Customs brokers are not criminals

Following is an article I had published in Lloyds List in July 2016 to much interest and industry support:

I take pride in being a licensed customs broker. I was dismayed first at the unsubstantiated comments by the then Minister Justin Claire and later Scott Morrison as to the alleged criminality of those in my chosen profession. Note that I am the only one to add “alleged” and that both men were probably reciting information provided by their Department (which viewpoint probably needs another article).

I am increasingly outraged too by the repetition of such comments and articles in newspapers and on television that fail to substantiate these claims or provide either examples or justification for these allegations. Certainly, there have been a number of customs officers arrested or who are under investigation for misconduct, as well as a few people in the freight forwarding field, but licensed brokers are a relative rarity given the percentage charged as against the number licensed. There is either confusion in police, government and journalistic circles as to the roles and parties involved in international trade or it just makes a good story.

An article on Leigh Sales 7.30 Report on Channel 2 on 29 June made similar allegations.

“NICK MCKENZIE: The movement of huge amounts of freight through the nation's ports is facilitated by licensed customs brokers, who smooth the way for importers to meet Customs requirements.

Several years ago, an alleged member of the Jomaa syndicate was given a Federal Government Customs broking licence and access to sensitive and secure areas of the waterfront. This was despite the fact that this man, who we'll call 'The Insider', was suspected by police to be a smuggling syndicate member."


An ACN showing “The Insider’s” name then appeared on screen. That person was indeed licensed by Customs in 2011 despite, according to this article, having outlaw motorcycle gang connections. In 2012 an incident occurred and ultimately he lost his license in 2015.Can I suggest that this person should probably never have got a licence? What happened to the “fit and proper “person test, or the “person of integrity “test as it would have been at the time? Why did it then take 3 years to revoke his license? Is this a reflection on the other 1800 odd licensed brokers in Australia or really just a lack of due process by the regulator and NCBLAC?

In an article on what appears to be the same matter in The Age of 28 June 2016 there was (again) unsubstantiated reference to “Commonwealth-licensed customs brokers are suspected to have joined international crime syndicates involved in smuggling illicit goods into the country”.  Roman Quaedvlieg, Commissioner of the ABF, promptly responded on behalf of his officers.

As most of you would be aware, the DIBP has been conducting a review of licensing provisions for some time. A report was due out for comment Monday 11 July 2016.  It did not appear and later in the day a notice appeared on the DIBP website that “We are considering the scope of the current customs licensing review given recent media coverage of associated issues. This means the draft recommendations will not be released as scheduled.”

Of concern to individual licensed brokers, as against corporate brokerages, is the rumoured consideration by DIBP to licensing only brokerages as against the current requirements that both individual and corporates be licensed. Maintaining the licensing of individual brokers is in accordance with a September 2015 paper by WTO.


 AS a Director of CBFCA until May 2016 my opinion is that there has been little real consultative or constructive discussion by DIBP with the industry association, which understands the operation and requirements of imports and exports and represents both individual and corporate customs brokers.

Licensing brings particular issues not only for those licensed but also for those undertaking the licensing process. This should have been a key discussion between CBFCA and DIBP to leverage new opportunities and to meet emerging challenges. Brokers are the first line of interface between DIBP and importers. Beyond the preparation declarations and the payment of duties and taxes, they can play an active role in facilitating communication between Customs/government authorities and importers/exporters. Importantly they can assist in identifying suspect shipments given an individual broker must see documents for each declaration, as against the possibly 4% reviewed by the regulator.

Don Chipp, a former Minister of Customs, and the founder of the Democrat Party, said he’d done so “to keep the bastards honest”. An individual licensed broker can be regarded in the same light. They should be considered as vital to the integrity of the supply chain. They have no shareholders and/or overseas owners to which they are directly accountable. They have world class training and a pride in their profession. It may be easier for the regulator to oversight the activities of only a relative few licensed brokerages, but it takes away from the oversight provided by the responsible individual and may reduce compliance.