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  • Russell Wiese

2021 Australian Border Force Compliance Priorities

At the Sydney Freight and Trade Alliance CPD conference on the Australian Border Force (ABF) representative highlighted key areas for ABF compliance in 2021. These areas were asbestos, cargo reporting and “customs broker shopping”. Not surprisingly, these topics all feature in the ABF’s February 2021 edition of the Goods Compliance Update.


Asbestos has been an ABF focus area for several years. Australia’s laws, and the ABF’s practice, represents a zero tolerance approach. Goods containing asbestos are a prohibited import. The importation of goods containing any trace of asbestos is a strict liability offence and often attracts infringement notices. However, the amount of an infringement notice is often small compared to the costs of having the goods tested in Australia and the asbestos removed or the goods exported/destroyed. On top of this will be daily storage and container detention costs.

The ABF will be focusing its efforts on imports from countries with different asbestos standards than Australia. Even if a good is deemed safe in the country of export, it may not meet Australia standards. It is not uncommon for a country to permit a low level of asbestos. Even the lowest levels would offend Australia’s regulations.

Customs brokers need to declare on the import declaration whether or not the goods contain asbestos. Due diligence should be undertaken before answering this questions. Depending on the product, the ABF may not accept a simple “asbestos free” declaration from the suppler. High risk goods will require proof of independent testing.

Customs broker shopping

The ABF is becoming increasingly concerned about the practice of importers changing customs brokers when the importer receives unfavourable advice from the original broker. Common examples are importers seeking to achieve a tariff classification that will avoid dumping duty or seeking to obtain the benefit of a free trade agreement without the necessary paperwork.

The ABF records imports by importer ABN and is able to tell when an importer changes customs broker. It will not be difficult for the ABF to identify differences in the approach of brokers or which importers are importing high risk goods.

In its Goods Compliance Update, the ABF highlights the following indicators of a customer that is broker shopping “new clients who demand that goods are classified in a certain way, perhaps to avoid higher duty or tax rates; clients who fail to, or are reluctant to provide adequate illustrative descriptive material (IDM); and/or clients who provide documents that appear to not be legitimate or show signs of alteration.

There is a simple truth, a dishonest importer will always select the customs broker that asks the least questions. The best way to avoid being a victim of broker shopping is to undertake your usual due diligence. Do not simply accept the position put by the importer. Ask for the type of proof you know the ABF will require. A dishonest importer will not be interested in working with a customs broker that will make life hard and will move onto the next broker. You will lose the job but skip the ABF audit.

New clients that will not provide the expected documents, or are insistent on a particular outcome, are high risk. The ABF is aware of broker shopping and has made clear that whichever broker ends up clearing the goods can expect an audit. That broker will be in a difficult position when compared to the customs brokers who refused to work with the importer.

Our list of client red flags can be found here.

Cargo Reporting

The ABF focus on cargo reporting will be on timelines and accuracy. The February Goods Compliance update reported that the ABF reviewed 6 thousand cargo reporting lines in 2019/20. This compared to only 500 lines of export declarations. It clearly is a key priority area.

The error rate on the lines reviewed was 3%, with the main inaccuracies being incorrect gross weight, incorrect consignee and incorrect consignor. It is important with consignor and consignee details to remember that a consolidator of goods will rarely be treated as the consignor. It is also a constant complaint of the ABF that cargo reports will include terms such as “goods”, “TBA”, “Various” or “address not supplied”.

Another indication of the importance of timely and accurate cargo reporting is the level of infringement notices issued for related offences. Over $70 thousand in infringement notices were issued regarding cargo reporting timeliness in 2019/20. This is about the same amount as was issued for underpayment of dumping duty.

Cargo reporting may not be related to revenue, but the ABF sees it as an important part of pre-arrival security screening of goods. If it is important to the ABF, it needs to be important to cargo reporters.

For more information about customs compliance please see our previous articles on this topic:

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