Customs job cuts could leave regions open to drugs and guns
26 July 2012, 7:53am
CPSU's Nadine Flood - standing up for regional jobs
Cuts to frontline staffing in regional Customs offices could leave Australia vulnerable to importation of drugs, guns and other illegal activities, the CPSU said today.
Customs have decided to cut up to 40 positions across 14 District offices including Townsville, Cairns, Mackay and Thursday Island, Port Hedland, Broome and Dampier. The cuts are part of the border agency's response to federal government budget cuts. It is expected that staff will leave their positions before the end of year.
CPSU National Secretary, Nadine Flood has slammed Customs' plan to focus the cuts on regional areas and called on management to reverse their decision. She also called on Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare to intervene if necessary.
"These are big jobs cuts in small but vitally important offices," said Ms Flood.
"Mackay is a major port and was the scene of many drug busts last year, including one that netted 87 kilograms of cocaine. Mackay also has very high social drug usage rate and plenty of outlaw motorcycle gang activity.
"Three years ago the Mackay Customs office had 14 staff and a helicopter. Staff used to board around 40 ships per month. Today the Mackay Office has less than 10 staff and boards an average of 25 ships per month.
"As result of the latest round of cuts, staff levels at the Mackay office will drop to 6 positions. They have also lost the use of the helicopter, so who knows how many ships will be inspected in the future," said Ms Flood.
The union is also concerned at the impact the cuts will have on Thursday Island where staffing will be reduced from14 positions to eight.
"Thursday Island is a short 3km boat trip from our international border with PNG. Customs have four vessels based on Thursday Island all of which require a minimum number of specially trained officers to operate safely and effectively. With the proposed staff reductions, we are concerned this office will struggle to crew these vessels," said Ms Flood.
"And what's happening in Mackay and Thursday Island is also happening at other District offices. Customs staff are deeply concerned that operational capacity is being compromised by these cuts.
"Once numbers drop below a certain level, Customs District offices may not have enough people to safely perform their duties. Similarly, declining staff numbers will makes shift-work difficult which means that on some days, vessels may not be boarded after 5pm.
"Customs claim that these regional areas are low-risk compared to larger ports. But low risk is not the same as no risk. If a weak point is allowed to develop in our border security, it will be exploited.
"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.
"Like other agencies, Customs is making cuts to meet the Federal Government's 4 % efficiency dividend. But there must be a better way to find savings without hitting small offices already struggling with increased workloads.
"This is a bad decision and we oppose it. It's a slap in the face for the hard-working Customs officers in regional Australia who have some of the most dangerous and challenging jobs in the public service," said Ms Flood.