Tougher Penalties from Australian Customs

Although we’ve had a system of infringement notices from Australian Customs and Border Protection (Customs) for a while now, I’ve recently had the need as a supposed expert in these matters to examine the impact of recent changes to the laws. The need stemmed from clients on both sides of the fence – importers, exporters, and customs brokers alike.

For those not too familiar, the Infringement Notice Scheme (INS) allows Customs to issue something akin to a parking ticket for what is known as a strict liability offence. Strict liability really means that Customs don’t need to prove fault other than the fact it happened.

How bad can that be you ask?

 

Well, not too bad given the limited fines the laws previously imposed and the unexplainable position of Customs to rarely impose them anyway. However the recent changes to the INS laws are significant and can only have been made with a view to also start to impose them.

The changes greatly increased the penalties under the INS. The intention of the changes was to increase compliance by having a bigger stick to wield and to make it easier for Customs to issue them.

These strict liability offences can be broken into two (2) main categories:

  1. Those that caused you, the Importer, to short-pay Customs duty; and
  2. Those made by Importers or Exporters that didn’t cause any loss of duty – a so-called compliance error.

What should you do if you receive an infringement notice?

Call me!

Seriously, call me.

We need to carefully check that the Notice complies with the Regulations. The person who issued the Notice must have reasonable grounds to believe that you have committed a prescribed offence before issuing an infringement notice, and strict time-lines apply to when the Notice can be issued.

Ultimately we need to decide on a strategy to deal with the problem. We can pay the penalty, ask for extensions, ask Customs to withdraw to Notice, or even refuse to do anything in some situations.

In a number of cases I’ve dealt with recently the liability under the new laws was so significant to my client as to threaten their bankruptcy if the matter wasn’t handled correctly.

Please contact Rob Crabtree on 0412-050-744 or Brett Greedy 0412-146-615 if you would like to discuss these changes.