact that time and time again, the Australian Border Force’s Detector Dog program has proven itself capable of adapting to meet the demands of a changing world.
Canine customs officers are crucial to our border security; and I understand that the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force—Michael Outram—will outline the next steps of the ABF’s Detector Dog program in his opening remarks later this morning.
Ladies and gentlemen, once again, thank you for having me here today, and I trust that you will find the remainder of the coming workshops, discussions and presentations informative and beneficial.