Fears of drug and gun running if Customs cut

MORE than 40 frontline Customs officers working in regions known for heavy illicit drug traffic and gun importation are being removed from their jobs as part of budget cuts, leading to claims national security is at risk.

It is believed Customs has plans to remove 44 staff from 14 district offices mainly in Queensland and Western Australia as part of the government’s plan to cut a uniform 4per cent across all public departments and agencies.

The public sector union has slammed the move, saying it could leave Australia vulnerable to importation of drugs and guns,  and a host of  illegal activities.

The union is now calling on the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, to reverse the decision.

‘‘To make these cuts at a time when the volume of shipping is increasing can only compromise border protection and erode our ability to stop drugs and guns entering the country,’’ the national secretary, Nadine Flood, said in a statement provided to the Herald last night.

While Customs has said the offices were considered low risk compared with larger ports, Ms Flood said that did not mean cuts were acceptable.

‘‘These ports may be lower risk but if you cut staffing the risk will increase,’’ she said.
Among the district offices is Mackay, on the northern Queensland coast, which was the site of a 87-kilogram cocaine bust last year.

In 2009, the Mackay office had 14 staff and boarded about 40 ships a month, but its numbers have dwindled and today it hasfewer than 10 staff and boards an average of 25 vessels amonth.

The plan will mean further officers will be cut, leaving the office with just six staff. Mackay will also lose the use of a Customs helicopter.

The Thursday Island office will also go from 14 staff to eight.  Ms Flood is now calling on Mr Clare to act before the cuts – which will be  made  through redundancies and natural attrition – take place.

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