At the worst possible time for the Australian tourism industry, it’s been revealed the Australian government plans to cut Customs staff, with an immediate effect on processing times at airports.
Industry website travelweekly.com.au reports the federal budget for Customs and Border Protection is facing cuts of $34 million over four years which the industry believes will come from frontline staff at Australia’s eight international airports.
Close to 90 jobs are understood to be at risk, the majority likely to go before the peak Christmas and summer holiday period, the website says (see footnote).
The Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) is preparing to approach the federal home affairs minister, Brendan O’Connor, while the Australian Airports Association (AAA) has already told the minister the budget cuts are “puzzling” and will do nothing to help deliver efficient service at “already congested airports”.
“The cut to the customs budget and the resulting reduction in frontline staff numbers can only mean that congestion will get worse,” AAA executive director Caroline Wilkie said in a letter to Mr O’Connor.
The AAA says the Customs target to clear 95 per cent of inbound passengers within 30 minutes will fall to 92 per cent while the national benchmark of processing 95 per cent of outbound passengers within 10 minutes will increase to 15 minutes.
During peak periods, passengers arriving into Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Peth will face an increased wait of up to 24 minutes, taking total wait time to up to 54 minutes.
The TTF believes creating such a negative experience will be hugely detrimental to Australia’s reputation. Which is putting it mildly.
How could a budget cut for the federal Customs department be on the agenda when Canberra is swimming in our tax money? Since 2006-07, total federal government spending, and, therefore, tax collection has risen from $219 billion to more than $360 billion a year.
And spending on airport Customs is also one area where outlays can be immediately benchmarked as a benefit to the nation.
Apart from our privately owned airports system, Customs is already an area that consumers are far from happy with, according to the feedback this blog has received over the past two years.
The Attorney-General's office has been contacted for comment.
Time to give the government a consumer report on the bang it is getting for its buck at airports. Have Customs and Immigration been satisfactory in your recent experience? Have you been processed in the target clearance times stated above? If the system is falling down, where is it failing?
FOOTNOTE: Asked to comment by Traveller’s Check, a spokeswoman for the home affairs minister Brendan O’Connor said in a statement: “The Government has made the difficult decisions necessary to deliver $22 billion in savings and return the Budget to surplus in 2012-13. The 2011-2012 Budget included a measure that will deliver savings of $34 million over four years through a reduction in staff in Australia’s eight international airports. Staffing reductions will be achieved through natural attrition and adjustments to the recruitment program. Passenger queue times will remain similar to other comparable international airports around the world. Customs and Border Protection will continue to work with airport operators and airlines to help limit the impact of these staff reductions on passengers. All border clearance requirements will continue to be met and there will be no compromise to the integrity of the border.”