The global travel climate is such that travellers should expect some level of interaction with customs and immigration authorities, especially in today’s heightened awareness of national and aviation security.
Being an island nation and geographically isolated from the rest of the world, Australia faces unique challenges in terms of protecting the community from the entry of illegal and harmful goods and unauthorised people. For this reason the Department has a significant presence at all international airports.
Illicit cross-border activity may be identified and intercepted as a result of profiling, specific information received from a variety of sources, operational activity or a combination of these.
Officers deployed at international airports are trained to risk assess passengers and identify those individuals who may be of interest for customs, biosecurity, health, family law, law-enforcement or national security reasons.
To successfully fulfil a border protection role, officers must actively engage with passengers in order to determine legitimate from non-legitimate travellers.
Specifically, under Section 195 of the Customs Act 1901, officers have the power to question passengers in relation to any dutiable, excisable or prohibited items they may be bringing into Australia.
The scope of questions may include (but is not limited to):
- The nature and content of the baggage;
- The person’s knowledge of what is in the bags;
- Who packed the bags;
- Where the person has travelled from;
- Where the person commenced the journey;
- The source of any goods in the bag;
- The price of the goods;
- The manner in which the goods were obtained.
Refusal to answer questions may necessitate a physical examination of goods carried by the passenger, thereby delaying the passenger’s clearance and diverting resources away from critical border protection activities.
If an officer determines that a passenger warrants further scrutiny in the form of a baggage examination, the power to conduct this falls under Section 186 of the Customs Act 1901.
Examples of what may be done in the examination of goods include:
(a) opening any package in which goods are or may be contained;
(b) using a device, such as an X-ray machine or ion scanning equipment, on the goods;
(c) testing or analysing the goods;
(d) measuring or counting the goods;
(e) if the goods are a document—reading the document either directly or with the use of an electronic device;
(f) using dogs to assist in examining the goods.
If a passenger has any concerns about questioning or examination they should direct their inquiries to the officer or their supervisor at the time of questioning.