FTA interview with Roman Quaedvlieg Commissioner Australian Border Force

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On the eve of the launch of Australian Trusted Trader pilot programme in July 2015, Travis Brooks-Garrett (Partner, Freight & Trade Alliance - FTA) and I had the privilege of meeting with Linda Geddes (First Assistant Secretary, Trade, Customs and Industry Division) and Roman Quaedvlieg (Commissioner of the Australian Border Force).


As a part of this engagement, we had the opportunity to complete the following interview with the Commissioner.


Paul Zalai – Director, Freight & Trade Alliance - FTA 




1. PAUL ZALAI – will the Australian Border Force have a role in development of policy or it will be solely focussed on being the operational and enforcement arm of the new Department of Immigration and Border Protection?


The policy role is definitely led by the Department, however there will always be a close relationship between the two. The most effective model ensures policy and operations work together with regular feedback and evaluation cycles so that our solutions, whether policy or operational, are holistic, practical and achieve agreed outcomes.


Our Blueprint for Integration introduced the concept of 'blended teams' where Australian Border Force (ABF) officers, departmental staff, and possibly seconded staff from agencies like the Australian Federal Police, work in the same team. It's important that the ABF and the Department are strongly connected, and are focussed on building progressive and effective policy together.


2. PAUL ZALAI – what is the purpose of your secondary role as 'Comptroller General of Customs'?


My dual role is an important reminder of the essential work enacted under the Customs Act 1901. Parts of this legislation empower the Comptroller-General of Customs to undertake necessary inspections, interventions and collection of duties. While Australian Customs and Border Protection Service has ceased in name, the customs function, and therefore my dual role, remains vital to the proper functioning of Australia's border.


3. PAUL ZALAI – can facilitation of trade realistically be achieved whilst effectively managing border controls?


Certainly. In the past we have talked about the pendulum between facilitation and enforcement – but they are two sides of the same coin. Looking more holistically at the border, using modern technology, making better use of big data, and learning from the practices of our international partners, we can do more ahead of the physical border to support both compliant and secure practices.


Australian Trusted Trader (ATT) is a great example. This programme enables closer partnership with accredited industry, lifts standards and incentivises best practice. At the same time the programme facilitates trade through the benefits being pursued such as streamlined reporting and priority border clearances. By identifying low-risk trade, the programme also serves to shrink the haystack, and ultimately improve the effectiveness of our border controls.


4. PAUL ZALAI – do you see that 'Customs Watch' will play an ongoing role?


Absolutely it will, and confirming this, the Minister rebadged the programme 'Border Watch' on 22 July.  The Customs Watch programme has a proud 25 year history of helping to protect Australia's borders. Border Watch will continue to be an invaluable partnership with industries such as those involved in international trade and travel.


Border Watch harnesses intelligence and information based on local industry knowledge and expertise. In recent years 20 per cent of referrals to the programme have resulted in a positive outcome in addressing border risks. This is huge result that has come from someone noticing something suspicious and reporting it to 1800 06 1800, helping to minimise threats to community safety and national security. 



5. PAUL ZALAI – the concept of the Accredited Client Program failed a decade ago, what has changed since then to have initiated Australian Trusted Trader?


The imperatives and environment have changed. Now more than ever, we need to work differently to cope with increased trade volumes and the greater supply chain complexity. There are now also more programmes operating overseas, and Australian industry may be increasingly disadvantaged if we do not act. Our programme will enable us to negotiate mutual recognition arrangements to ensure our exporters can remain competitive.


6. PAUL ZALAI – will the ATT support our export sector in reaching new markets?


Yes. We are very keen to play a more active role in supporting trade. In Australia's International Business Survey 2014 (AIBS), 40 per cent of surveyed businesses identified domestic regulatory compliance as hindering international competitiveness, and identified regulation in export markets as the second most significant barrier to doing business globally.


ATT will enable us to negotiate mutual recognition arrangements with trading partners so that Australian exporters receive similar benefits and differentiated treatment in foreign markets.


7. PAUL ZALAI – how does the ATT fit with the Office of Transport Security and their 'Known Consignor' initiative for Australian exporters?


'Known Consignor' deals with screening requirements for air exports bound for the United States. While ATT is broader reaching than just our trade with the US, we are working closely with the Office of Transport Security to avoid duplication and identify opportunities for integration of the two programmes wherever possible.


8. PAUL ZALAI – the Integrated Cargo System (ICS) functionality currently limits the ability to effectively report and declare import assembly order (multiple supplier) consignments, is this an area that could be a an 'early win' as a part of the ATT?


I'm committed to exploring a range of opportunities under the ATT programme. The Department is establishing an industry reference group to co-design streamlined reporting arrangements and the potential to provide benefits to trusted traders. The reporting of assembly orders will be considered as part of this work.


9. PAUL ZALAI – is consideration being given to follow a US style 'pre-load' import cargo reporting model as this appears to be the only way of guaranteeing 100% compliance of timely reporting for risk assessment purposes?


There are a number of different models from around the world that we can learn from. We are always looking for innovative ways to improve our models, harmonise with international standards, and maximise the effectiveness of our data collection and analysis.


We need to be mindful of Australia's unique requirements and border environment – but this is something we need to consider favourably for the future trade environment.


10. PAUL ZALAI – what is the likely lifespan of the ICS?


We considered replacing the ICS under the current reform process, however when compared to other business needs the ICS is considered sufficient for now. The system is functional, relatively reliable and is housed on a modern IT platform. Also, as the ICS is such a widely used and complex system, any significant upgrades or a replacement system would be quite an undertaking.


We do need to work with industry to identify different ways that we can access commercial information in the future, that will both improve our risk assessment, and streamline processes for industry.  We need to be creative and think about what systems are needed to support the future trade environment.


11. PAUL ZALAI - What will be the underlying ABF compliance philosophy in years to come?


As with broader Department's approach to compliance, ABF will foster and enable a high level of voluntary compliance while effectively dealing with those who do not comply with the law.  This will include implementing proportionate responses to behaviour and risk, and taking a more enforcement-orientated posture for serious and systemic breaches of our laws.


We will work in close partnership with industry to deliver this philosophy.  Ultimately, compliance is in everyone's best interest. We will assist industry in increasing their levels of compliance, improve the ways we address serious non-compliance, and minimise the impact on those entities that are complying with the law.


12. PAUL ZALAI – we have seen first-hand the effectiveness of the co-design approach via ATT Industry Advisory Group (IAG), will this be the model adopted as a part of the ongoing industry engagement strategy?


Absolutely. I really appreciate how dedicated and constructive industry has been through participation in the Industry Advisory Group. The real successes of this approach are trust, transparency and mutual commitment. Together, these principles create a very strong model which I know could be applied to a range of other areas, topics and projects. This will certainly be captured in our industry engagement strategy being launched at the Industry Summit 2015 later this year.


PAUL ZALAI - On behalf of FTA and our subscribers, thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. We look forward to working closely with you and your executive team in meeting the upcoming challenges.